I have been avoiding writing. I am not sure if the circumstances I’ve been dealing with have kept me too busy or if they’ve just kept me overwhelmed. There seems to be too much to think about that I don’t want to think about. Yet writing may prove therapeutic and perhaps sharing how I’m learning to cope through challenging times might help you, too.
There are a couple of ongoing issues in my family. The main one is that my husband of 25 years, the man with whom I’ve shared over half of my life, has been battling pancreatic cancer since he was first diagnosed in August of 2013. Last September, another tumor was discovered in his liver. As that was unfolding, our youngest son, Trenton, became increasingly ill and was eventually bedridden, missing an entire term of tenth grade.
Just before Thanksgiving, Trenton was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, a chronic life-threatening disease that I share. This was the same week that our miracle, cancer-surviving dog died and that we got the news that Scott’s liver tumor was definitely the same cancer he’d had in his pancreas, which means he had entered stage 4b—incurable pancreatic cancer. It was not our best week.
How have I kept my head above water throughout all the stress?
1. I discovered that self-care is not selfish.
When others depend on you, taking care of yourself has to be a priority. After our most difficult week in November, I saw my nurse practitioner to make a plan for self-care. She prescribed an antidepressant that I’d successfully taken before for PMS, and advocated massage and meditation. I managed to snag a Groupon deal for 2, 90-minute massages and told Scott that would be my Christmas present and I purchased an app called Calm for guided meditation (particularly useful to get to sleep at night).
2. I got more involved in my faith community.
My church has been another lifesaver. The people are loving and supportive plus I’ve found joy in serving there. I started playing the piano for the children’s Christmas musical and ongoing choirs. Rehearsals and services are times when I can receive positive energy from the kids and not think about my troubles (at least not enough to take away my smile).
3. I joined a support group.
My church has a cancer support group for cancer patients and their caregivers. It is one thing to talk to friends and family about what you’re going through and quite another to talk to others who are going through the same things themselves. It is a relief to share openly with people who speak the same language after being inducted into this unwelcome world of cancer. Sharing with others who understand also removes the necessity to share too much with those for whom it may be a burden.
4. I read.
The Happiness Project and Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin are good resources for maintaining a positive attitude and home environment. My main takeaways have been to keep a gratitude journal, to display family photos and albums and other meaningful objects in our home, and to simplify whenever possible. My husband and I try to get outside in our beautiful neighborhood each day, walking our dog and enjoying time together.
Another book I have been working through is Cultivating Courage by Dr. Mary Maaga. I had the benefit of hearing one of Mary’s sermons at our church and meeting her afterward. Years ago, she was widowed with two young children and has done a lot of personal work to cultivate her courage and become the person she was created to be. Her book is written in workbook form and I find myself returning to it periodically as an ongoing study from which I glean more as time goes on.
5. I started a new hobby.
During his first rounds of chemo back in 2013, Scott started making chain mail jewelry, a hobby he’d learned as a young teen. He has become quite the artist and developed a level of skill that has created a following. I’ve had my writing and piano, but both of those pursuits had become somewhat entangled in the pressures of trying to find a way to pursue them to create an income (as we’ve always relied solely on Scott’s income).
Another thing I’ve always wanted to do was to learn to paint, particularly doing mixed media art. I’d been following a Portland artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, for about 10 years and when she offered a bundle sale on her online classes for her 10th anniversary, Scott supported me in going for it.
Pursuing a hobby is therapeutic in itself, but I soon found that Kelly Rae’s classes were akin to art therapy, probably in no small way due to the fact that she was a social worker before she became a professional artist. Her classes have helped me on a deep level and I highly recommend them.
Whatever you are going through, if life is going swimmingly for you at the moment, you can’t go wrong by purposefully taking steps to maintain your spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Good food, fresh air, exercise, and adequate sleep are basics. Add mindfulness meditation and relaxation for an even higher quality of life. Keeping a gratitude journal and surrounding yourself with positive mementos and positive people will really boost your mood. Pursue activities that bring you joy. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, find and connect with like-minded souls—we all need each other.
Wishing you every blessing of life,