Saturday, April 16, 2011

Messages to healthy women - what they would have done differently before their cancer

The strongest stuff is sometimes found in the least likely of places, which was definitely the case with this powerful article. I saw a fragment of it on my friend's refrigerator, and ended up googling it down to a Czech fashion magazine. The article discusses what female cancer survivors would have changed in their lives now that they know what they know. I found the article so captivating (and important!) that I took the liberty of doing a fast translation into English and posting the result below. But as a quick summary, here are the common themes:
  • sleep, rest and relax more
  • don't put so much on your plate
  • spend more time with family
  • start putting yourself first
  • do not neglect ordinary illnesses (listen to the body)
  • don't be such a perfectionist
  • learn how to say "No" more often
  • and probably above all, like yourself more!
So basically nothing new, radical or surprising. How many times have most of us heard this stuff before? But are we doing it? Will we really need to experience a serious illness or crisis before we really do this stuff? Why is it so hard to actually listen to advice like this? As I have struggled with these issues as well -- and I believe that I have made lots of positive progress on them thanks to fabulous teachers -- I hope that through my blog I can provide some information and inspiration for how to actually begin with this stuff. Or how to get even better at it. Because I truly do believe that taking these messages seriously is extremely important!


Eat lots of vegetables, don’t smoke and exercise regularly -- we already know all that. But what would fifteen women really have done differently than before when they found out they have cancer? We asked them. It’s clear to them now.
Author: Marianne, Dana Mertová | 19. 02. 2009

Sleep and rest more
“I wouldn’t get so stressed out about every little thing or human stupidity. Lots of people can really hurt you mentally and actually get a kick out of it. 
I would also sleep at least eight hours per day and rest if I had just gone through a difficult time at work. It’s good to ‘turn off’ for some time and just do what you enjoy, take a walk or spend time with the family.”
Iveta, 37

Don’t be just a “good girl”
“I realized that my life is only my own and my decisions have the same weight as everyone else’s. I can always say my opinion, even if the others don’t like it. Before, I tried to act like a ‘good girl’, but I only suffered as a result of this. I also try to delegate more duties to my family. Not to grandmas and grandpas, but to my children and my husband. And, strangely enough, they are handling it patiently. But unfortunately I have to say that we realize these ‘truths’ only after we experience an illness. I would have never thought like this when I was healthy. Too bad.”
Věra, 33

Don’t put so much on your plate
“I would have chosen my tasks much more carefully and I wouldn’t have put so much on my plate. When you get the needed perspective, you discover that it doesn’t make any sense anyway. I also easily absorbed stress and nervousness from my surroundings. So today I am a freelancer, I work at home and that’s ideal for me. I am calm, focused, and I decide what I will do and how and when I will do it.” 
Eva, 53

Don’t cry over spilled milk
“Today I know that life should be taken seriously, but with reserves. Avoid stressful events and search for all positive things that excite us. Don’t cry over spilled milk and search for joy and satisfaction.”
Jarka, 65

Start putting yourself first
“Before my illness, I subordinated my life to my handicapped daughter who is in a wheelchair. Personal life and interests went aside. I lived in permanent stress whether everything would go well, whether my daughter wouldn’t get ill, whether I would be able to take care of her. I knew that I had to slow down and start thinking about myself, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
Marta, 51

Do not neglect the flu
“I would never neglect ‘ordinary’ flus, colds or other illnesses. It’s not heroism, but risking one’s health. Illnesses should be spent in bed. And I would definitely not smoke -- I quite before my first chemotherapy. And I don’t miss it.” 
Ivana, 54

Don’t rush 
“I didn’t smoke, I ate healthily, did sports and had a great man beside me. So where was the mistake? I didn’t want to notice fatigue -- hooray to events, sports, job, household work. Flus, colds, but mainly constant allergies -- I didn’t pay attention to any of them. If I could turn back time, I would listen much more to my body and what it’s telling me. Now I spoil myself, never rush, continue eating healthily, and I’ve also learned to rest and not stress out that I am behind on some things.”
Klára, 34

Don’t be so demanding
“What I would have done differently:

Above all: I would like myself more.
I would say “no” more often and I would not back down.
I would work on healthy self-confidence.
I wouldn’t be so anxiously precise, conscientious.
I wouldn’t take unfulfilled expectations so seriously.
I would learn how to make decisions that are unpleasant and uncomfortable for my surroundings.
I wouldn’t be afraid of radical solutions.
I wouldn’t be so demanding of my family and friends.
I would free myself from the words ‘I have to’.
I would learn to rest more…” 
Hana, 54

Learn how to cry
“The first thing that I had to learn was how to receive help -- and not feel badly. Then I learned how to cry. I finally allowed myself to do it. There simply came a moment when it suddenly went by itself. At first I was really upset and I complained to my psychologist, who asked astonished: And you don’t normally cry? Suddenly tears started flowing like a current, there was no stopping them, and it was a great relief.”
Jana, 57

Don’t be afraid of cancer
“Above all, I wouldn’t lose a single moment sitting somewhere in a corner scared that I could get cancer.
That is why I advise all women to regularly self-examine their breasts, have their mammogram or similar medical check-ups, live life to the fullest and take life as it is.”
Jana, 21

Think about what you eat
“I came to the hospital as a smoker and left as a non-smoker. I also do not avoid the opinions of alternative medicine, so I learned that an over-acidic body is a breeding ground for cancer, and conversely, that cancer cells cannot grow in an alkaline environment. It is in the interest of people’s health to reassess the foods they eat.”
Eva, 68

Don’t be so responsible 
“Only today am I able to assume the ‘it’ll work out somehow’ stance. I don’t consider it as irresponsible as before, but I do try to do my best so ‘it’ works out as best as possible. Before my illness my excessive feeling of responsibility was a frequent cause of unpleasant stress (and now I know that this was unnecessary).”
Zuzana, 47

Don’t smoke
“I didn’t stop smoking even after my cervical spine surgery. Today I know that it’s just a bad habit. I definitely wouldn’t deal with my stress and problems using this ‘vice’. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing, even though life is not without its problems.”
Dana, 73

“If I would have met myself years ago, I would have said: Relax, the world will continue even without you. The only thing you should and can change is your own life. So go for it, while you have time! Today I try to be aware of what is really happening, what is and what is not important, how I am really feeling and therefore who I really am.”
Pavla, 40

Go see a psychiatrist
“If I were to give advice to someone, I would say that they should handle difficult life situations with an expert, psychiatrist, even at the price of taking medicaments. I would also watch out for genetic burden in the family. I would also like myself more.”  
Jana, 67 

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