Dr. Louise Lubin is a clinical psychologist who has practiced adult, family, and marital therapy for more than 40 years. Her book, “Your Journey beyond Breast Cancer: Tools for the Road” is an interactive guide to restoring, reviving, and rebuilding patients’ lives at any milepost on their breast cancer journey.
In this three-part series, she shares thoughtful tools for taking care of yourself, harnessing fear, and restoring mind, body, and spirit. Read the first part, Using Breath & Awareness to Calm Your Body, here. Read the second part, 4 Steps to Overcoming Anxiety, here.
Each of you reading this will be at a different point in your life—or even on the timeline of your cancer diagnosis. Your cancer journey may be different from anyone else’s. Finding your way forward will require that you have the tools to navigate the road that is best for you.
Embrace Your Spirit
When you focus on your spirit, you identify and connect to your inner essence, soul, or higher power. Your spirit can also be your sense of being part of a universe greater than yourself. Some find this in organized religion, nature, creativity, or in relationships with others. Rituals can help you honor your feelings and provide healing to your spirit.
Create Your Personal Ritual
A ritual is “any detailed method or procedure faithfully followed or practiced.” A healing ritual can be anything that reflects and creates value for you. Rituals work best when you believe in their power. They can create a sense of hope and faith. Rituals can be as simple as lighting a candle, taking a pleasurable walk in nature, planting something that will grow, or even having a special meal. Whatever it is, it is honoring your experience.
You may want to create a ritual that involves others or mark your special time by yourself. For many, prayer is a ritual that brings comfort and calm. Use your imagination to create a healing ritual. Honor the importance of your experience and find a way to mark it that feels nourishing and healing to you. I have had patients create a special altar in their homes where they go to find refuge and peace. I have had women manage the loss of their hair by creating a special way and time to cut their hair off with important people in their lives.
Tune into the Hope Channel
Hope can be hard to hold on to when you are afraid and unsure of your future health and well-being. Hope is vital for life, yet what you hope for often changes—depending on the circumstances of your life.
Cancer has most likely altered how you approach hope. Most everyone begins with hope for a cure—the absence of any physical evidence of cancer. If you have had a recurrence or must continue treatment to control your cancer, you can still find ways to identify what you hope for, given that you might have to live with—and beyond—cancer. This can be a huge challenge if you have been struggling with pain and the disappointment of limited treatment choices.
Tool: Channels for Hope
Dr. Anthony Scioli has developed a hope scale that focuses on a four-channel emotional network to tune in to hope.
- The Mastery Channel. It helps to feel a sense of control and have a clearly defined goal. A focus on what you can do now will increase your sense of personal power. Try to imagine someone you have or would like to have as a support person. Ask yourself, “What would my role model do?” See this person in your mind’s eye addressing your issue and helping you see a way forward. What would he or she say to offer encouragement?
- The Attachment Channel. Feeling a sense of connection and trust with others increases your sense of hope. Join a support group, volunteer locally, or reach out to existing friends. Invite one or two people to lunch and enjoy each other’s company. Many will receive and appreciate your positive energy. There is risk in reaching out, but there is also great reward in connecting with others.
- The Survival Channel. The stress of illness requires you to continue to learn and grow and to commit to being courageous. Choose a specific behavior you want to change and define a small step to move you forward. Courage is like a muscle that must be exercised. Fear and risk go together—sometimes it helps to just ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that can happen if I ____?” Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, and try to stay open to new information. You need not be alone on this journey, but your inner compass and navigation must follow your own heart and inner truth.
- The Spiritual Channel. It is vital to create a sense of meaning and faith, the building blocks of hope. Actively expose yourself to music, art, dance, prayer, and nature to stimulate the regions of your brain that create a sense of wonder or oneness. Find a practice, such as prayer, meditation, dance, yoga, or walking mindfully, that supports positive energy, self-worth, and value. Try practicing acts of kindness to get into the act of giving and connecting to others with the kindness of your own spirit.
Which channel do you need to tune in to first to build your hope?
Facing cancer requires an integrative approach that focuses on your body, mind, and spirit. You can challenge your internal voice and focus on what is under your control: the present moment, not the unknown future. By honoring your spirit and seeking to find hope, you send compassion and loving energy to empower you to move forward. My hope is that you will take charge of your own healing and seek out the support and guidance you need on your journey beyond breast cancer.