How Can A Distraction Manage A Chronic Pain For A Cancer Survivor?

IMG_20180504_193208_393
Tien has shown a fervent strength despite the extreme pain she felt right after her 2nd surgery.

This is a personal story of one of the people who are close to me and just recently had her 2nd surgery. Her recovery is still in progress but we had noticed a remarkable progression from her.

You don’t know how strong this lady is. I salute her braveness despite the agonizing pain she felt for months. As I remember, after her 2nd surgery, she decided not to stay in her house and rest; instead, she jumped into the bus and traveled with us to one of the towns not really far from Saigon. That was not easy though, she felt dizzy, vomited and caught with a fever the day after. But, hey! That was just for days! Even that experience was not really nice if you try to imagine, but now she is gradually recovering, and the most noticeable recovery is – she did not feel the same pain anymore.

I am not talking that there is a miracle happened behind that sudden disappearance of her pain. There’s none. The pain that she felt during those days is actually normal and will eventually get better as the wound inside heals. Unfortunately, this pain sometimes last for months and for some people, it lasts a year. The pain she felt during those times is different from the pain I felt during the course of my treatment 2 years ago. And I could not really give an accurate personal judgment and compare her pain to mine even we were on the same journey.

The pain that I am actually talking is a severe pain where she can hardly breathe and keep losing weight every day. Afraid that her cancer is metastasized, so we decided to make a new appointment to a new doctor and one of the doctors we met ordered a blood test and assured us that there is no metastatic sign seen in her blood. We are not contented with this result as Tien still felt the same pain and it even gets worst and even us could not understand her anymore. Even herself could not understand why she feels that kind of pain. Sometimes, I don’t want to keep asking her the same question, how she is doing, because she still gives the same answer, “I feel pain”.

After many visits we did with different doctors in Saigon, different tests she has to take to understand the pain she felt inside, why she continuously losing weight – still, we have not acquired the answer we are demanding. Despite the daily suffering she felt, she was more than willing to live a new normal life.

_DSC0425
A meeting with Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.
_DSC0435
A pulse diagnosis is like the “MRI” of traditional medical system.
_DSC0478
Another meeting with a Thyroid Oncologist.

Now here comes an “alternative therapy” which actually works for Tien during her recovery stage. Distraction draws a patient into a highly interesting activity to take his or her mind off pain or discomfort.* This is only effective for a patient who is experiencing pain but it does not cure cancer. When a patient is engaged in an interesting activity, it allows its mind being distracted by unpleasant thoughts or pain that can help the patient feel better.

The following are suggested activities and therapies can provide a distraction that might work well for every cancer patient:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Dance therapy
  • Imagery
  • Stories
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Virtual reality and computer games
  • Doing needlework or puzzles
  • Building models or painting
  • Watching TV

So, what are the activities Tien did that provide a distraction?

  1. Talk with friends and family
  2. Read books or articles online
  3. Listen to uplifting music (sometimes we go Karaoke)
  4. Go outside (she usually does this by herself, take a walk in the park)
  5. Take care of animals (there are 2 cats living at home, so whenever she is alone at home she feed and pet the cats)
  6. Travel (she usually travels with is in one of the towns outside Saigon)

These activities Tien did, are done at a slow pace, we still do encourage her not to force herself as she is still recovering. But her spirit showed the willingness to live a new normal life and recover completely. At the moment, Tien is inspired to do her job again as a freelance graphic and web designer. And in the future, she aims to visit her oncology doctor again to have another test done to make sure that there is no another cancer cell growing inside her body.

**This blog is not intended to give a professional medical advice. It is best to always seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner whatever medical condition you may or your loved ones have at the moment. Some medical accounts mentioned in this article are made from a careful research of the author, personal experiences shared from those who have similar cases like Tien, and a doctor’s prior validation what cause this pain to inflict her every day.

*Source: Distraction, Health Encyclopedia, University of Rochester Medical Center.

Photo courtesy of the owner.

Why It Is Important To Give Healthy Foods To A Cancer Patient?

The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. ~Ann Wigmore

Things we ought to know why appropriate diet is very important to anyone who has cancer before and after treatment. This is not only true because Google says so, it is true to give any cancer patient a right diet because I also went through the same process during my treatment.

I write this blog out from my observations as I visited one of the cancer hospitals in Saigon, Vietnam. And even during my surgical removal last February 2016, I noticed that there is no dietary department in the hospital where I was admitted. Two years after my treatment was done, I was able to get a chance to be connected with the children who have cancer, months later after I started my blog.

It is vital to know and learn especially to the family who is taking care a loved one who is battling cancer the right nutrition in cancer care*. They must know these following details:

  • Good nutrition is important for cancer patients. We are all aware that good nutrition is important for good health. Sometimes, we are too careless and too bragging while we still have good health until we acquire one serious illness that will make us consider to change our diet. How much more in people who have cancer?
    Consuming a proper diet before, during and after cancer can help them feel better and stay stronger. For instance, SUGAR; for an average person, too much consumption of sugar will actually make you tired. We all thought that if we give our body as much sugar as we need, it will give us enough strength throughout the day. Yes, this is very helpful to many athletes if they are into competitions, but, what I am talking is, excessive sugar consumption that is already part of the daily eating habit is likely to affect to our health badly. A proverb that remained the same until now, “too much of anything is bad”, and for those who take care a loved one or friend that has cancer, we just need them to feel better and remain strong as they keep winning this battle against cancer.
    Maybe, the next time we will give food to someone who has cancer, we can consider which food we are supposed to give. We can also ask professional practitioners who are expert in dietary field or even a smart research on Google might give us ideas on which kind of healthy foods to give next time.
  • Healthy eating habits are important during and after cancer treatment. It’s never too late to change a habit. Much more to shape a habit of children especially in eating habit. For most cancer patients, it must be always remembered that they need to keep a healthy body weight, maintain their strength, keep their body tissue healthy, and decrease side effects both during and after treatment.
    My weight dropped drastically right after my radiation therapy treatment was completed. Before and after my surgical removal, I had started to follow some specific diet to help me feel better. I continue doing this until I was waiting for my treatment, but the effect of radiation therapy had resulted into a malnourished body which literally I lost much more weight than my normal body mass. But then, I completed my diet for 5 months after the radiation therapy treatment, until I regained my strength and was able to get back my normal body mass.
  • A registered dietitian is an important part of the healthcare team. As what I had mentioned above, it is not the first time I visited hospitals even before meeting children with cancer. Except for my admission for my tumor removal, every time I visited a friend in the hospital, my mind was always wondering if there a dietary department is existing around.
    I may have been mistaken with regards to this matter, missed this part or even mislook/misunderstood because of the language barrier, my point is, a role of a professional dietitian works with the patient, families, and even the rest of medical team to manage the patient’s diet during and after cancer treatment.
  • Cancer and cancer treatments may cause side effects that affect nutrition. Also mentioned earlier, how my weight drastically decreased right after my radiation therapy treatment. The effects of cancer and cancer treatments make it hard to a patient to eat well and hard to take in enough nutrients to stay healthy.
  • Cancer and cancer nutrition may cause malnutrition. Some cancer patients experience loss of taste, smell, appetite, and even the ability to eat enough food or absorb the nutrients from food because of cancer and its treatments. And this can cause malnutrition where the key nutrients are not enough for the body. When a patient is malnourished, it will easily get weak, tired, and unable to fight infection or finish cancer treatment. And the worst thing is, malnutrition may be made worse if cancer grows or spreads.

It is possible to return eating certain foods again that is used to be avoided if the body is readily consuming them. Better yet, it’s more advisable to talk to a doctor or another professional practitioner about how long a cancer patient should take food precautions.

**This blog is not intended to give a professional medical advice nor giving a list of food that prevents cancer. It is best to always seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner whatever medical condition you may or your loved ones have at the moment. And this is just an insight what nutrition cancer patients must receive during their treatment.

Photo courtesy of JuiceRecipes.

*Source: National Cancer Institute

6 Approaches To Embrace Your Inner Strength

Surviving cancer is like conquering high mountains, it is not the mountain or cancer we defeated, but ourselves.

September 2017, I hiked for 40 kilometers in Bình Thuận Province, Vietnam. After climbing one of the highest mountains of Vietnam, where I suddenly realize that there are many more mountains to climb. The hike I did can be equal to the experience taught by cancer I faced 2 years ago. It was my first hike with 700 meters high (2296.59 feet **500 meters low point and 1200 meters high point), I didn’t know what to look forward to, everything is uncertain, and so as cancer.

These are the lessons I learned from conquering mountains and cancer.

  1. Keep moving forward – like climbing mountains, we sometimes tend to give up when things are getting difficult. Yes, we could stop somewhere and take a rest, drop loads of burden, but we should continue moving forward.If I listened to my fear right after I learned that I have cancer, I will just give up my goals as well as my dream and wait for my death. In the midst uncertainties, I allowed myself to feel the fear (fear of facing my death and go through agonizing pain both physical and emotional) starting to grow inside.

    I allowed myself to be filled with pity, but after that, I shifted my focus to my short and long-term goals. Short-term goals such as my first trip to Hong Kong. I thought I could not make it, but I did it. I traveled to Hong Kong weeks after my surgery was done.

    If we keep moving forward, we will be led down to new paths. If we walk intentionally, in the long run, no matter how hard the trail is, we will be getting somewhere.

  2. Life is not always easy – cancer is the most challenging part of my life, and so as to climbing mountains. I had even already imagined my self I was inside a coffin. There I saw myself, a young lady died at a young age. Those are one of the negative thoughts that I pictured right after I found out I had cancer. And it was not easy to accept that I will be also facing that burden (alone).Climbing one of the mountains in Vietnam gave me blisters and cuts on my body. Whilst cancer inflicted me growing physical pain and sadness that never goes away.

    However, as I faced the uncertainties of climbing the mountains and cancer, it gave my body and mind a permission to fuel my inherent strength with the right and positive mindset.

    Life can never be easy, but the challenge of both taught me how to control an appropriate reaction to what is happening around me. Until then, I gained that power, to be in charge of everyday circumstances; because life is constantly changing, and we should find out how to master the transition.

  3. Nothing worthwhile comes easy – before I was able to see the beautiful sunset and sunrise, after the climb, I have to fall on many slopes and slippery mountains many times over.Once cancer touch lives, things will never be the same. It’s never simple to embrace the new life after cancer. It’s a personal decision whether we should feel insecure or be excited anticipating our new life.

    Cancer survivor’s new life has a lot of stress and self-inflicting problem. We are often left depressed, exhausted and angry. It’s not because we are too weak, this is just the downside of beating cancer. Some took years before realizing their inner strength. Some didn’t make it and went to its last resting place.

    When our treatment ends, the new chapter of our life brings hope and happiness, but also worries and fears. Yet, after beating the disease, we also knock off the self-beating. No matter how uncertain life even after healing, we stop engaging in negative self-talk and thinking. Embracing strength is never easy to us, but we also love our self and every thought and life choice we make, transform our judgment.

    Moving generally towards positive life is a long road and I am patient for the full length. If I look back, 2 years ago, I am happy I made positive choices that allowed me now to have a pillar of strength, no matter how life throws at me.

  4. A positive attitude can create more miracles – I was worried by the time we were about to start our hike. What if the weather will not be sunny the whole day, what if I fall? However, I didn’t allow these thoughts to stay in my mind. Having a positive attitude combined with an admiration for nature’s beauty goes a great distance towards making a day victorious, and so I did.Staying positive is a key to any survival situation. Yet, in battling cancer or beyond our journey as cancer survivors, having a positive attitude seems impossible. It is a great struggle for cancer patients, survivors or even loved ones to simply say, “Stay positive”. No, we can’t.

    Although staying positive is quite difficult to attain, we gradually practice acceptance, gratitude and forgiving oneself. An acceptance of the idea that death is a natural part of life. A gratitude to the presence of cancer in our life despite all the bad and painful condition. And forgiveness to others, life and especially to oneself, to release the suffering over difficult situations. To let go despite cancer seems to be so unfair in our lives and focus on living at the moment.

    From there, we realize that we are never alone and nothing is out of place. It’s the acceptance that every one of us will reach our own death. Enjoying the good journey of life, both setbacks and breakthrough; while living in the present moment.

    No matter how complex situation we are living, it is still meant to appreciate the here and now. It’s quite challenging for our emotions especially; yet, in that way, we are using our inner strength to see various opportunities, no matter how hard it is.

  5. Problems are an opportunity to be solved – joining a group of enthusiastic and young hikers was never been thought I’d do it in my entire life. Despite that, I still choose to take a spontaneous adventure that cannot be redone once I won’t do it.The problem in solving the problem is we are afraid to take a risk. Taking risks is scary and uncomfortable. If the trouble is nearby, we won’t get any answer until we are willing to put ourselves out there and take a calculated gamble. No matter what the outcome is, whether it is what we expected or not, it is potentially worth it than without trying to face the risk.
  6. In gratitude, there is power – being grateful is where we can find peace of mind and happiness within. Despite challenges and troubles, there is something we could be thankful for.Throughout my long and exhausting climb, I was grateful for many small things that cannot be counted. Such as the good weather, fresh air, a ridge tent and feet (to walk, hike and climb mountains).

    For someone who is burdened with cancer, if being positive is difficult for us, how much more than being grateful for having cancer. That will infuriate most of us. But being grateful and staying positive is a choice. A victorious approach that perseveres and is more likely safe from misfortunes and successes that drifts in and out of our lives.

    We may struggle for finding reasons on how to be thankful for having cancer, but I see this helpful not only for our emotions but to our health both physical and mental. Thankful in such a way by celebrating small victories, shared significant moments with friends and loved ones and, of course, holidays. In finding reasons to be grateful, it will increase the quality of our life, makes us stronger, and change our perspective on life.

Reading my blogs about my cancer journey seem scary to you. You may start to imagine, what if it’s me someday or someone who I love will suffer from a terminal and deadly disease, and this is alarming.

Instead of being scared of yourself and see the same negative things might happen to you or to your loved one, choose to see the picture of the strength of people who suffer the most. They steer into and out of difficult situations on a momentous decision with grace and determination.

Problems cannot be avoided, whether it could be physical, mental, or emotional. With courage, we all possess strength inside us that is needed to embrace for tomorrow’s uncertainties.

Photo courtesy of Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash.