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What Comes Next: Spring 2023
Cancer Coach
cW’s resident cancer coach reminds supporters and caregivers about the importance of self-care when supporting someone else on a cancer journey.

I absolutely love when we devote an issue to the incredible supporters that show up for those battling cancer. The National Cancer Institute’s guide for caregivers reminds supporters to “do something for yourself each day. It doesn’t matter how small it is. Whatever you do, don’t neglect yourself.” I am always preaching about the benefits of self-care through physical movement, but there are many other ways to practice self-care — let’s get creative. 

This may be a bit controversial, but I believe in choices and think this one could possibly help some supporters and caregivers: Visit a “rage room.” These types of experiences are popping up worldwide — rage rooms are specially furnished rooms filled with objects to smash to help release rage, anger, and frustration. Some therapists believe smashing things in a fit of rage is not the healthiest way to manage anger, but others believe it can provide short-lived relief. Yes, of course caretakers experience feelings of anger. The person they love has been diagnosed with this disease, which may feel overwhelming, unfair, undeserving, frustrating, inconceivable, and everything else in between. 

Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says, “repressed anger produces all sorts of problems. The way in which we manage anger is significant.” He says rage rooms provide only short-term relief, and may not make much of a difference in the long run. I agree with this, but if breaking some stuff in a controlled environment gives you even a moment of relief, why not try it out? People have been known to incorporate rage rooms with other forms of self-care, like yoga, exercise, meditation and talk therapy. It’s imperative that you find something that works for you. I also think it is super important to speak to a trained professional about any emotional issues you are trying to manage.

My next suggestion is for caretakers or anyone who wants to give back to the cancer community: knitting. Many organizations collect knitted pieces to donate to those on a cancer journey, such as Knitted Knockers, a volunteer group that provides handmade breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies or other breast surgeries. They have patterns for volunteers available on their website and have donated over half a million “knockers” to those in need. Another amazing organization is Knots of Love. They provide free patterns as well as complete starter kits for those new to knitting. All of the proceeds from their starter kits go to people undergoing cancer treatment. (They also provide blankets for babies in neonatal ICU incubators.) Of course, this may not be for everyone, but from personal experience I have found the act of knitting or crocheting to be very therapeutic. I also believe performing acts of kindness has numerous positive health benefits.

My last suggestion for supporters requires much fewer materials and research: journaling. Researchers at the University of Iowa College of Nursing conducted a writing study with family caregivers to determine if and how journaling improves health. After 13 studies with 800 participants, they concluded that caretakers who journaled made fewer trips to the doctor due to reduced stress and the resulting boost to the immune system. Journaling is your own personal sanctuary that can be practiced however you see fit — regardless of writing experience or skill. 

The best part of journaling is the freedom in format. Some people like to get a fancy notebook, some like to use their phones or computers, but some will just use a school notebook. My own journaling practice varies day to day — sometimes I make lists of my thoughts, sometimes complete sentences and sometimes really bad drawings. Every time I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, I have found it to be a stress reliever. Those who appreciate a little more structure can easily go online for help getting started. Try it out, and visit HopeGrows.org — a site dedicated to providing care for caregivers, with writing tips and prompts to kick start your journaling practice. Whatever approach you take, I ask one thing — try out various self-care techniques until you find one that works for you. If you can’t support yourself, how are you going to support somebody else?

Stay well and enlightened until next time!

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