Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Doing or Thinking About Doing

Ever get a challenge that you question its intent or the benefit?  There’s a lot of that going around and it’s a difficult dilemma to take on because it can really screw up your day.  Being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is enough to screw up your day so why add to the pressure.  There’s something very important about how you take on your health challenge and how you outline your trip on your journey to wellness.

The truth is that “I did” beats “I will” any day of the week.  Oddly enough that quote came from a cigarette advertisement and it boggles my mind how they came up with something so inspirational and challenging.  What’s on your list of things to accomplish to achieve greater wellness?  How are you shifting from the idea of healing to actually take actions to achieve healing.  Health and healing is not an abstract concept.  We can measure health and healing on the physical and emotional levels.  We have anecdotal information about spiritual health and healing so action trumps the idea of acting.

You have a lot of choices when facing a health challenge.  You can think about your illness theoretically and keep all the health and healing secrets in your head with the hope that it will translate into action.  On the other hand, you can take what you know and believe about your beliefs related to health and healing and find ways to make them into real actions so that you can experience the power of the mind-body connection.

Think about telling someone you know and love about your hopes and dreams for health; what are they hoping to hear?  They’re hoping that you are taking your diagnosis seriously, and more importantly that you’re doing everything possible to achieve wellness.  It means they are waiting to hear about your ideas and how they’ve been translated into actions.  The “I will” concept makes you less than credible.  After a while people think you’re a future tripper but don’t carry through on your plans.  Your health and healing journey becomes lip service and in the long run you won’t achieve the level of health and healing you deserve.

Think about what you’d like to tackle and by this time next week be able to say “I Did” instead of everyone sitting around waiting for you to say “I Will”.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

What Will Be Your Next Challenge

If you got past the title I’m sure you’re thinking I’m crazy.  You may even be asking yourself, “How could there be a bigger challenge than being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?”  I didn’t say a bigger challenge; I said your next challenge.  I can assure you there will always be a next challenge, so you better start preparing for it now!

Life is full of challenges.  It’s these challenges that get us to grow in ways we could previously never have imagined.  Yes, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness may be your largest challenge so think about the lessons you’ve taken away thus far.  How have your learned to cope with your diagnosis?  How have you become a better advocate for yourself?  How have your clarified your positions and priorities in your life? 

The questions I just posed are crucial because the way you answered them will be the roadmap for all future challenges.  One of the things I’ve learned from my twenty plus years of working with individuals and families facing a health challenge is that life lessons are generalizable.  We don’t learn a lesson and then can only apply it to a health crisis.  The lessons learned from facing your health challenge are the catalysts for coping and thriving through any challenge.

This isn’t about finding out how life can be ideal; but how life can be fulfilling.  It’s about taking each challenge and taking the lessons you’ve learned to branch out and explore more of your own emotional and spiritual worlds.  It’s about deepening your relationship with yourself.  Once you take on that challenge those lessons will be applied to your relationships with others.  For example, when you learn to treat yourself with loving kindness and compassion; you’ll be more likely to treat others with loving kindness and compassion.

We don’t live in isolation, that’s why our life lessons can be transferred to other arenas of our lives.  Know that your diagnosis isn’t your last challenge.  Know that you have resources yet untapped waiting to aid you in your health and healing.  Know that each challenge gives you clues to increasing your quality of life and making your mark on the world.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Tribes Are Essential to our Well-Being

I just returned from a vacation celebrating my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.  There were 13 of us all together, some family and a bunch of my parent’s friends.  It’s great when you can get together with people to celebrate something extraordinary, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  What does cross all boundaries is the need to have a tribe; a group that will support you through all aspects of your life.  The truth is we all belong to multiple tribes, some by choice and some by circumstance.

It’s interesting when you read something for one of life’s arenas and it applies to other aspects of your life.  Seth Godin, the marketing guru, wrote a book titled Tribes.  In it he states that a tribe needs two things, “A shared idea, and a way to communicate”.  Following your diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness those are the two most important criteria for mustering up support. 

After your diagnosis; it’s important to find people who share your idea of health and healing.  Don’t hang out with people who aren’t as driven as you in accomplishing the primary task at hand; getting well.  It’s important to find people who are motivated to venture out on the journey to wellness because you’ll go further with others.  You learn from others and in turn you’ll unlock secrets you may not have had the opportunity to access any other way. 

The second part of Godin’s criteria is needing a way to communicate.  I hope you’ll utilize this venue, the Pilgrim Pathway/Surviving Strong blog to find your voice and connect with others.  I strongly encourage you to add your voice to the conversation.  I throw things out because they present themselves to me through articles, lectures, and interviews, but there’s a lot more out there than I can access.  I hope you’ll join me and comment when you find something that speaks to you or you want to challenge something I’ve written.

This is a tribe and I hope together we can all move forward individually and collectively on our journey to wellness!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Uncategorized

Never Give Up

It’s easy to say “never give up hope” and something very different to actually implement.  Hope is a necessary ingredient to health and healing and there are times when it’s a daunting task.  There are many things that play into the hope equation including your physical health, symptoms and side-effects, your lab reports and the prognosis given by your doctor.  Many feel like they are being swept away as if a Tsunami hit their lives.  Keeping the hope factor alive is important on the journey to wellness.

This past weekend was the Kentucky Derby, an American institution.  Along with big hats and mint juleps, Americans across the country crowd around television sets in hopes of getting a glimpse at the horse who will crowned king…at least for a while.  Lo and behold, the horse that won the race wasn’t the favorite.  In fact, he was the biggest underdog of the race.  “Mine that Bird” won the Kentucky Derby.  The odds of him winning were 50:1; those are pretty bad odds.  The horse not only won, but he won by the biggest margin in the past 96 years; that’s incredible.

If you were to use “Mine that Bird” as a touchstone for hope you’d be setting yourself a good role model.  Yes it’s true that the jockey is just as much the winner as the horse, but as a pair they conquered what most thought was physically and statistically impossible.  The teaming up of these two created a synergistic explosion of hope, leading to a great win.

How will you translate this story of hope into your own life?  Are there any similarities between the story from the Kentucky Derby and your own life in facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Have the odds you’ve been given by doctors reflect how you really feel or are they simply interpreting the numbers?  What do you feel would be the most beneficial actions that would increase your experience of hope and healing.

It’s easy to write off the long-shot because many people don’t want to back a loser.  Your health should never be considered in the loser category.  “Mind that Bird” not only came up from last place, but the slipped through the eye of the needle to overtake all the other horses in his path.  Can you slip through the eye of the needle making every opportunity for health and healing a reality?  What can you do to keep your hope alive?

Posted in Having a Voice, In the Know, Partnerships

Doctor’s Bias Impacts Your Health

I never really thought that there could be differences in treatment based on the characteristics of my doctor.  My assumption and those of many people I speak with is that training gives doctors the tools to treat patients and that there are standards that doctors adhere to providing equal outcome opportunities for all patients. 

It should be no surprise that I was shocked when I read an article today on www.msn.com that reports on a study by the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University.  The study looked at 30,000 women 65 and older with breast cancer having breast conservation surgery between 1991-2002.  The study found that there was a difference in the patients given radiation treatment following the surgery greatly reducing the risk of recurrence.

Could it really be that my doctors bias on treatment is based personal characteristics?  This information puts creating a relationship with my doctor even more important.  Maybe I need to ask questions to flush out the doctor’s biases.  The study also looked at 4453 surgeons who operated on these women in the study.  The study concluded that characteristics such as gender of the surgeon, whether the medical professional was and MD or DO or whether the doctor was trained in the US could be factors in the difference between radiation treatment and no radiation.

This study although from the cancer community is not cancer related.  This study is medical training related.  This study asks us as pilgrims walking the journey of life-altering illness to become more inquisitive of our medical providers.  It’s not enough to know whether the doctor has any malpractice claims, now we’re questioning their judgment based on factors that I never would have considered to be part of the conversation.  What new questions will you ask of your medical providers?

Posted in Emotional Health

Emotional Transparency

How readable are you?  There is a continuum from the very stoic person to the person whose heart lives on their sleeve.  Are either of these ideal?  Well the truth is nothing in extreme form is usually good for us, so we need to come up with some level of balance to live harmoniously within our own bodies.

Emotional transparency for those facing a life-altering diagnosis becomes an important part of living honestly with the cards you’ve been dealt.  No one has to put on a game face when tackling huge challenges.  When we aren’t connected to our emotional state others will read what they want to read about you.  Billy Crystal many years ago had a saying “It’s better to look good, than to feel good.”  Although funny as a comedy line, it can be devastating to our daily functioning and harming our health.  How many times has someone you know that’s ill heard, “But you don’t look sick”.  I always wonder what that means.  All I can picture is saying, that’s correct, I don’t carry a toilet around my neck like a horse has a feed sack.

When we are honest about how we’re feeling we’re more inclined to self-nurture.  Others are more likely to provide help when help is needed.  Your doctor will have a better chance of knowing how best to help you aside from the obvious medical treatment you’re receiving.  Struggle does not have to be work like a badge of courage.  Let your light shine through even when you have days that may be cloudy or hazy, others will learn to read you, they learn to read the weather don’t they?

Posted in Anonymity, History, In the Know

Homage to our Heroes

When we walk this world as a pilgrim we are in search of answers.  Sometimes the questions are those of an inner nature, emotional or spiritual.  Other times the questions are very pragmatic, especially when facing a life-altering diagnosis.  The questions that rise to the surface are related to research, treatment options and new frontiers.

It’s important to know about the researchers who are working on your particular health issue.  Become familiar with their names and talk about them.  It’s important to increase their name recognition because that brings attention to the work their doing and down the road can result in increased funding for research. 

There are some great men like Dr. Judah Folkman who prefer to be quiet heroes.  They don’t like to be in the spotlight and deflect the attention from individual attention to repositioning himself as part of a collaborative.  His work in cancer research is heralded as ground breaking and the foundation upon which much of today’s research is based and yet his humanity always shined through.

In a recent Newsweek article, following Folkman’s recent death the article referred to his tenacity when facing scientific skepticism.  They go on to share the fun other scientists had with his ideas, almost in a mocking fashion.  But the tides would turn and researchers would come to understand not only the plausibility of his work, but the realization that his work could and would be the epicenter of treatment coming down the pike.

The article shares a great quote from Folkman about the asking questions to get ahead.  He said, “You have to think ahead, Science goes where you imagine it.” So give the researchers working on your behalf the honor they’re due.  You can always find out about the work by logging on to the associations and organizations that support your health issue.  Become a pilgrim and find your own soap box.  The result down the road can be great findings that can improve your health and the quality of your life.

Posted in In the Know

Happy Heart

Good news for our hearts, this week it was announced that death due to heart attack and stroke is down 26% since 1999.  There are lots of factors that account for this change.  We have new medications, we’re getting patients treatment faster, people have made lifestyle changes including diet and exercise.  I believe there are other factors involved such as the awareness and self-love people experience and begin to express after being told they have cardiac issues.

 When the doctor gives you the news about the condition of your health you stand at a crossroad.  The decision at that moment is not about whether or not you’ll have a heart attack, but do you love yourself enough to change your lifestyle.  Are you willing to stand still for a moment and ask yourself the hard questions about what are you meant to accomplish with your time on this earth.  Often it takes these defining moments for people to surrender to the honest revelations they’ve been hiding for years. 

Your heart becomes happy when your true nature is validated and honored.  You build a healthy heart by developing the capacity to love and to give to others.  I always think of the Christmas special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.  The Grinch had a redefining moment that changed his life forever.  The same is possible for all of us.  It’s obvious that individuals are asking themselves what factors play into the destruction of the heart and once you know, how can you ever go back to being oblivious.

The news about heart health is encouraging because it can be a precursor to what’s available to those with other illnesses.  New research and medications are on the horizon.  More of us are turning to alternative health practitioners to add an boost to our allopathic medical treatments.  It’s viewing the body as a whole, not separate parts that brings the heart the support it needs to become stronger and that’s a lesson for all of us.

Posted in Anonymity, Having a Voice, In the Know

Is it Really Possible to be a Tourist?

Ever hear the saying “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt”?  When we are a tourist we go somewhere as an observer.  We participate on the fringe.  We look, often are told not to touch and at then end of the day we smile because we enjoyed ourselves.  There is not attachment to the outcome because the only expectation is to have fun.  Why do some people facing a life-altering diagnosis live their lives like tourists?

The easy answer is fear.  If someone receives a life-altering illness and takes no action, without really giving it careful consideration it’s like being a witness to a horrible accident, only in this case they’re the victim.  On the other hand, there are people who receive the diagnosis, go to the doctor, engage in treatment but are removed from the process.  For them it’s like having an out of body experience (not sure how that happens when it’s their own body).

Those of us who walk this journey as pilgrims know that we have to get down in the trenches and sure enough we’re going to get dirty.  There are times, like on the 500 mile pilgrimage in Spain, that you’re thinking the journey will never end and the suffering, pain and exhaustion are endless.  In many cases, the challenge has defined margins but it’s hard to see the end when wind is blowing in your face (like all the media discussing longevity, research trials and the endless pharmaceutical commercials on television).  What we need to remember is that having faith in our journey is the primary means of being a participant in your care. 

The pilgrimage is long because you have to show commitment to your healing.  The pilgrimage is long so you can have time to weed out of your life those things that don’t matter or get in the way of living a better, less burdened life.  The pilgrimage is long because you need time to take back the control you lost when you received your diagnosis.  It’s a time to regroup and re-attack.

We can’t afford to be tourists in life when facing a diagnosis.  Remember, those who are well behaved rarely make history.

Posted in Self-Nurture

How Available Are You?

Many of us who are caretakers on this planet are taxed even more when confronting a life-altering illness.  For the first time in years, maybe ever, your personal health can concern for self must come first.  If you’ve been the one who everyone calls for advice or the person that everyone calls to volunteer for some activity how will that change.

The key is not only self-preservation but participating in your own healing and hopefully a cure.  In our age of technology we’re by nature very connected.  It’s been a long time since it took weeks to get messages from one person to another.  Technology allows us to reach another person in second and no matter where they are located.  With mobile technology you’re never far from a phone or e-mail.  Latest technology will allow you to access Internet while flying in a plane.  How accessible do we need to be?

When walking this world as a pilgrim, caring for your own health and well-being it’s important that you find ways to disconnect.  The disconnection from being available is so that you can begin to connect deeper with yourself.  It’s important to tune into what makes you feel better.  It’s imperative to reduce levels of stress as researchers continuously find that stress aggravates most health conditions.

Don’t give in to temptation and sacrifice yourself for some cause or because it makes you a better friend.  You’ll be the best friend or family member in the world by showing by example that we can all be more connected when we make ourselves less available to the outside world and infinitely more available to our internal world.