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Living with & within gratitude

Gratitude is defined as: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. When asked, “What are you grateful for?” many respond with; family, food to eat, a place to live. If, in fact, these are what the person has in their life. These basics; community, food and shelter are the obvious things we can be thankful for, but also what we most often take for granted. Imagine if you didn’t have just one of these three, how much harder your life would be! In reality, there are many who do struggle without the basics, and even if you are not exposed to it daily, deep down you know this and appreciate what you do have.

How can you live with gratitude?

Experts encourage people to keep a gratitude journal, or simply listing three things you are grateful for each day, in order to remind ourselves of what we do have. This is what I call living with gratitude. It’s the first part of the definition; the quality of being thankful.

What is living within gratitude?

Living within gratitude takes things a step further. It is the second part of the definition; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. What does this mean? Say, for example, you are standing in a line and the person behind you strikes up a conversation. You’ve already had a long day, you might be feeling a little grumpy, and would rather not engage. You do have a brief conversation, however, during which the other person smiled and showed positive energy. You feel better as a result, and when you reach the front of the line, you return the kindness to the clerk. What happened in this scenario is a mindset adjustment. When you make a conscience decision to pause, and allow kindness and appreciation to flow between yourself and others, you are creating an environment of gratitude.

Gratitude for material things takes a mindset adjust as well. It’s really hard, for example, to feel gratitude when your furnace breaks down in the middle of winter. But, pausing and remembering that there are those without homes who are either huddled outside or sleeping in a shelter can put things into perspective. Sure, there is time and expense involved when things break down, and it is appropriate to feel upset at the circumstances. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, and then think of others to gain perspective and appreciation.

Why is gratitude important?

The number one reason to live with and within gratitude is simply the more you focus on being thankful, the less time there is for negative thoughts. You create increased happiness and less stress for yourself and others. In addition, it has been shown that being more optimistic has positive effects on physical health. Gratitude could be one of the easiest steps to better health! And, once you truly live within gratitude, you glow. It’s the kind of glow that makes people feel your positive energy and want to know the secret to it.

It may not be an effortless transition!

Just because gratitude is one of the easiest steps to better health, does not mean the transition to a gratitude filled life will be effortless. (Certainly less complicated than finding time to exercise and cook healthy meals each day! All of which are important.) It takes effort to make in-the-moment decisions and adjust your thoughts. but over time it will get easier. Share the secret! Eventually, expressing and showing appreciation for the people, things, and experiences in your life, will become a lifestyle. It becomes a part of you. A part of the smart, beautiful, creative, kind, amazing, thankful you!

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Do You Have A Happy Place?

I admit it, I’m a suburb lady. I like to be close enough to bigger cities to have options, such as entertainment venues, but also have a little distance for less traffic and more safety. I like the convenience of being close to the stores that I frequent, and also like a quiet neighborhood. It’s not the city, nor the country, for me it’s just right. However, for 19 years I have had the honor of going to a farm weekly in the summers, and sometimes more, and I consider it my happy place. It’s funny, even to me, that a place I go to only ten to twelve times per year brings me so much peace and joy, but I think the infrequency is part of the magic.

This farm that is so special to me is Freedom Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Waverly, Minnesota. http://freedomfarmmn.org The therapeutic horse back riding is for children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges. The farm also has Healing With Horses – a veterans program, and Freedom Academy – an alternative learning program and Accredited Public High School. Freedom Farm is located next to the home of it’s founder, Susie Bjorklund and while there are some staff, the farm relies on many volunteers for it’s programs, fundraising and operation. This is the what, and now I’ll try to capture the why.

Let’s begin with the drive. For me it’s about a 45 minute drive one-way to the farm. As city turns into country I notice myself taking deep breaths as I leave my daily environment and the sights take over. The sky becomes bluer, and occasionally I see an Eagle souring through it. The grass and trees are a deep, rich green. Without buildings in the way, the landscape stretches out and the cotton-white clouds look close enough to touch. The natural beauty calms me. As I drive past fields and tractors I think about the farmers and how grateful I am for their hard work to produce the bounty of food often taken for granted by city-goers.

Once at the farm, the sights and sounds are evident. There are riders and volunteers arriving, staff moving horses from outdoors to the arena, as well as a cat and puppy in their favorite spots. You can smell the hay, and hear the horses and goats. More deep breaths.

It’s the energy, though, that really makes this place special. Freedom Farm is love, kindness, friendship, healing, learning, laughter and respect, all mashed together into a calm, yet happy energy. The stars, among all this energy, are the horses. Their personality, strength and unconditional love creates magic. I have witnessed this magic in riders learning to talk, learning balance and posture, overcoming sensory issues..all while riding. Then when the ride is done, there is bonding between the rider and the horse during brushing, and hugs before departing. These large, beautiful animals truly heal, physically and emotionally. Here’s a link to learn a little more about about the horses. https://www.freedomfarmmn.org/horses-of-freedom-farm/

While I am passionate about Freedom Farm and I encourage anyone in the area to think about volunteering there, a happy place for you may be something completely different. Perhaps it’s a cabin, or simply a patio or deck outside your home. Is there a place you go to for soul searching? A place you find yourself going to over and over again? Whatever, wherever this place is, it should be a place of calm and joy. It is essential to a person’s wellness to create opportunities for happiness. Sometimes, I know, this is easier said than done and in this case, one could multi-task. Now I’m not encouraging you to bring work into your happy space, although doing work in a calm, happy environment would certainly make the task easier to complete. In the case of Freedom Farm, volunteers are in a joyous place, and they are providing a service. Perhaps there is a place you love, that feeds your soul, AND it’s a place that you can give to with your time.

Choosing a happy place may take some thoughtful, creative consideration, but it will bring you increased energy and focus, better sleep and better mood, and a sense of calm and joy. It may even bring you magic!

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From meat-eating to plant-based eating

I consider myself a plant-based eater (mostly), but I haven’t always been this way. When I was a child meals were primarily meat and potatoes. We also often had vegetables and fruit, but animal protein was prepared daily. At my core I believe I have always desired more of a plant-based diet. I’m a very visual person and I recall times, even as a child, eating chicken for example, and having a hard time chewing my food as I visualized the animal. Visualization is one of the factors that has led me to eating more plants. To this day, thinking about where the meat has come from, and what the animal may have endured is enough to make me desire a salad rather than a burger.

My road from being a meat-eater to a plant-based eater, however, has been a long one. In my 20’s and 30’s I ate as I did when I was a child, which was an animal product the highlight of the meal, along with fruits and veggies as side dishes. In my early to mid 40’s I began experimenting with incorporating more veggies and trying vegetarian recipes. I still ate meat, but had begun buying organic instead of traditional, and it wasn’t the star of the plate. I also began eating meat free meals at least once per week. It was after my stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis, at the age of 46, that I really began changing the foods I ate. After doing my own research and then studying with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN), I transitioned to primarily plant based eating. I had seen and heard too much to not reduce my animal product intake.

Did you know that animals are given hormones to grow, and those hormones show up in the meat that ends up on your plate? For people who have had hormone positive breast cancer, avoiding the intake of hormones is vital for long term cancer free days. In addition to my concern of hormone exposure, I have seen videos about animal slaughter practices and that visualization has stuck with me. You cannot un-see these kinds of things! Then there is the added benefits of eating plants with their nutrients, flavor and phytochemicals. Not only do fruits and vegetables offer their own nutrients and unique flavor, but they also contain phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are a compound found in plants that are believed to protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer. That’s right…plants can help prevent cancer, from onset to recurrence! Not only can these cancer fighting properties be found in fruits and veggies, but also in nuts and whole grains. Here’s a link to more information about these cancer fighting foods: https://www.aicr.org/reduce-your-cancer-risk/diet/elements_phytochemicals.html

So why do I use the term plant-based, verses vegetarian or vegan? Let me break it down for you. Vegetarians do not eat meat, but will typically consume dairy products and eggs. Vegans avoid all animal products. This means they do not consume meat, diary or eggs, and also avoid animal products such as wool and leather. As a plant-based eater, my focus is to consume plant foods, and I do it for the nutritional and long-term health benefits. I also feel better when I do not eat animals.

Right at the beginning I did say that I was mostly a plant-based eater. I say that because the fact is, life happens. You may be at an event where there are not enough plant options to fill you up, and rather than go hungry you decide to consume meat. As a health coach, I will never tell my clients to eat one way or another. We are all individuals and have different needs. I may share the benefits of plants, but each person makes their choices, and my role is to educate and guide my clients through whatever choices they choose. I believe in doing the best you can, the majority of the time. If you think going to plant-based eating may be too hard, or over-whelming, take it slow. It took me decades! I encourage you to explore the benefits of plants, one delicious meal at a time!

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Are you ready?

If I asked you if you wanted to have cancer in your lifetime, I can say with certainty that you would tell me, “NO!” But, are you ready to take action to prevent cancer? I mean really ready to take action steps. If you are saying to yourself, “I’m fine,” or “I’m too busy to make changes,” then that tells me you aren’t ready, but if you recognize the importance of prevention, allow me to provide you with information to get you started.

I have studied Dr. William Li, who gave a Ted Talk on the subject of angiogenesis. In it he posed the question, “Can we eat to starve cancer?” His research provided the answer, “YES!” To back up, angiogenesis is the process our bodies use to grow and maintain blood vessels. When the system operates as it should, the system is in balance, or a state of homeostasis. However, if an abnormal blood vessels grow, they can feed microscopic cancers. We all have the potential to have microscopic cancer cells within our bodies, but if they are not fed, they do not result in disease. Dr. Li’s research found that eating a predominantly whole foods plant-based diet is effective at preventing the development of the abnormal blood vessels, and thus prevents cancer.

So where do you begin? Dr. Li wrote a book, “Eat to Beat Disease” and in it discusses foods that are naturally anti-angiogenic foods. These foods are the ones that block the blood vessel growth and inhibit cancer cells from developing into disease. Dr. Li found that some of the best anti cancer foods are berries and vegetables, as well as green tea, and yes, even dark chocolate (in moderation).

While Dr. Li’s book is a great resource, my take away for you is that a whole food plant-based diet has been scientifically shown to prevent disease. This does not mean you have to go 100% plant based today, for some, it may be a process. Any steps that you can take to incorporate plants into your meals, and reduce animal products will be progress. In addition to more plants, consider your physical activity, relationships and stress level. Where is your life out of balance? Do you need to increase your exercise, surround yourself with more positive people, incorporate meditation? All of these things, along with healthy meals do contribute to your over-all health.

Are you looking for more guidance and accountability as you consider making these changes? This is where I would love to partner with you on your path to long term health. Contact me at hhckatherine@gmail.com to schedule a complementary consultation!

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The heart of self care

In my last blog I wrote about self care and provided ideas for ways to incorporate self care into your day. I believe at the heart of self care is meditation. Meditation is simply regulating the dysregulation in your mind. It is not necessarily religious or about a philosophy. Meditation is intentional attention to your breathing, movement or thoughts to quiet external noise and bring you calm.

Why is meditation so important for your health? It’s all about the stress. Our bodies are amazing and help us manage acute stress by increasing our heart rate and breathing, as we prepare to battle. This is helpful in an emergency, but many people are living in a chronic state of stress, which is harmful to our bodies.

Symptoms of chronic stress include; headaches, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, overeating or undereating, and social withdrawal. These are just a few of the effects of stress on your body, mind and behavior. Left untreated, these effects can lead to many health problems, including; heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.

Studies have shown that mediation is effective in the management of chronic stress and can be in the forms of transcendental meditation, deep breathing, guided meditation, movement, and mindfulness. According to Transcendental meditation (TM) experts, it is simple, natural and effortless. It uses a mantra and is typically practiced twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time. It is taught individually by a certified teacher. There are many deep breathing techniques out there. Some believe in inhaling for a specific count, holding, and then exhaling for a certain count. Typically the focus is on the belly rising on the inhale and falling on the exhale. For beginners, guided meditation is a great option. There are many apps and videos for guided imagery. A technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation, in which you tighten and relax muscle groups can be guided, or easily done on your own. Movement meditation includes yoga, Thi Chi, and Qi Gong, all of which are widely accessible through group classes or videos. Mindfulness as meditation may be more difficult for beginners. It requires you to be completely present in whatever activity you are engaged. The activity may be a shower, or craft, but the key is to focus on your senses as you engage in the activity, rather than letting your mind wander.

As a holistic health coach I believe there are many factors that come together to create your best health and I’m passionate about preventing disease with stress management. As Mother’s Day approaches I encourage you to think about the women in your life (yourself included) who would benefit from incorporating relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Life is busy and hard now, and it’s even harder when you are experiencing a major health crisis. I know this from personal experience! I can help you manage stress by incorporating techniques that will fit into your lifestyle. Contact me at hhckatherine@gmail.com for details.

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Are you on the list?

Most Sunday’s on my facebook page, Inspired Vitality of Minnesota, I ask, “What are you doing for yourself today?” because I believe that self care is an important part of being healthy. We have to-do lists, but we forget to put ourselves on that list, and suddenly the day or week is gone. By not taking care of ourselves, we end up running on empty, and less able to care for others.

Self care simply means caring for your physical and mental health. It is also caring for your soul, your essence. It encompasses nourishing food, sleeping well, being physically active, and quiet and peaceful activities for a calm mind. If you sleep 8 hours per night, in 16 waking hours you have 960 minutes per day. Can you devote 10 minutes out of 960 minutes for you? Or more…are you worth 10, 20, 30, or even 60 minutes out of 960 each day? I say YES, you are worth it! Not only are you worth it, but when you care for yourself on a regular basis, you will find yourself in a better mood, and more motivated and better able to handle all your tasks and challenges.

If you are running on empty, you may not know where to begin, so ponder these questions. What makes you happy? What fills you with peace? I suggest you make a list and circle the items that you haven’t done lately, or that really stand out to you. Once you have the list, it’s time to take action, but I’m a realist. I know the desire to do things and the reality doesn’t always coinside. So, you may have to adjust your action steps according to your situation. For example, if you love to dance, but you have young children, it may not be realistic to go out dancing every Saturday night. But, you can turn on music at home and have a dance party! (A party of one, or more!)

If you are still stuck for self care ideas, here are some of my favorites:

  • Listen to music
  • Dance
  • Reading/journaling
  • Exercise
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Spend time in nature
  • Stretch
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Try a new recipe
  • Plan a vacation
  • Make a bucket list
  • Pamper yourself
  • Do a craft or build something
  • Ride a bike
  • Garden or visit a farmers market
  • Go for a walk
  • Watch funny videos
  • Deep breathing
  • Coloring or playing with kinetic sand
  • Spending one-to-one time with someone you love

Today, while writing this blog I was listening to my favorite smooth jazz music. As I paused to listen to the music, I noticed that I was breathing deeper, it provided me with inspiration, and it made me smile. All this, because it feeds my soul.

The next time you start writing a to-do list, don’t forget about you. Practicing self care does not make you selfish! It’s self love, and if you practice self love, you will feel stronger, happier, and ready to take on the world!

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What can I do?

One of the most frequent questions I get from people is, “what can I do to help my loved one that was just diagnosed with cancer?” The answer is complicated because there is no one answer. There are people who are open to receiving any form of help from anyone, while others want to have boundaries around the type of help they receive. Also, the newly diagnosed individual may be too caught up in emotions or medical details to be able to comprehend what they need, and the needs will change over the coarse of treatment. Your loved one is fortunate to have you in their life, fortunate that you cared enough to ask the question.

The amount of help a person needs may depend upon whether they are living alone, with others, and if they have young children. However, these suggestions may be helpful to anyone. Let’s start with the practical side of things…

Depending on your loved one’s insurance plans, things are going to get costly. Money may seem impersonal, but believe me, it comes in handy! Many medical facilities charge for parking and although the patient may have their parking ticket stamped for a reduced rate, it will add up over time. I suggest you do some investigation at the location your loved one will frequent. If there is a cost for parking, ask if you can pre-purchase parking passes. If not, money for parking is a helpful gift. If you want to get creative, you could get a bunch of one dollar bills and clip them together in the amount of the exit fee. For example, if you know the patient will be charged four dollars each time they have an appointment, paper clip four dollars together and put as many bundles together as you can afford into an envelope. Label it, “parking money” and this will allow them to grab a bundle each time they have an appointment.

Becoming a Caring Bridge administrator is another way to be helpful. Caring Bridge is an online journal for those going through a medical crisis and allows everyone to keep updated on the status. Sometimes the patient themself wants to take on the journaling, as it can be cathartic, but sometimes it feels like too much to keep up. Having another person with the ability (password) to post a journal can be helpful, but it does need to be someone close to the situation. https://www.caringbridge.org/

Another great resource is Care Calendar. It is an online calendar that the patient or family member sets up, then provides people with access in order to sign up to help. It has MANY uses, but basically coordinates help that is needed by the patient/family. When you set up the account you can, for example, simply ask for meals and provide preferences, but it can also be used to coordinate rides to appointments, cargiving of children, or providing help around the home. This allows the patient to receive exactly the help they need without directly asking someone to do something for them, which is sometimes difficult. https://www.carecalendar.org/

If your loved one is going to have a surgery, such as a mastectomy, in which they will have surgical drainage tubes afterwards, one helpful item is a belt with pouches for the drainage bulbs. In particular, something that can be used in the shower. This was one of the best gifts I received! The patient may have the drainage tubes for an extended period, and they can be quite cumbersome. When dressed, the tubes can be clipped to clothing, but in the shower, it’s helpful to have a place to put the bulbs. You can search online for a post-op belt for choices or check with a local mastectomy store.

Some other things that I received after my diagnosis that were really helpful; button down soft pajamas, soft hats, soft blankets, and earrings. After a mastectomy there is pain and limited mobility, and it was helpful to have a button down pajama top. During chemo a person can get cold, so the hats and blankets came in handy. Notice with all of these things I said soft? Post surgery and during treatment your nerves are affected, and the softer materials felt the best for me. I also received pretty new earrings, which were nice when I was wearing hats and scarves, to dress up my look.

Receiving meals during chemo, for me, was huge! (In hindsight, I wish I had accepted help with meals earlier on in the process.) The fatigue from chemo is like the worst flu you’ve ever experienced. You may shower, for example, and then have to lay down immediately because just that act is so exhausting. So, while a person may be capable of preparing meals, it is helpful to have items in the freezer or a freshly prepared meal. If the patient is having a hard time eating, the family will appreciate the meal! Some chemo drugs cause a metalic taste, which leads to nausea and difficulty eating and one thing I found helpful is incorporating smoothies. If your loved one does not have a blender/smoothie maker, perhaps collecting money for, and purchasing one, could be a group gift. Indiviuals could then create smoothie bags. A simple one would be to put 1-2 cup berries, 1-2 tablespoons flaxmeal, 1/2 cup frozen spinach and 1/4 avacado in a freezer bag. Then provide a liquid, such as almond milk. I suggest doing just a few of the bags at first and see how the patient likes them and adjust ingredients for their preference. The cold, fruity flavor of smoothies was one thing I found palatable during chemo.

If your loved one does not use an online calender to coordinate helpers, when you do offer help, be specific. To say, “let me know what I can do to help,” puts a responsibility on the patient. It is better to say, for example, “I can come X day and pick up dirty laundry, and bring it back the next day.” Or, “I’m available X or X day if you need me to run errands.” By giving them examples of what you are willing to do to help, you provide the patient with the thought process of, “yes, that would be helpful.” It plants a seed and they are more willing to accept your offer.

Finally, just be there..emotionally. Allow your loved one to say anything, and know that their moods will swing drastically. There can be much fear in a diagnosis, and pressure to be positive. While I believe a positive attitude is essential to healing, it’s also essenial to acknowledge all emotions. The key is to not live in the fear. So, listen, acknowledge and consider laughter. A person CAN have cancer AND laugh. Texting or emailing your loved one a funny video will put a smile on their face. If your loved one is typically an affectionate person, don’t forget to offer a hug. If surgical sites are a concern, then hold hands. All of the things you can provide are helpful, but kind compassion in the forms of listening, sharing and affection are really what your loved one will remember when they have healed.

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Help, please!

Who LIKES to ask for help? In many societies we are conditioned to ask for help only when we need it, like for a ride to the airport, and in doing so we may feel as though we are inconveniencing the helper. I have learned that, for the most part, people really do want to help each other out, particularily in times of crisis, but it is often up to the one struggling to be courageous enough to ask for the help they need. I want to share with you a story in which a woman reached out to me for help, and how stangers came together to lend a hand.

I had been in touch with a woman through a local on-line group, with the purpose of giving and recieving, and although I did not know her, we had previously communicated. She sent me a message last weekend saying that she was in despirate need of pants and sweaters and asked if I had any extra winter clothes. After learning what sizes she would need, I decided to post on social media the specifics of what I was looking for to help this woman. I immediately had women responding to me that they would be happy to help out. Two ladies went through their closets, one of which also purchased a new sweater, another lady went shopping and purchased several outfits, plus socks and slippers. After picking up the items, I met up with the woman who made the request, and she was thrilled to recieve so much from strangers. In the meantime, I have had others reach out to me to offer to go through their closets to see what they have to donate. When they do, I will drop off those items as well. This really is not about me, though. It’s about the bravery of asking for help, and people coming together to fill the need.

In the US there is much abundance, and much struggle. When you are struggling the easiest thing to do is to take each day as it comes and push through it. The hard thing to do is to ask others to lend a hand. It takes courage, and strength to ask for what you need and rely on the generosity of others.

I am inspired by the woman who was in need and asked for help and I’m in awe of the selfless women that came together to fill that need for a complete stranger. This is not someone they will ever meet, or know of her situation, they just did what they could, because they could. It felt very powerful knowing that we, as women, have it in us to make the difference in the lives of another person. Simply by sharing what we have. Imagine the possibilities if those who needed a hand asked for what they needed, and those who could, provided the help. I know in some cases, it’s not that simple, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is either. Whether it’s a ride, clothing, food, or really, anything..imagine what we could do together. We are powerful, and together, unstopable. All it would take is the bravery to ask, and the willingness to say yes.

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Win the weight loss game!

The US weight loss market is worth billions! Why? Because most weight loss programs, do not work for the long haul, so people are going from one diet to the next, or stopping and starting over and over. If you would like to lose some weight, however, you CAN do it without investing in the weight loss industry.

There are some people that need the structure of counting calories, points, or being told what to eat, and some can be successful at these plans. But, before you put your money into these, really think about whether the changes are something you can sustain for the long haul. While some plans eliminate a whole food group, I’m not a fan of these unless you have a medical reason, or if you know that you feel better not consuming certain foods.

Don’t even get me started on diets that use meal replacement products! Be aware of what you are putting into your body!

First, let’s do away with the word, “diet.” The word itself implies a temporary weight loss program, with results that are temporary because the changes are not sustainable. I prefer the words, “food plan” or simply “nutrition.”

The people that have the most success at weight loss are mentally ready. Find your WHY. What are your reasons for wanting to loose the weight? Do you want to prevent disease? Feel better? What would loosing that weight do for you?

Once you have your reason in mind, come up with a plan that you can sustain over the long haul. I respect each person’s belief’s of what foods are right for them and work for their bodies. We are all individuals! I will encourage you, though, to eat less or no processed food, reduce sugar, drink more water, eat fruits and veggies, lean proteins (or beans/legumes/nuts and seeds) and whole grains. (See my previous blog about adding in nutrients.) When you decide what type of nutrition is right for your body, plan your meals, stick to your shopping list and prepare snacks and meals ahead of time when you can.

Enlist Support. Explain to your friends and family that you are focusing on nutrition and tell them you would appreciate their support. Then tell them HOW they can support you. Often times people want to support you in changes, but don’t know what support means to you. Perhaps your family can help by keeping processed foods out of the house. Or, maybe you ask a friend to try different restaurants when you go out.

Speaking of going out, more and more restaurants have their menus on line now, so selecting your food ahead of time is easy and will help you from straying from your plan. Menu’s can be deceiving, so don’t hesitate to ask your server how an item is prepared. Most places are happy to make adjustments to meet the needs of it’s patrons.

Fitness is an important part of a weight loss plan. Exercise helps with metabolism, is good for your heart and mind, and muscle burns more calories than fat does.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. Love yourself enough to make healthy choices, and give yourself grace when you do not. Life happens. The key is to pick yourself up and keep trying. You deserve to live a healthy, vital life, and it’s up to you to make it a reality!

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Birthdays and Survivorship

I’m feeling a bit sentimental today, and as a result, this blog will be more personal than previous posts. Last week was my birthday, my 50th! Despite the milestone and the fact that a few weeks ago I started receiving mailings from AARP, I was excited about this birthday.

I have never been into big birthday celebrations, instead having a nice family dinner was more my speed. Beyond that, I always felt it was a normal day. Even this year, at some point on my birthday I had the same thought about birthday’s that I have always had: You wake up, someone says happy birthday, and then it’s like any other day. This year, though, I had the thought because what I did on my actual birthday was cleaning and buying groceries. But, the reason I was doing those things was because I threw myself a big party over the weekend. (It was SO fun!)

In the process of getting ready for my party I began reflecting on birthdays after cancer. Because I had delayed reconstruction, for me it took several years before I felt like I was done with recovery and ready to move forward. I think, too, many survivors have to let some time pass before they move from that fear of recurrence to celebrating the years clicking by. That’s what I did this weekend, though, celebrate! I invited friends and family, and even hired a musician. Celebrating age IS different after cancer. I’m happy I’m getting older, because, let’s face it, the alternative is not a good one. Every year I age is another year I have been blessed with my friends and family.

Now that I’m in the survivorship mind-set, I also think about the quality of the years ahead. Having a can-do attitude is a huge part of survivorship, and health for anyone. Getting your mind focused on your goals and beliefs is half the battle! I strive to eat healthy the majority of the time (yes, I did have cake for my birthday), and I exercise, but not as a punishment for the times that I didn’t eat healthy. Rather, fitness is a celebration of what my body can do. Although I am a work in progress with both my nutrition and fitness, I AM making changes and improving, because I believe I can and I want to do it in order to continue quality health for years to come!

While celebrating birthdays in the survivorship years is important, daily joy is equally important. Each of us may experience daily stress with work, relationships, or finances, but that’s all the more reason to incorporate joy into our days. Maybe it’s a short, funny video, or reading, or a conversation with a friend. Whatever activity brings you joy and reduces stress, for even a short time, will in turn benefit your health.

Here’s to joy…in the small moments, and the big ones! Whether you have experienced cancer or not, I hope you, too, celebrate each day and each year that you have been given by choosing to incorporate healthy actions.