Trauma, Cancer, and Hope

Trauma

A good friend spent part of her weekend doing some reading on trauma for work and discovered the acronym H.O.P.E. standing for the phrase Hold On Pain Ends. She knows I have tremendous faith in the transformative power of hope. Holding on and believing that all will be well again is a wonderful feeling and vision for healing.

Many people think of trauma as it relates to military personnel who return from active duty with PTSD. People who have been in accidents, suffered abuse, had violence directed at them, witnessed atrocities, been through disasters, lost loved ones, and have been through (or continue to go through) an illness also can be diagnosed with PTSD. Any negative event can cause trauma.

Cancer and Trauma

PTSD is a mental health condition that develops after exposure to a traumatic event. Cancer survivors have experienced their fair share of traumatic events. Painful and emotionally stressful tests, treatments, receiving bad news, hard emotions to process, and living with chronic or painful physical issues are possible sources of trauma. Looking in the mirror at a changed body, living with lymphedema, and having the pain of neuropathy are daily reminders for some people. Fear of recurrence may always be on a person’s mind. Some anxiety is normal and quite frankly unavoidable for cancer patients and survivors. When these feelings persist or worsen, it could be a sign of ongoing trauma. Symptoms may include things like nightmares, trouble concentrating, feeling fearful, guilty, angry, avoiding things that trigger bad memories, and loss of interest in people or activities you used to enjoy. Other possibilities may also cause these.

I believe seeking professional help is the best approach to address working through trauma. Sharing what is painful can help identify the root cause whether the pain is physical or emotional. Effective solutions can be tailored to a person’s specific needs. Speaking to family, friends, or support groups are other possible choices. Even writing it out can be helpful in sorting out what you think and how you feel as a pathway to ending pain.

Hope

My thoughts keep coming back to that acronym about holding on because pain ends. Hope is hope. How else can a person take an active role in feeling physically and mentally healthier? No official trauma labels need to be involved. Everyone has times where something painful is experienced. I am not a mental health professional, but nonetheless have a few thoughts to share for dealing with pain. I think of it as a way to Help Other People Excel. I can’t say that’s original. I also can’t find a source to credit.

Pain can be a teacher.

Sometimes I need to experience pain and sit with it so I know what not to do. When I’m sore, my body is often bringing something to my attention. I may need to rest. Maybe I’m doing a movement incorrectly. Possibly I’m using new muscles and my body is thanking me for using them but reminding me to do so gradually. I’m also being taught something if I experience emotional pain. Every experience teaches me something, even the ones I find emotionally difficult. You can’t ignore physical or emotional pain. Both get worse if you do. Listen to your body.

Grief is allowed.

You can’t just “get over” things. Just as with the grief when someone passes, many events can still be a passing of something and involve grieving. Again, just as with the grief when someone passes, it comes in waves. One day you are just fine with not working and having a flexible schedule, and the next day this very same thing has you in tears all day. Some insensitive comments leave you unfazed, and then there are others that you believe are beyond cruel that echo over and over again. Some grieve body parts. There are many things you “used to” do that now no longer exist. Those who have had cancer have lost a lot. There can be unexpected spurts of grief that come at the worst times. It’s normal. Allowing yourself time to feel feelings will eventually lead to more good days than bad.

Find a new focus.

Starting something new gives an opportunity to move forward with something different. Fresh starts have their merits. It could be a new hobby or interest. I have mentioned before that working out has turned into a positive focus for me. I also have more time to write. Maybe it’s something bigger like a new job, relationship, home, or city. Change may be exactly what is needed. If nothing else, change serves as a good distraction. Everyone needs a break from whatever makes life harder.

Exercise.

Here is my repetitive plug for exercise. Physical activity can help you see you are stronger than you know. This helps physically and emotionally. I have a long ways to go to make myself even stronger, but I’m stronger than I used to be. Exercise helps me feel more confident and in control. It makes me feel good. I feel less stressed. Exercise provides an opportunity for me to work on my inner strength while I work on improving my body. Finding and reclaiming power by moving is extremely therapeutic. Work with a punching bag is a very effective way to reclaim power.

Get outside.

The effects of being outdoors for me are similar to exercising. It makes me feel good and less stressed just like exercise does. Fresh air and nature calms me. Problems often sort themselves out as I spend time in the woods. My head always feels clearer. Maybe it’s because nature is grounding. If you do not have access to a handy outdoor source like a park, farm, or green spaces, something as small as a garden plot can give you the opportunity to dig, to let dirt fall through your fingers, to weed, to plant, and to watch something new grow. Container gardening has become very popular in areas where green space is limited. This is also a great option if you have some physical limitations. Sitting in the shade with a refreshing lemonade and reading a good book still counts as getting outside.

Forgiveness.

Forgive yourself for past actions. I have heard a lot of people say how important it is to forgive others, show universal love and kindness, speak positively, and have at least one good friend you can count on. All important. Even more important is to forgive yourself, love yourself, have positive self-talk, and be your own friend. I have been pretty hard on myself and now I am much kinder. I believe pain can end when we treat ourselves like we treat others. Each day is a new opportunity to treat yourself well with kindness and forgiveness. Reset every morning.

Believe.

Believe in hope. Expect the best. Hope begets hope. For me, things always come back to my unwavering belief in hope. One of my favorite hope quotes reads:

“When the world says,

‘Give up,’

Hope whispers,

‘Try it one more time.’ “   – Unknown

I love that the source is unknown. It somehow makes it even more appealing to me. It’s as if there is an anonymous and universal whisper that could be from anyone anywhere in the world. The whisper may be a gentle hush. I like thinking of it that way. I see it in the flame of a candle. I hear it when a bird sings. I feel it with good friends. I find it in some of my favorite places. You know where some of those places are if you know me well.

Here is one of my favorite places where I hear the hush. Can you hear it, too?

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Author Anne Lamott describes a hush as something sacred. Hope whispers softly and pushes us to keep trying. Hope as a hush is sacred indeed. Pain ends. Hope remains. It can replace pain and grow exponentially. I continue to listen to the whispers of hope.

Living Hopefully

Superheroes are part of current popular culture. Super human strength, agility, and speed quicker than lightning save cities or planets. Right and might both outwit and outlast villains every time. I like to think of hope as its own superpower. It is its own light in the dark night. Hope calms the inner storm. Hope saves. There are days it takes a beating, but it is never snuffed out. It always resurfaces stronger and brighter. It is also transferable from one person to another which makes it even more powerful. I wish hope could be embodied in some type of physical form where we could call out for it and see it leaping over obstacles in a single bound and knocking out the bad guy. It sure would make life easier. We must do our best to take on that persona ourselves. Superheroes are good examples of what it means to adopt a hopeful lifestyle.

When we live hopefully, we become those superheroes.

Hope by definition doesn’t make you feel doomed. It provides strength and wipes out fear. Hope moves forward. Hope is a Stage V quality. Throw resiliency and toughness in there as Stage V qualities as well. One on its own creates a reaction. The reaction is greater when several of these qualities are combined. Stage V is also a superpower worthy to make a stand against villainous cancer.

Adam Sicinski is a life coach, founder of IQ Matrix in 2009, and has developed over 350 self-growth mind maps. I honestly can’t gush enough about these mind maps. One of his points in  “How To Nurture Hope When Life Starts Getting Really Tough”  is that hope can’t come and go from a person’s life as the need arises for it. Instead, hope is a lifestyle. Hope becomes an integral part of each day. It requires trust and faith in yourself that you can get through tough times and follow through with your actions and plans. He writes when you nurture hope you lessen doubt, anxiety, and stress which alleviates some of the uncertainty while facing these emotions. In turn, your levels of belief rise and you can act in a more positive way despite whatever trouble you face.

Pessimistic thoughts must give way to a sense of certainty. Hope becomes more proactive this way rather than a passive act. More of Adam Sicinski’s ideas follow as to what it means to be a hopeful person.

Living hopefully means . . .

  • You are grateful for the life you have. Even though you are living with gratitude, it does not limit you from seeking out a better life.
  • You want to make things better and look for ways to make your life better. Actions and opportunities pave the way step by step.
  • You will always do your best to make the most of every situation.
  • Every experience has some value. You remain hopeful that things will turn out in your favor.
  • No matter what happens, you maintain a positive outlook.
  • Living in the now. This means that by making the most of today, you increase your chances of making the future you want a reality.
  • You do more than just hope things work out. You work to make it so. Sometimes this means building on past successes and learning from what has happened. Mistakes can be helpful.
  • Living generously. Giving to others often provides a better understanding about your own personal struggles while allowing you to grow toward where you want to be.
  • Looking for opportunities where others can help. You can’t do it all on your own.
  • Ridding yourself of worry and regret. It breeds anxiety, stress, and hopeless thoughts.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. These are not perfect people, but people with a sense of purpose who work through challenges as cheerfully as possible with attitudes that keep them moving forward.

This last idea is really important for me because positive people seem to have many of the other qualities needed for living hopefully already present. We gravitate toward one another and conversations about positivity and hope unfold naturally. I need to surround myself with these people as someone living with cancer. I also need to continue being the person living hopefully.

I also like that Sicinski doesn’t say that nurturing hope means nothing ever goes wrong. A perfect life isn’t realistic. Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to life’s challenges. When mistakes are made or unexpected circumstances are encountered, those who nurture hope will likely see these experiences as opportunities for growth. I think there are many similarities in hope as a lifestyle and being resilient.

A lifestyle that embraces hope involves gratitude, trust, positivity, happiness, and belief. Nurturing hope causes you to reflect a lot on your life and draw upon strengths and resources. These shifts in thoughts and lifestyle apply to anyone who wants to live with a mindset geared toward hope. Hope as a lifestyle also correlates positively with a Stage V lifestyle.

One of my most hopeful times of day is in the predawn of the morning. I’m still in bed, relishing that state of bliss between sleep and awake. It is quiet. In the summer, I can hear birds chirping melodically. When it’s winter, the gentle sound of the furnace is comforting. I feel refreshed and have the whole day stretching out before me. Anything can happen. I like to think about how I see my day unwinding and set a positive intention. Often I just appreciate the stillness and let myself be. Now, I understand mornings aren’t everyone’s best time, but I’m betting you can identify a time of day where you have an abundance of hopeful energy. Maybe it’s during your morning coffee or tea. Maybe you find it while out for a run. It could be much later in the day when you’re driving home from work. The point is to give yourself some time every day to be intentionally hopeful. It takes only a few moments to let gentle hopeful feelings and reminders have a positive impact.

May the coming new year offer many opportunities for living hopefully.

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What are you hoping for this year? What plans have you made to help turn your hopes into something real?

The Christmas Tree and Light

Many thousands of years ago, there were people who believed that evergreens were magical. In winter, evergreens stayed strong and green when all the other trees and greenery turned brown and bare. People saw evergreens as a symbol of life and as a sure sign that spring would return. Candles were used out of necessity, but were also symbolic of the light of spring triumphing over winter’s darkness.

Legend has it that the tradition of the first Christmas tree started with Martin Luther in Germany. He was a monk and church reformer who lived in Germany from 1483 to 1546. The story goes that as Luther returned home one wintry night he saw the stars twinkle through the tree branches. Luther was amazed by the sight and eager to tell his family about it. To help them understand, he went to the woods and cut down a small fir tree. Luther brought it indoors and decorated it with candles that represented the stars he had seen.

The custom spread through Germany and then throughout the world. The Christmas tree first appeared in England when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, who was German. In 1841, he set up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle to remind him of his homeland. Immigrants from England and Germany brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States in the 1800s.

The Christmas tree with its boughs stretched toward heaven reminds us that Christ brought people everlasting life. The candles or lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

I celebrate Christmas, so I take this opportunity to wish a very merry Christmas to those who also celebrate it. Christmas is very much about light. There are other celebrations this time of year that also celebrate light. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. For eight nights, Jewish families light a candle on the menorah to represent the miracle of oil lasting for eight days and nights when there was only enough for one after the Maccabees reclaimed Jerusalem from Syria. Diwali is a five day festival of lights celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs across the world. New beginnings, good over evil, and light over darkness are celebrated. The Winter Solstice is the start of the solar year and celebrates light and the rebirth of the sun. Children of all ages may relate to the light on Rudolph’s shiny red nose illuminating the night sky. Some might even say it glows.

All these examples share the magnificent outpouring of light. All light is love and hope. When we celebrate any of these special days, we’re ultimately demonstrating what we have in common with one another. We’re celebrating light, love, and hope. Light overpowers the dark. Our differences do not define us. Our similarities should bring us together.

I wish you all much peace in whatever way you praise light and goodness.