Clarity & a Peaceful Heart

The Importance of The Head Game for Cancer Survivors

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Like most cancer survivor/thrivers, I have many medical checkups. As a licensed naturopathic doctor who has worked with cancer patients for decades, I know there’s so much to do to support conventional state-of-the-art cancer care and to prevent recurrence. And, it can be crazy-making waiting for results and worrying about recurrence. Studies show that rates of anxiety and depression in cancer survivors are high. Fear of recurrence is often related to excessive bodily awareness and a tendency to interpret typical and often not particularly relevant sensations as symptoms of cancer pathology. Some call this somatosensory amplification. Truth is, related worry may have a negative effect on actual survival and certainly on quality of life.

So, beyond taking my own naturopathic doctor’s recommendations related to diet, supplementation, exercise and lifestyle to prevent recurrence, I spend a fair amount of time on my head game. Lucky to have a pertty positive outlook, I have opted to make that an even more conscious choice, and to develop skills that help me stay there.

Here are things I aim for and because I take the task seriously, these are things I train for:

1. Being calm and at peace regardless of my physical health.

2. Letting go of being a victim of worry and anxiety.

3. Living in the moment.

4. Enjoying my blessings.

5. Contextualizing symptoms that arise.

I also know the science behind the impact of negative thinking and sour emotions on my immune system. I am entirely dependent on my immune system to do its part in keeping me healthy. I lean into my naturopathic medicine philosophy, especially the part about treating the whole person. I want my mind and my spirit to be as strong and focused as my body. I want to be centered and peaceful even in the whirl of life. So while I work out most every day, (currently getting in shape for another triathlon) I have also train myself to push away negative thoughts, to cultivate peace and to “not sweat the small stuff.”

Dr. Rothenberg & her son, Misha Herscu post triathlon

I took out previous experience with meditation and dusted it off to practice anew.  I have phrases I use to replace negative thoughts. I remember the essential, sometimes elusive, deep breath. I create a schedule that lets me do things I love like making art and music, like dancing and being in nature. I cannot legislate what my patients do in this realm, but I will put together a buffet of sorts and support patients in finding something or some things to build up this very real and essential part of a healing life. 

In my practice, I rely on my naturopathic medical education related to behavioral medicine. For my cancer patients, survivors and others struggling with anxiety and depression, growing evidence for many natural and integrative medicine approaches guide my recommendations. For example, studies show efficacy when nutritional, botanical, and lifestyle medicine are employed for the treatment of anxiety and depression. Research underscores the positive impact of mindfulness meditation for insomnia. Acupuncture research shows it is a promising intervention for patients with chronic anxiety unresponsive to medication. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven effective for the treatment of depression. 

Whether it’s learning mindfulness meditation or a breathing technique, reviewing the best diet for a particular patient, prescribing a tailored set of supplements, enhancing the microbiome, encouraging a patient to take up a new hobby, or spending more time in nature, alongside other gentle natural medicines, part of my job is to help guide patients to a more peaceful mind and a calm heart.

I use this image sometimes to help: Two people stand on either side of a grand bay window. With cleaner and rag in hand, one wipes up & down, the other side-to-side. They know whose streaks need tending and how to create a clear view. I think about their connection, routine, goal, method, and the resulting calmness and clarity. I aim for the same things in my own life and in the life of my patients: some small accomplishments, a sense of connection, a modicum of calm clarity and a peaceful heart.

(If you’d like more information about naturopathic medicine, you might want to peruse these FAQsas well as this Patient Gallery, both from the Institute of Natural Medicineand the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. And if you think the skills and expertise of a licensed naturopathic doctor might be a good match for you or a friend, you can find one here.)

@dramybeth, #naturopathic, #naturopathic medicine, #ilovewhatido, #cancerthriver

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