4. Meditate. Meditation is a great medication. We got some guidance and support from our good friends Ed and Deb Shapiro. Sharon uses meditation in particular when there is any discomfort or if there are procedures. She has several phrases she says over and over, but you can use any that give you comfort. Here are some examples from Deb Shapiro: “May I be well, May I be happy, May all things go well for me.” One 5-syllable phrase often used in meditation is Om Namah Shivaya. The power of meditation is great and very sustaining during this and other challenging times. My fitness instructor gave her a T-shirt with the word warrior on it. Sharon also uses the phrase “Warrior Princess.”
5. Find relaxing music. Music is an incredibly powerful tool for healing. When Sharon was in the hospital she listened to my Lullaby, Sleep Tight and Relax CDs. Ironically, I had written the Lullaby CD for her father when he had cancer and couldn’t sleep and it helped him greatly. The music key choices and order, and the tempo of the instrumental songs create deep relaxation. Her caregivers would literally slow down when they entered her hospital room. Creating a peaceful environment that you can control is a great help both in the hospital and doctors appointments and at home. Find your favorite peaceful music and use it. Head phones that keep out noise and surround you with peacefulness are a great asset when going for procedures.
6. Spouses (significant others) need time too. For this window of time, I’ve changed my priorities. My primary agenda at this time is to be supportive and available. That means cancelling many of my commitments, going to her appointments, pitching in on household chores that are usually not on my plate, etc. But there are a few things that I hold on to. Going to my fitness appointments and music sessions each week are sacred. I may have to reschedule them, but I’m not going to miss them. They keep my head on straight and are great stress reducers. I also make time to write music every day. It’s therapy in 88 piano keys. If you were to listen to the songs as my music teacher Ben Schwendener does each week, it’s pretty clear how I’m doing, or at least how I was doing at that moment. But then it comes out and it frees up my emotions and keeps me even. Find your release and weave it into the week. You deserve it and you need it.
7. Gratitude is essential. Maintaining an attitude of gratitude really helps. Andrew Weill suggests keeping a “gratitude journal.” Just write down everything you have to be grateful for each night before you go to bed. He believes doing this for a week can keep you happier for up to six months. I know it helps. I try to come with three things I’m grateful for every day. And the things you can be grateful for can be big or small; you can keep food down, the beauty of a flower, the joy of a friend’s visit, your incision has stopped hurting, the nurse got your blood on the first stick. The list is endless. It’s the awareness that has to be developed and it makes a huge difference.
8. Living in the moment. One of my wife’s friends is also dealing with cancer. When she found that she had a recurrence, her comment was, “I’ve had seven wonderful months.” How many of us squander days, weeks, or even years mired in unhappiness or lamenting that everything isn’t perfect? Cancer, especially one that isn’t assured of a cure, starts a survivor’s clock ticking. Make every second count.
9. Laugh often and loud. Researchers in Norway found that among near death patients, maintaining a good sense of humor increased their odds of survival—by 31 percent. Make humor a part of each day. Look at anything and everything with an eye for what humor can be found. Believe me, with careful inspection, there is humor all around us. Keep laughter reminders, exaggerate annoyances, carry a prop, state your fear out loud, and then laugh at it, or find a laugh buddy – someone with a sense of humor who will encourage regular ha ha’s. Laughter is contagious.
We have just completed the third phase of the triathlon – radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy. So far all the signs are good. My medical and personal belief is that Sharon will be cured. But in the meantime, we’ve gained some tools and a lot of gratitude. I hope these lessons will be helpful to you. In closing, I wrote a song for the American Cancer Society called I Will Survive. I’ve sung it at a number of their events and patients always come and say, “Thank you.” I’ve made it available for you (click here) as a free download.