Obstacles, setbacks, negative emotions. I’ve had a share of those these last several weeks. One surgery went bad, a second one happened only one week later, followed by a major infection, post-operative pain, and other unpleasant side effects.
There are moments I feel strong and full of a positive attitude about the future and my healing process. But, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that at times I am overwhelmed, scared, frustrated, and I feel like I’m stuck in a nightmare. So, I’m asking myself: How will you deal with life obstacles and negative feelings? Are you going to give in to the negativity that comes from nowhere and threatens to envelop you in a back cloud?
Terrible August, A Month Full of Obstacles
Life throws so much at us. Everyone deals with some problems. Some people deal with ongoing health issues, financial woes, relationship problems, abuse, dependency, you name it.
For me, the biggest obstacle so far has been my health. Diagnosed with cancer in 2014, I dealt with two years of ongoing treatments and with the side effects that came from them.
I like to think of myself that I lived through that period with grace. What helped a lot was the fighting spirit and never giving in to the thought that my diagnosis might be terminal. Despite the terrible odds I was facing – one doctor gave me 10% chance of living five years – I was determined to fight and this determination was my main motivator to keep the negative thoughts at bay.
Eight years later, NED – which means “no evidence of disease” or in remission, since oncologists are reluctant to use the term cancer-free – I am dealing with yet another setback.
If you read my previous blog posts, you will know that I had around ten small bowel obstructions since my initial cancer surgery. The obstructions were likely caused by adhesions that were formed following the initial surgery and the fact that my intestines were radiated and exposed to harsh chemotherapy. I took the bowel blockages in strides, thinking always that if this is the price to pay for being alive and without cancer in my body, so be it.
Had the blockages stayed spaced out six or so months apart, I probably would be dealing with them the way I did so far. ER visit, nasogastric tube and bowel rest, two or three days hospital stay, and back home to my “new normal.”
Only in the last year, the blockages started coming on once every three months, then once every two, the last two being spaced apart by only one month.
So, this August, my surgeon and I decided it might be time to check out what was going on inside my gut. The plan was to remove the adhesions in order to free the small bowel so that it would not kink and twist anymore.
The plan was, that the surgery would be minimally invasive, laparoscopic, and robot-assisted, with minimal downtime from work and daily activities.
But plans will be plans. Sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don’t.
The surgeon had to open me up after he encountered more and more adhesions and other problems caused by the 30-day radiation therapy I received back in 2014. He cleaned these out and did not have to cut the intestine itself. Everything was to work out perfectly despite the little hiccup.
Well, the next step after abdominal surgery is that the intestines have to wake up and start functioning properly. But, here came another obstacle from my dear gut.
Instead of waking up, my gut stayed asleep. Moreover, even though the surgery was to end all my blockages, oh the holy irony, it made my intestines block up again.
One week later, a second surgery, this time unplanned, emergency, cutting again in the same spot which increases the risk for infections and other complications.
This time, the surgeon had to dig even deeper and wound up resecting a large chunk of burned-up, radiated intestine which has tied itself in a knot. When I woke up, I was told I have about one-fourth less small intestine than before.
Slow Recovery and Negative Emotions
To make the long story short, my recovery has been very slow. The intestines did wake up fine, but my wound got infected, which led to a course of antibiotics, which in turn led to very unpleasant side effects. Terrible diarrhea, incision pain, wound packing, and more, all of it robbing me of a decent quality of life.
I’m not sure if I am just more impatient now that it’s not technically cancer-related but somehow I am much more prone to negative thinking when things do not progress the way I want them to.
I get angry at myself. Maybe I should have just dealt with the blockages and not planned the surgery at all. Maybe I should have waited until the blockage would be life-threatening rather than merely uncomfortable and keeping me away from work.
I get very worried. Will my shorter intestine be enough to absorb all the necessary nutrients? Am I at risk for malnutrition?
I get sad. Will my life ever be the same again? Will I be able to eat what I like, enjoy things I like doing, and not worry about scouting the nearest bathroom wherever I go? Will I be able to do normal mommy things again like going to a sports game with my son?
I get desperate. I cry. I feel sorry for myself. I feel bad for thinking really bad, negative thoughts.
How to Deal with Negative Thoughts
And this is where it hits me. I need to snap out. I believe strongly that I survived cancer precisely because I was positive throughout the journey. Positivity, gratitude, and determination are the things that carried me through very dark moments in my cancer journey.
So, how to deal with negativity? It is not easy for sure. It is a practice just like anything else.
Here are a few of my strategies:
I find guided imagery and guided meditation very helpful throughout this healing process. There are so many to choose from, either through meditation apps like Calm or simply on YouTube. My favorites are the ones with healing affirmations. I like to listen to them before falling asleep.
Being in Nature
I am lucky to have a nice backyard where I can relax in the shade of a huge California Ash tree. Just lying on the hammock and looking up at the leaves and the sky shimmering between them makes me relax and forget the negative.
I’m still too weak to venture out for hikes or even park strolls but as soon as I can I will. There is something so soothing about being in nature, nothing can beat that feeling of connectedness to a bigger whole.
Switching the Perspective
This is not easy but it can be done with practice. For example, when pain or frustration becomes difficult to deal with and I’m ready to give in to full-blown depression, I try to think about being a good role model for my kids and the need they have for me being strong and being there for them.
Switching the perspective is actually recommended by professionals.
Dr. Randy Laurich suggests you consider pausing for a few seconds after a problem arises. Take a deep breath and let any negative emotions (energy) just pass through you while looking at the issue in a neutral mindset with no feelings. Consciously change your perspective on what has just presented itself to you and rename it an obstacle.The Wellness Experience
Finding a Distraction
Even when feeling the worst, sometimes a good distraction is all I need to banish the negativity. It could be watching a funny movie with my hubby, touching base on the phone with my daughter or cuddling with my son, or simply playing with the baby of the house, our kitty Bonkers. None of this takes the pain away but it can distract the mind from focusing on it.
Having a Good Cry
Lastly, when things get really rough, I find that keeping the sadness or worry in is not helpful at all. Having a good cry is just the remedy that I need. It feels cathartic and I feel better when it’s over.
Ignoring feelings (like “stuffing your anger”) is not the healthiest way to deal with them. Generally speaking, it does not make them disappear, but can instead cause them to come out differentlyVeryWellMind
These are a few tips I found useful in my situation. I am still getting impatient and occasionally fall into the abyss of darkness. But equipped with a few tools, it is becoming easier to get me out of that pit faster than before.
It is a process. It is a practice. And just like my battered body is healing and getting stronger and stronger day by day, so is my practice of coping with sadness, worry, and despair.