Wellness For Cancer Patients


Written by Julia Gandy,

Board Certified Massage Therapist

Certified HeartMath® Coach and Trainer

Julia Gandy has a background in Business Management and Wellness. She has been a massage therapist for over 16 years, recently gaining Board Certification. She received her Master's in Divinity in 2005 in Spiritual Peacemaking. She became a HeartMath Certified Coach and Trainer in 2009 and 2014, respectively. HeartMath is a leader in the stress reduction and resiliency building field. Her passion is to help bring wellness initiatives to the forefront in helping people live better lives..



You're overwhelmed, stressed, scared, tired, and depleted.  So many other things are going on.  When I asked my sister, who is a breast cancer survivor, to describe this, she stated;


Fighting cancer sometimes brings one face-to-face with not only the big questions of life, but also more temporal questions like, “Am I getting the best possible care? Do I know enough about my diagnosis to make informed decisions? Will I be able to drive during my treatment? Will I be able to work? Will I need to file a claim for disability? Will I have someone to help me handle all this?”


Changing the body's internal environment is the key to wellness.  Stress hormones wreak havoc on the body's systems, from reducing the immune system, to reducing proper digestion, decreasing libido, and decreasing the brain's ability to think clearly. 


Below are four areas of wellness which all intertwine and respond to each other.  Doing work in one area will help the others, but sometimes you have to glean, from your own body's wisdom of what area to start with.  If you are mentally overwhelmed, it may not be beneficial to get a massage until you release the mental overwhelm.  You may not get the full benefit of the massage if, throughout the entire session, your mind is racing.  Start in the mental realm, then go get that massage.  The benefits you reap will be huge. 


On the other hand, if your body is so fatigued and sore that you can't sleep or move without pain, taking a hot bath in Epsom salts, getting a sauna, or getting a gentle, nurturing massage can provide an enormous flood of relaxation hormones into your system. 


The four area of wellness are Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical.  I'm sure you can think of others: Financial, Interpersonal, etc.  The four listed below are base, in that everything else in our lives springs from these. 



Spiritual - knowing that there is a greater plan is a huge help. 

          What can my (my loved one's) illness be teaching me right now?  Let's say there are great life lessons to be learned, the ones people want to check off on their ethereal bucket list: gratitude, humility, surrender, trust, selflessness, unconditional love.  What can I take from this situation?  What can I practice here, right now, in every moment? 


I was able to witness the work of teachers and nurses who care for children that are medically-fragile, children who are dependent upon their caregivers and/or technology to get their basic needs met: moving, breathing, feeding, coughing.  What did I see in these children?  They were the teachers.  They taught the adults, about how to give compassion, unconditional love, acceptance, nurturing. This eased my own mind when having to wrap my head and heart around seeing little children taking on so much.


Prayer, having people pray for you, meditation, mantras, positive affirmations all have been shown to work.  It's amazing to see scientific research done in these areas, proving their validity and efficacy. 


Mental - sometimes you may be so keyed up, your mind chatter is spinning out of control like a caffeinated hamster on a greased-up wheel.  At this point, trying meditation or some other relaxation technique could very well make you more frustrated.  What I would suggest is to find a strenuous physical release: kickboxing; going to a driving range and hitting golf balls really, really hard; going to the batting cage; going for a fast run.  Sometimes vigorously shaking your body parts one at a time can do this as well.  This is what I do when I can't do anything else. Releasing pent up stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, takes action and movement.  Move your body!


But what happens if you can't move your body?  If you're in too much pain?  Talk to a loved one, write in a journal. Acknowledge that part of you that is in pain, that is scared and needs comfort. Get the worries out of your body and onto paper.  It's a great way to bear witness to your own journey as well as getting it out of your head.  Rehashing and ruminating keep stress hormones circulating, making it difficult for your body to shift into a more relaxed state.



Emotional - If sadness, worry, depression, anxiety or anger have you gripped in fear, a great way to combat this is with laughter and gratitude.  Watch a funny movie, listen to your favorite music... really loudly.  Ask a friend to be your "fun inputter," to call you with a joke or bring over a movie you both love.  Feeling the feelings of highly renewing emotions like love, gratitude, and joy is another way to shift the body's internal state.


Emotions are the primary drivers of our physiology.  Emotions happen before thought.  This is why we often have a startle response when we see a spider on our shirt, only to realize a split second later that it was just a piece of fuzz.   Breathe deeply for a few minutes, focusing on your breath going into and out of your belly.  This calms and brings order to the nervous system.



Physical - We need as many relaxation-response-increasers as possible. And also those things that increase your alkalinity, reduce inflammation, and reduce nausea. Essential oils like peppermint and ginger can reduce nausea, while peppermint can also reduce fever. Put a drop of Therapeutic grade oils in your water or tea, place a drop under your nose or even smell it right from the bottle. Smoothies that have alkaline vegetables and fruits are a wonderful supplement to your diet. 


Gentle, nurturing massage from a skilled massage therapist is a highly appropriate method to increase the relaxation response in the body.   Acupuncture or Reiki are also effective bodywork modalities to help more on the body's energy levels. 



As you can see, the areas of wellness are interconnected and intertwined.  Helping one area will enable the others to become calm and centered.  Your goal is to be present as to where you are each day, or even each hour, in order to be aware of what your body is needing at the time. 



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