THRIVE! The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer
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Special guest post today from Stephanie Butland, author of THRIVE! The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer.
When Marie asked me to write about my thoughts on stress and cancer, the first thing I did was to have a look in my new book to see what I already thought about it. (One of my rules for life after cancer is: don’t reinvent the wheel.)
It turns out that I don’t think a lot about it: the word ‘stress’ or ‘distress’ appears only 6 times in the whole book. (For context: ‘love’ appears 99 times, ‘breast’ 45, ‘cancer’ 372, ‘knit’ 19 and ‘tea’ 36. You can see how I roll.)
Of course, I could argue that there’s one obvious reason why there isn’t a lot about stress in the book: the focus is positive, and the emphasis therefore on thriving and looking forward. It’s all about encouraging ways to come to terms, move on, live a life that feels comfortable and happy and good.
But, like everything around this complex and gruelling disease, it’s not that straightforward.
What I like most about my life after cancer is how much simpler it is. I’ve moved from London back to the place in the rural north east of England where I grew up. I spend more time with my family. I walk on beaches. I knit. I buy food from the farm shop up the road and drink a lot less wine than I used to. I say no – nicely – to things that I don’t want to do.
And if what I have just described isn’t an exercise in stress reduction, then I don’t know what is.
I have chronic IBS these days. Pre- cancer, I could eat pretty much anything that didn’t come in a shell, and although I was overweight I didn’t suffer in any other way from the food that I ate. Chemotherapy’s gut-stripping meant that for a while I could manage almost nothing that wasn’t bland or carby or coating my gut – pasta, rice pudding, chocolate milk.
As the good bacteria returned, with a little help from some supplements from my health food shop, I started to eat more normally again. For months I put the erratic bloating, pain, constipation and diarrhea down to slow healing, then my doctor told me about irritable bowel syndrome.
A haphazard process of elimination (no bowel pun intended, although I am quite pleased with it) means that my diet now contains a lot less sugar and wheat than it did. I’ve come to realise that if I eat certain foods – custard, pastry, beer especially – there will be consequences. If I eat too much sugar – and too much would be, say, a piece of cake or an ice cream every day for three days – then something happens in my system that means I’ll react badly to bread, coffee, milk, cereal, wine, anything spiced, anything acidic. If I eat a mainly healthy diet with the occasional ice cream/sandwich/apple crumble and custard thrown in, I’ll probably be OK.
Although I used to regard IBS as a leftover from cancer that meant I wasn’t quite well yet, more and more I wonder whether it’s something else. Perhaps cancer hones our instinct for what is good for us: IBS is my body’s best way of protecting me from myself and the ideas I have about food that serve me badly.
So perhaps, whether stress is a contributory factor to cancer or not, the removal of stress is a natural consequence of surviving the disease.
I do believe that, overall, I’m healthier, less stressed, and happier now that I was pre-cancer. I don’t know that I would have said I was thriving then, although I was bobbing along perfectly well. I do say I’m thriving (which gets 72 mentions, by the way) now.
Stephanie Butland is a writer and blogger whose life changed when she was diagnosed with a breast cancer in 2008. She has a background as a trainer and expert in thinking skills and creativity, and now works to raise awareness of cancer and support others who are dancing with the disease.
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