By the time I was a young adult, I already knew I was at risk for breast cancer. My grandmother had had it and my mother was diagnosed when I was 25. As the women in my family were diagnosed with recurring breast cancers, my risk grew — but so did my awareness.
Now that I'm in my 50s, my doctors don't hesitate to tell me that my risk only continues to grow. But along with it, so does my commitment to my health.
I've spent a large part of my life learning not only what causes breast cancer but also studying what helps with healing. And for the past 15 years, since both my parents died of cancer one year apart, it's also been my profession to teach others about self-nourishment.
After seeing my parents feel so powerless in the face of cancer, I started my health coaching practice as a way to help others with healing and prevention. But it also became a way to take care myself, because cancer is always in front of me — I can't hide and pretend I'm not at risk.
My motivation for health doesn't come from my fear of breast cancer, but from my desire to thrive instead. It's what empowers me to practice self-nourishment on a daily basis. Here's what has helped me:
1. I appreciate my body and everything it's done for me.
When we realize that our bodies are the most important resource we have for living, we take different care of ourselves. We become friends with our bodies.
I've found that learning how to care for ourselves is a very active process. Since we tend to be critical by nature, we have to actually engage with the process of seeing the good in ourselves. As I age, I now try to regard all the little aches as “body-language." So instead of feeling frustrated over the changes, I ask my body what it needs to feel better.
2. I schedule time for self-care.
Through my studies, I've learned about the connection between our unresolved emotional traumas and the physical manifestation of disease. I realized how complex we human beings are, and that eating right isn't the only answer to prevention. Stress affects us far more than we allow ourselves to acknowledge.
In order to destress, I carve out small moments throughout the day for self-care and quiet pauses, like doing yoga, walking and just petting my dog. I also make sure I have enough time in the morning to enjoy a cup of tea, get ready without rushing, and quietly read or write, without music or the TV on.
Lastly, I've also learned to say "no" to activities that only deplete me, rather than worrying about "missing out."
3. I face my fears about cancer.
We tend to think we have to control our feelings in order to avoid being called emotional or hysterical. But learning more about them is actually the path to emotional freedom.
When I was a kid I was scared of everything, and today my fear is still my greatest challenge. I've learned that I cannot reason with it and simply tell myself not to be fearful. To ease my fears, I instead look closer at what I'm scared of, so I can try to tackle it.
My dad used to coach me through this by asking, "What's the worst outcome and what would you do about that?" I'd then make up this whole elaborate story about what I would do if. Then he'd say, “OK, now you know what to do if the worst happens. So go do what you want to do." Today I still go through that exercise and it gives me the courage to move forward.
In the case of my fear of breast cancer, this means knowing what I can do on a daily basis to minimize the risk. That made me feel empowered and part of the solution, rather than victimized.
4. I visualize my healthy self.
I recommend creating a connection with your future healthy self.
For visualization to work, we have to actually pretend we are already doing it. So I like to visualize exactly how I'm living my life in a healthy, vibrant way, with amazing self-nourishing choices, love and care. The important thing is to connect the visual image with the “felt sense” in the body.
5. I stick to healthy choices every day.
One of the things that helps me stay as stress-free as possible is simplifying my daily, healthy habits. I schedule in eight full hours of sleep, as well as set away time for meditation and yoga. It might seem rigid but it's actually more about keeping it simple — it means that I don’t have to negotiate with myself all day long about making the right choice.
To get as many nutrients as possible, I also eat a whole, plant-based diet. I don’t eat anything processed, and my diet is mostly organic in order to keep toxins low. If I eat meat, I always choose free-range and grass-fed from farmers I know. My body also tells me that any highly stimulating foods (coffee, alcohol, sugar) makes me too wired, so I respect that, believing that my body knows best.
6. I practice mindfulness.
Be mindful of how your thoughts create stories based on fear. See if you can bring your thoughts back to the present moment and ask the fear what “it” needs to feel better right now. Living in awareness is the best cure for fear.
To me, this means finding daily moments where I can just sit (or walk) with my feelings. I ask myself how I feel about something and then I just listen to what comes up in my body.
It's not easy to simply listen to our emotions, but owning them is very powerful. There's been some tough stuff about myself I've had to swallow along the way, but they help me make the mindful choices I need to take awesome care of myself.
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