Saturday, August 10, 2013

Survival Secrets for Caregivers

I have come to know many survivors and co-survivors (caregivers) over our eleven year journey with lung cancer. Those in both categories who survive well share certain qualities, the most important of which is resilience—the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy. Some lucky people have built in resilience from innate personality traits or learned belief systems. But what if you’re not one of them? Is it possible to develop resilience?

When applied to caregivers the word “survival” has a different meaning than for cancer patients. You are not in danger of dying from your loved one’s cancer. But like the patient, you can benefit emotionally and physically from building resilience during your family’s battle with cancer.

Five Steps to Greater Resilience

1. Release. Admit you are powerless. Let go of the past. Let go of guilt.

2. Reframe. Psychologists call this step restructuring your cognitions. Build positive emotions. Search for meaning in your suffering. Practice gratitude. Exercise “benefit finding”—the ability to find positive meaning in a traumatic life event.

3. Reprioritize. Often this happens with no effort on your part. Sometimes with the onset of catastrophic illness, your priorities automatically realign. Your circumstances offer you new look at what is important. Others need to make a conscious effort to regroup.

4. Reconnect—spiritually and relationally. This is the time to make friends with God. You’ve heard it said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Likewise, there are few atheists in oncology waiting rooms. Restore and strengthen family relationships. Strong support systems are crucial to recovery.

5. Recharge. Rest. Relax. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to grieve and give vent to your very real emotions.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sing Your Way to Health

I am a singer. This is not an appraisal of my ability or a fact about my profession but rather a description of my nature. Although none of my immediate family was musical, my grandparents hailed from Wales, the “land of song,” where according to my grandmother, everyone could sing. She said that before I could talk or walk, I hummed with her when she sang me lullabies.

Singing makes me happy but I didn’t know that it also makes me healthy. Recent studies have shown that singing has psychological and physiological benefits that help people cope with cancer. Researchers looked at a small group of cancer survivors who participated in choir singing for a period of 3 months. During that period survivors noted an improvement in:
• Vitality
• Social functioning
• Mental health, and
• Bodily pain

Survivors who participated also had a trend toward less anxiety and depression and improved lung function. Singing can have the same benefits as exercise—a release of endorphins resulting in stress reduction. Additionally, if you employ correct breathing techniques, you have the benefit of increased lung capacity. You can enjoy these benefits even if you sing alone—though group singing has the advantage of increased social interaction.

If you like to sing, look for opportunities to join a group—a church or community choir, Sweet Adelines or Barbershop Harmony Society. How about taking some voice lessons that you never had time for when you were younger? Not ready for the big time? Turn on the radio and sing your heart out in the privacy of your car. "Remember if it's not good enough for anyone esle to hear, just sing. Sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong.”