Appointments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

Your “Cancer Club” pass comes with a slew of fast-tracked appointments. The jarring diagnosis opens the floodgates to multiple specialists, techs and additional diagnostics. There is so much information coming at you chock-full of unfamiliar medical jargon and scary terminology punctuated by a strong and serious sense of urgency. Many times I would see the doctors’ mouths moving, but not comprehend what they were saying. I could only hear the voice in my head repeating, “You have cancer!”

What helped: Making a list of questions and bringing a friend and/or family member to the appointments with me. They also took notes and asked additional clarifying questions.

What I wish I knew at the time: How much better I would feel once I had a “plan”. Prior to developing one, I was filled with the fear of the unknown and felt rushed and scared. Portions of the plan were concrete and others more fluid. Just knowing one existed and was team-informed elevated my courage and confidence.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

Select and bring a special notebook or journal to appointments that keeps all your questions, answers, doodles and affirmations in one place.

journals

Journals galore! 

Take a moment. Before going in to your appointment, close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Think of how you want to feel during your appointment: Focused? Clear-headed? Informed? Strong? Secure? Decisive? What is the most important aspect of what you want to take away from this appointment?

Capture for later. Ask the provider if they are open to your recording the appointment (or portions of it).

Ask. Listen. Ask some more.

Write down how you feel physically and mentally in between appointments. Highlight or circle things you’re curious or worried about. Sometimes you forget something you wanted to bring up and only remember it once you’ve left! Having it in one place means you can easily flip back a few pages and capture that bit of information.

Embrace the power of the doodle! Doodling is proven to enhance focus. A lifelong doodler, I can attest to having a feeling of comfort and being less distracted while doing so.

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Write your notes in cursive for better retention – studies show cursive strengthens working memory and comprehension. Good things to have at your appointments!

Be clear. Prior to walking out the door, repeat the action steps/recommendations between this appointment and the next. Don’t feel funny asking for clarification if you’re still unsure about something. This is YOUR time. Get what you need.

Next Up: Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Anxious Moments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

As someone with asthma, it was no surprise that anxiety was affecting my breathing. This was most strongly felt during the period between initial diagnosis and the long “hurry up and wait” period of additional testing. The pain and tightness in my chest sometimes made me think I was having a heart attack and I would often find myself gulping for air.mindspirals

What helped: Moving! Even just a fast walk down my work hallway took the edge off. More effective was moving outside in nature and tapping my sternum as I slowly inhaled, held for a number of beats, and slowly exhaled. Icing on the cake? Adding in a daily dose of full-spectrum tincture of cannabinoid (CBD) oil.

What I wish I knew at the time: Searching online at 2 A.M is not helpful. DON’T do it! I’d end up down a rabbit hole, which would result in an adrenaline spike, making me feel even worse.

I recently got into audiobooks. They could have been useful for educational purposes on my drive to and from appointments – or in the middle of the night.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Think about a time when you were anxious and how you transformed/toned down or eliminated that feeling – what makes you feel safe? What makes you feel loved?
  • Aromatherapy – There are many studies about the role of lavender reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Try a spray, an oil or a roll-on and see how it can help. (Please be careful with using certain essential oils around your pets, however.)
  • Bang (or listen to) the Drum! There are many documented studies of the
    purrfectdrum

    My purrfect drum!

    health benefits of either playing or listening to the drums. I like this drum. It has a good sound and is fairly inexpensive. If you’d prefer to listen, go to YouTube, search for drumming and strap on a pair of headphones. My personal favorite is David & Steve Gordon’s Meditation Drum – It always relaxes and takes me away for a while.

  • Breathe in, breathe out – Check out these easy-to-follow breathing techniques. Some are relaxing and decrease stress and some increase energy and focus.
  • Consider learning more about cannabinoid (CBD) oil – there are capsules, edibles, salves and tinctures. I used a full-spectrum tincture under my tongue in the morning and before bed. Please note that if you have to get tested for work reasons, you’ll want to check on how CBD could affect results.
  • A mind spiral would begin and I’d clap my hands and say, “STOP!” I would always think of Cher’s character in Moonstruck after Nicholas Cage declares his love – “Snap out of it!”  Sometimes it worked!

Next Up: Appointments

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Healing in Progress, A to Z: Affirmations

These field notes came out of my cancer experience.  Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you.  Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

I have said affirmations over the years, but they took on new power and meaning after my diagnosis. My favorites to this day include, “I am healed and I am healing,” “My body is a garden, the weeds are already disappearing” and “I am safe and I am loved”.hearttree

I would say them throughout the day – in my office, walking to my car, in an exercise class… but I said them most when I was in bed. Post-diagnosis, sleep can evade you. Even a frequent meditator like me could not prevent the mind spirals. But talking to myself? Doable.

I would hold my head in my hands in the comforting neurovascular hold – this is easier in bed with pillows helping to prop you so you can really relax.

Place one hand over your forehead and cradle the back of your head with the other. Take a deep breath in and then sigh heavily out. Repeat a couple of times. Bring your breathing back to a normal, relaxed pattern and begin your affirmation. Every time you feel yourself starting to fall into a mind spiral, slowly take in oxygen, hold for a few seconds, and then audibly sigh out. Return to the affirmations.

You don’t need to do the neurovascular hold with your affirmations, but it can help reduce stress even more. The neurovascular points are located just above the middle of your eyebrows. The warmth and pressure of your hands prevents blood from leaving the forebrain, interrupting the flight or fight response. I liked to layer it on!

affirmationnote

Some “pocket positivity” from earlier this week!

What helped: Saying affirmations while in bed during the wee hours of the morning. Although insomnia is not your friend, using that time to repeat the affirmations became a meditative mantra that eventually lulled me back to a state of rest. I also found them empowering prior to and during diagnostic tests and difficult blood draws (I’m a stingy blood giver).

What I wish I knew at the time: I did not realize that I would not be able to place my arms and hands above my head post-surgery. I was so focused on other things, I did not think of the different ways that I would be impacted by my post-surgical range of motion limitations. To increase range of motion, view this helpful intro and 15 minute routine by breast cancer survivor and fitness trainer, Miranda Esmonde-White.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Create your own affirmation or mantra for whatever you’re facing today – make it positive, emotionally powerful and, most importantly, easy to remember.
  • Consider recording yourself saying the affirmation(s) and listen to them. I liked to do this before bed.
  • Try the neurovascular hold, as explained above.
  • Use this alternate hand placement if you have limited arm range of motion: place both elbows on a desk or table. Look at your open left hand. Turn and place it over your forehead horizontally OR with the base of your hand in line with your eyebrows and fingers pointing into your hairline. You’re still covering the neurovascular points/forebrain this way. Place your right hand over the back of your head (the occipital lobe area). Add in your affirmation!

 Next Up: Anxious Moments

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

Listen to Your Gut

My first thought when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was, “I finally have my answer.”Lovefillsthehouse!

The haunting had begun two months prior. There was something wrong with my breathing. Having lived with manageable asthma, I knew this was different. I couldn’t explain it sufficiently, but I was off.

As the weeks went by, I ran through a slew of appointments: Primary Care doctor, asthma and allergy doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, and finally, a mental health counselor, because I couldn’t stop thinking of my own death.

Nobody could find anything physically wrong with me. My lungs were fine and the continued breathing difficulty I was describing didn’t quite fit with what happens with classic anxiety or panic attacks. The pain on the right side of my mid-back was viewed as a possible overuse injury or as a result of a massage that was too deep.

From early January through early March, when people would ask how I was doing, I would answer something to the effect of, “I’m okay. I’m trying to figure something out, there’s something going on, but I’m working on it. I just need to figure it out.” I started canceling anything extra on my calendar. I just wanted to be home. Friends were getting increasingly concerned by my behavior change. I was nervous. At times, they could see that there was a frantic or uneasy look in my eyes. They saw my chest heaving in discomfort. Fear had entered my world and had a firm foothold in my psyche.

Upon waking each morning, I hoped I’d magically returned to normal during the night. Instead, the mysterious new way of being remained.

One evening, I was alone in my house and a wave of panic and desperation washed over me. I remember breaking down and pleading to whoever or whatever might be listening, “What is WRONG with me? What is happening? Please, please, help me understand! What do I need to do? Tell me! Help me! Please! I KNOW something is wrong with me!”

A week later, I started my day with a routine mammogram.

When I got back to my office, the phone call came. They found something. In BOTH breasts. The right side was the one that was more concerning. I had to go in for a magnified mammogram and ultrasound.

I told a couple of close friends. They shared their own stories of being called back, trying to allay any fears.

But, I now knew. They’d found the source.

You see, my annual imaging was overdue by three months. I had delayed it because I had been attending the parade of other appointments about the erratic breathing and upsetting thoughts. Since I had previously gone two years in between mammograms and did not have a family history, I was not concerned by waiting 15 months versus 12. I had not connected anything worrisome with the mammogram that morning, because the pain was in my back and the difficulty was in my lungs and head. I was just ticking off the “self-care” box of annual appointments.

Interestingly, the pain was on the part of my back directly behind my right breast.

After additional testing (magnified mammograms, ultrasound, core needle biopsy), my diagnosis was medically confirmed.

I did not get too many details – those would come when I saw the Breast Cancer Surgeon.

My first appointment with her brought additional unexpected, and unwanted, information. I thought they would make an excision, and I would possibly need to have radiation. That wasn’t to be the plan.

I needed a unilateral mastectomy.

I summoned my inner strength, gathered my loved ones close, and looked to something higher.

I thought about death. A lot. This also led me to think about life and living. I learned more about what I didn’t want, so that I could begin to craft a more meaningful life on a variety of levels.

I am lucky. I had it worse than some and a lot better than many others. That said, I understand the fear a cancer diagnosis brings, I have experienced orthorexia, life-changing surgery, intense types of physical and mental pain, feelings of “scan-xiety”, medication side effects, and the ongoing fear of recurrence.

After I was diagnosed, I craved information. Although the broad strokes were given to me, the “detail” recommendations for healing work were lacking. I found the stories of others to be beneficial guides. I got a better idea of what to expect, even though I knew that every experience was unique.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share key lessons I learned. I’ll talk about my own experience, I’ll talk about the role of love (love is what it’s all about, people!). I’ll talk about Qigong, Tarot cards, Yoga, a couple of kooky kitty cats, unique fashion choices for a unilateral gal, sonic bowls, and more. I’ll introduce concepts that you might really like and others that you might think are way too out there.

For those undergoing your own cancer experience, I wish you the highest and best.

My hope is that you can find something that resonates with you, something that brings you or a loved one hope, health or a peaceful moment. When considering what might be a good fit, just listen to your gut.

Part of the reason I’m sharing is because I would have wanted to read something like this… an inside view of a portion of what you might experience, which could help you prepare just a little bit more. A map of the territory. This map only goes so far and others will likely be needed for you, but this will be a way to bring light to some of the shadowy unknown parts that you may move through.

Healing means different things to different people at different stages. Taking time to be still and asking what would most enhance your body, mind and spirit’s healing on a morning, afternoon and evening basis may help you regain a little more control.

May you be able to recognize the blessings that surround you amidst this temporary period of fierce difficulty.

So many will be there for you – allow them in.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.

 

 

 

A Case for Mindful Eating

A Case for Mindful Eating

I recently attended a local StorySLAM event, hosted by The Moth. The theme was IMPOSSIBLE. Your story had to be true and showcase a time where you successfully overcame impossible odds. I immediately knew what I wanted to share.

I placed my name in the hat, but was not chosen. There was an abundance of potential storytellers that evening and there were only 10 slots. Although disappointed, the theme of the event enabled me to organize my thoughts around a scary situation that, up until then, I had stayed fairly silent. A couple of years have passed, and they’ve brought their own unique and unexpected challenges. Looking back on that night of defying the odds, however, I continue to carry relief, gratitude, and empowerment. I now realize that the experience helped me prepare for other unimaginable situations to come. I’m now ready to share this story.

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