How 5 Minutes a Day will Change Your Life

Do you ever have a day where you thought to yourself “where did the day go?” That’s me. Everyday. I’m the QUEEN of the day that got away. Every evening around 6 o’clock, my husband laughs when I act so surprised that dinnertime has magically arrived without my knowledge.

And it does! After I suddenly realize that dinner snuck up behind me, I scramble to first THINK of something to cook, and then frantically fix something (somewhat) healthy.

After the chaos of dinner, I’m done. Tapped out. I’ve forgotten whatever I was in the middle of doing before cooking dinner. I feel as though my whole day was flung together and I have nothing to show for it. It’s as though that little bit of chaos threw off my whole day.

So what did I do? I set a new goal in my journal. And it worked.

I’ve been journaling for some time now. In the mornings, I do my own version of the ‘5 minute journal’ approach. I call it “Gratitude and Goals”. Gratitude for the things I have currently and goals for the things I want in the future – and every morning, I write these things down so that my day is a bridge between the two.

And it’s changed my life.

It takes about 5 minutes most mornings. A quick 2 pages of writing, and my mind is clear. This approach to journaling helps me to take on the day without all the clutter usually rattling around in my brain. My day starts and ends more clearly and with a purpose – plus it helps me to remember dinner!

So how do YOU do this? Grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee.

You ready?

OK start with page one. Write down 2 things you are grateful for – and why. They can be something simple, like your family or your home or the fact that you could sleep in that day (I’ve written that one a few times!) Whatever you are truly grateful for in your life and why you’re grateful.

Now close your eyes and see those things in your mind for 2 deep breaths. Seriously. Picture your family/home/sleeping in. Now breath in…out…in…out while holding that image.

Ready for step 2?

Write down 2 goals you have. They can be anything – to accomplish more at work, to be more mindful, to beat cancer (that was my written goal for forever!!) Even just being less nauseous from chemo treatment. Whatever you REALLY want to do.

It can be something you want to accomplish that day (like putting dinner on the table by 7) or that year (like finishing that ‘honey-do list’). Small or large, whatever it is, write it down.

Now, again, close your eyes. Picture yourself reaching that goal. Hold that image and take 2 more deep breaths.

At this point, I usually turn the page and write my thoughts. Whatever has come to mind, I write it down. If it’s a big appointment day, I write down my fears and anxieties. Or sometimes I write about activities from the night before such as a fun dinner party or seeing family. Whatever is rattling around in my brain first thing in the morning is written on the next page.

FIVE minutes. And its changed my life.

How did I come to this? Well, I’ve always found that writing is a great outlet for me. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness since my diagnosis, and I found that this 5 minute journal method combines the best of journaling, visualization, and mindfulness.  Over time, I’ve found it keeps me ‘present’ and less stressed all day. I now direct my day rather than my day directing me.

It’s also helped tremendously with my cancer fears. As Tony Robbins likes to say, you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time. I am proof that changing your mindset really DOES change your life. This five minutes has helped me to quiet the fears and find a greater meaning in everyday life BEYOND cancer.

Using a journal to focus my morning thoughts has retrained my brain to see the bright side. Throughout the day, my mind thinks back to the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m fearful might happen. My gratitude has replaced my fear.

And some days, having a calm dinner with family shows me the happiest and greatest meaning of life. Set aside 5 minutes to try something that may change YOUR life – like this 5 minute journal – and take control of your fears.

Journaling with Cancer

I often talk about the stress and the mental battle I went through with my melanoma diagnosis. Being diagnosed with cancer is INCREDIBLY stressful – nothing else compares, really – and it forces you to reevaluate your life. At the ripe old age of 31, I was trying to come to grips with all of life’s deepest questions. Why me? How did this happen? When all this is over, what do I want out of life? How is this going to change me? Am I living a life worth living?

My head would spin with questions every night, and instead of sleeping, the worry would take over. I knew my thoughts weren’t helping my mindset. I needed an outlet to clear my head.

I didn’t want to go to a shrink, though. I mean who does?? I’m not having suicidal thoughts and I’m not on the verge of breaking down. If my family found out, they would think that I wasn’t handling it well, and THAT would be a whole other stress-inducing problem. I just needed to vent.

So I started to write.

I started this blog as a journal. I started a garden journal. I started a ‘journal’ journal. And I started to write every chance I got.

It was such a relief to get allllll those thoughts out of my head. Writing them down seemed like instantly unloading all my crazy thoughts onto the paper – like cutting and pasting them from my head to the journal. It became my external hard drive, where my all my deepest thoughts were safe and sound.

Don’t know where to start? More info to come!

And slowly my mind felt more clear. I felt as though I could really face the day without those constant fears chirping in my head. My therapist became my journal – I could openly examine my thoughts and writing them down made me accept my own point of view more freely. My goals and aspirations became clearer. It was like venting to my best friend that would never tell another soul about what I had complained about that day.

You may think “this journaling stuff is only for teenagers to relieve their emotional angst”. Heck, when I started I thought it would save me the trouble of seeing a mental health professional. In researching the effects of journaling, however, I discovered it’s a lot more than both these things.

Journaling has been a habit of highly successful people for ages. Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, and Oprah, just to name a few. Journaling their thoughts, ideas, dreams, and daily goals has helped them all attain amazing lives.

And my goal is to have an amazing life. I want to make my life worth living. Every day is a blessing, and keeping a journal is a way for me to reflect on what I have, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Do you keep a journal? How does it help you? Let me know in the comments!

Year One After Treatment

Year One After Treatment

Last week, I got the results from my latest PET/CT scan. According to my calendar, it was my 4th scan since the final round of immunotherapy last May.

It turned out to be lucky #4 because I heard the sweetest 3 letters anyone with cancer will ever hear:

N…E…D

No Evidence of Disease

No evidence that the stupid f*cking melanoma was ever there. None. My insides are “squeaky clean” according to my oncologist.

Holy hell, people! I can’t help but curse, I’m so f*cking happy!!

Me and my favorite person at the Miles for Melanoma event in Boston last year

A lot has happened in the past year since my treatment. I mean…like…a lot. Life keeps moving forward, with or without us, so it’s interesting to look back at the path I’ve chosen.

In the past year, these events top the list as the most important: stopped treatment early due to gastritis and borderline colitis, lost 20 pounds, went on steroids, had a nervous system reaction, lost my mother-in-law to a heart attack, interviewed like crazy and got 2 job offers, started a job as a traveler, and now my husband and I have decided to retire early so we’re in the process of buying a rental property.

Man – the last year of my life really makes my head spin. I’m only 33 and I feel like I’ve experienced enough to be twice that age.

OK, maybe not TWICE that age. I take it back 😉

But the last year was definitely tough. Going through treatment and then losing my mother-in-law so suddenly broke my heart. Here I was, really trying to keep my head above water with all the side effects of treatment, and then out of NOWHERE we lose a very dear family member. Losing her so suddenly made me realize EVERY day here on this earth is a blessing, side effects and all.

Life is short. Make the most of every day. Make the most of every year.

And that’s my plan. I’m working on kicking cancer’s ass – one year NED at a time.

The Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental health is one of the few places the medical field has absolutely FAILED in the US. And when I say failed, I mean failed with a big fat ‘F’. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, exit stage left kind of fail.

The numbers don’t lie. The statistics of how we’ve failed, and continue to do so, are staggering. Over half of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, even to this day. Teenage depression rates are rising. 43.7 million Americans struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is over 18% of the population. These numbers even EXCLUDE developmental disorders and over 8% of adults in America who report having a substance or alcohol problem!

How can this BE? We’re in 2017, people! We can’t IGNORE over a quarter of the population!

We HAVE GOT to do better at helping those with mental health problems. Not tomorrow – TODAY!

This really hit home for me in a one-two punch. My friend’s brother, who had been struggling with depression, committed suicide. The following year, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t really soak in the hardship of my friend’s loss until I saw myself in a similar boat – struggling to keep myself afloat mentally and physically.

Mental health problems can affect any one of us. Our friends, our family, and ourselves. Just like breaking a leg or having cancer, treatment SHOULD be available to everyone. For any reason.

But it’s not.

No matter how you slice it, millions of Americans struggle with mental health…every….single….day.

You can find many more statistics and resources at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

I found myself struggling with anxiety and depression after my diagnosis. I couldn’t accept that cancer could happen to me. I became terrified of the sun’s UV “death rays” and scared of being in the sun (see my post about conquering that fear here). My entire career has been in healthcare, but I developed “white coat syndrome” – it’s a real thing – where before every appointment or scan, I would sit in the waiting room, sweating profusely with my blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketing. My dread and anxiety when seeing the doctor became the norm.

Does this sound familiar?

When I finally decided to take control of my thoughts and emotions, things slowly became better. I decided that cancer may take my body, but I wouldn’t let it take my soul. I became stronger mentally and started to bail out the sinking ship to weather the storm. I did this through mind-body connection methods such as mindfulness meditation and journaling that I discuss in this blog.

Many people can do this same thing and eventually bail themselves out. Many others, however, need professional help to lead them in the right direction through the storm.

BOTH methods towards mental health simply DO NOT have enough support out there. Those who want to take control of their thoughts on their own don’t have enough support. And those who need professional help don’t have easy access to professionals.

We HAVE GOT to help each other and ourselves. We need to acknowledge that America needs better access to mental health services. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. And every day, more and more people are struggling.

Mental health doesn’t have to be this way. If you see someone struggling, don’t ignore the symptoms. If you need help, please reach out. Anxiety, depression, anger, and fear don’t have to be a daily part of your life.

Let’s admit America has a mental health problem.

Because as the saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing the problem.

Yoga for Lymphedema

My introduction to yoga was in college. To fill in my physical education requirement, my friends and I signed up for yoga. Why not? It should be an easy class, right?

The instructor filled every single stereotype of a hippie-dippy yogi that I’ve ever heard of; she smelled of patchouli oil, with straw-like long wavy hair straight out of a Woodstock movie. She preached about the benefits of vegetarianism and filling your soul with a “complete protein” of beans and rice. She wore tie-dye and long skirts that jingled.

Needless to say, as a college student, I would simply fall asleep during the 20 minutes of ‘corpse pose’ during her long diatribes. I hated the slow pace of the stretches and poses. I didn’t see any benefit and I didn’t see the point.  I thought to myself – this certainly couldn’t be considered exercise.

Now, over 10 years later, I look forward to my yoga. I took a complete 180 turn in my attitude towards the benefits – mostly because I’ve SEEN the benefits first hand.

Shortly after I was diagnosed in 2014, I began to do yoga as part of my wellness plan. I read all about the benefits of beating cancer through connecting mind and body, and I wanted to do everything in my power to give myself an edge on the cancer.

In a way, I found yoga and yoga found me.

And since I started doing yoga, my practice has changed. At first, I just started with a few poses and breathing exercises. Then I found some online yoga teachers and classes that I really loved, (see the post about my favorite online yoga group here) and so began my journey. Now, I use yoga as my exercise routine – some days, I do an hour of “super sweaty” yoga for cardio, other days I hold poses for strength or stretching.

Since my Complete Lymph Node Dissection (CLND) to remove more of my melanoma in 2016, I’ve noticed that yoga significantly helps my lymphedema. The stretching and muscle movements help to reduce the swelling in my left thigh, meaning the lymph in my left leg is flowing rather than staying stagnant.

The trick is to use pulses of muscle tension to propel the lymph under the skin. Holding a pose only holds the lymph in one place – so when using yoga to reduce lymphedema, hold for a few seconds, release and repeat multiple times for optimal drainage.

I’ve found these 3 poses help the most with my leg lymphedema:

You can find photos of all these poses and more at https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/34721642/image/34721659/Downward-Facing-Dog

Downward Facing Dog

I always like to open up my yoga with a few Downward Facing Dogs. Your lymph system is like a highway – traffic upstream causes congestion downstream. Your lymph system collects lymph from all over the body, and it all converges into what’s called the thoracic duct. The lymph then drains into the left subclavian vein by your left collarbone. Standing or sitting means that the lymph has to work against gravity to get to the thoracic duct. Downward Dog helps to use gravity in your favor and clear out the congestion, thus allowing more lymph from the legs to get to the thoracic duct during the rest of your routine.

Warrior I

The vast majority of the lymph nodes in your leg are in your groin. Stretching the hip forward helps to massage these lymph nodes and get the lymph flowing. I personally no longer have the nodes in my groin, so it’s much harder for my lymph to cross this area. I also have scar tissue here from my previous surgeries. I find that stretching in this pose helps with both – my scar tissue has loosened up, allowing new lymph channels to form, and helping lymph to cross and drain. It has also helped to build my hip flexors, helping the muscles behind the skin to massage the lymph upwards.

Bridge Pose/Half Wheel

Bridge pose is the best of everything – using gravity, stretching, and massage to help drain lymph from the legs. It uses gravity to your advantage while building the hip flexors and massaging the lymph nodes in your groin. Use this pose with deep breathing exercises (which have been proven to help move lymph towards your thoracic duct) and you have a super combo to help reduce lymphedema in the legs.

 

What are your favorite poses to help reduce lymphedema?