Wes is almost 90 days out from his last round of chemo, and has had 3 eye exams under sedation since that last round of chemo. All is going well, exactly as the doctors and us would hope and expect. He had laser on the big tumor in his left eye yesterday, as planned and expected, because there was a small area that was still looking a tad bit active and the doctors wanted to just zap it and be done with it. No new tumors, and the existing tumors have stayed consistent in size and activity. His hair is coming back, seemingly getting longer every single day. He is very close to walking, and he says “ball” and “doggie” and “e-i-e-i-o” and claps with the skill of a 2 year old (so I’m told) and he is going to eat us out of house and home.
I have been back at work now for almost 8 weeks. Most days it does not feel like 8 weeks. There are some days where everything feels so normal, I have to wonder if this whole cancer diagnosis and treatment actually happened. There are also days where the anxiety and stress reactions just get me and I am overwhelmed. Until Wes’ diagnosis, I considered myself a person who did well under stress – I was a fixer, a go-to person, the calm head who called out orders when something chaotic happened. I consistently answered the question of “how much stress do you typically feel in your day to day life” with “very little”. I was a do-er, responsible, reliable, able to overcome fear or discomfort to get anything done.
Now? Now I am on meds for anxiety because of several episodes where the anxiety left me incapacitated. What a vicious cycle – feeling so anxious you can’t do something, then feeling angry because you’ve never had to deal with debilitating anxiety before, and then angry because even that anger can’t motivate you to actually do the thing you were anxious about doing. And I learned from my doctor that my inability to focus on a thought or project is a normal stress reaction. Ay-yay-yay!
Recently the Badger Childhood Cancer Network used Facebook to share a new study by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health that found that stress in parents of children with cancer is vastly underreported. Essentially, if you ask a parent of a child with cancer how their stress level is they will tell you it’s low, but when you get into the physical signs of stress (sleep issues, nausea, headaches, social anxiety) you find that they actually have a lot of stress. The Badger Childhood Cancer Network asked what “experienced” parents of children with cancer would advise newly diagnosed families about stress management and reduction.
Every person is different, so all I can do is share what helps me. The main thing that has helped me is being open about how I am feeling, and others being open with their own experiences with anxiety and stress. I share with my husband and friends and family how I am feeling, what is stressing me out, when my stress level feels particularly high or low, or things that I anticipate may cause anxiety now that I am aware of it. I had coffee with a customer-turned-friend two weeks ago and she was open enough to share with me that she has anxiety and what her experiences with it has been. It was amazing, just what I needed at that moment, to hear that a seemingly “has it all together” woman also had stress and anxiety that was difficult for her. Just knowing I wasn’t alone in that moment was incredible. I honestly feel that if people were just more open about their experiences, we’d all feel a lot less alone. I do recognize though that this level of openness isn’t for everyone.
Having an amazing support system of people who care about what’s happening with Wes and how we are coping with things is incredibly valuable. I cherish the quick texts and Facebook messages friends send cheering us on and saying they are still there and thinking of us. Friends and family who accept whatever we can do today and whoever we are today, even if we are cranky or plan-cancelling, that is priceless.
The meds have helped me as well, but I do not want to be on them for long and want to find other ways to deal with my stress. With a terribly cranky Mother Nature wreaking havoc on us this winter we haven’t been able to go for walks much. I found work-out buddies in my mother-in-law and several friends – we go to Zumba and now hot yoga. Please allow me to get on my hot yoga soapbox for a minute! You can skip the next paragraph if you just aren’t interested, but I’m telling you this hot yoga is amazing!
As a woman who has always struggled with her weight, I frequently have “blah” days where I don’t like what I’m wearing and I don’t like my body. I battle this with diets, life-style change attempts, fitness crazes, acceptance, and shopping. Only once in my life have I ever felt 100% comfortable in my skin, and that was when I was pregnant with Wes. I loved being pregnant, and for those of you that knew me when I was pregnant you are probably sick of hearing that because I seriously loved being pregnant and told everyone! After Wes was born, I was more accepting of my body and the amazing life it had created, but still had to think about it and be conscious of appreciating my body. And then came hot yoga evening classes. I don’t know if it’s the candlelight, the fact that everyone is sweating so I don’t feel self-conscious about that, the mindfulness of yoga, or the wonder at what my body can do even though I haven’t been very physical this winter, but I feel almost as comfortable in my body as I did when I was pregnant. It is an amazing feeling, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to try it. It may not be for everyone, but you don’t know unless you try!
So the answer to the question about what I would advise newly diagnosed families about how to manage and reduce stress? Be open, and try things until you find something that works for you and then share that with others.
Here is a link to the UW study referenced above: