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What Cancer Taught Me: Focus on Self Care
Cancer Talk

What Cancer Taught Me: Focus on Self Care

Cancer Talk


Shenell Malloy

Cancer taught me:

How to grieve

How to be patient

How to be present

How to slow down

How to release stress

How to talk to my children

How to ask for help

How to have meaningful relationships

And the biggest for me: how to prioritize self-care

Why do we often wait until we’re sick to get healthy? Why do we wait until we are forced to change our bad habits?

I used to have to wait for a special occasion to do something nice for myself or have an excuse to relax. If I’m honest with myself maybe I didn’t do these things because I prioritized everything else. I chose to be everything to everyone else and instead of helping myself it was more comfortable to help others. What I didn’t know was that my body was keeping the score and holding on to unhealthy stress. Saying "yes" when I wanted to say "no" was just easier. I was so tired at the end of the day but would not think about carving off some time to take a bath or meditate. Those things were just luxuries for people who weren’t busy or had no children or businesses to take care of. I was always just too busy. At least that was the story I told myself.

Cancer taught me how to prioritize wellness and self-care.

It wasn’t until I was forced to take care of myself that I began to reflect on how such a “healthy” person was actually so unhealthy. Yes I ate well, was young and physically fit but I didn’t realize how much my body needed - my mind and spirit - to also be truly healthy. I was missing taking care of my emotional and mental health. Which is equally if not more important than physical health because it directly impacts everything. Self-care isn’t something that is or should be elective; it is something that is as important as eating food and breathing clean air. The definition of self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.  So why do many of us not make it a priority and feel guilty when we do it? Resting felt like a sign of laziness instead of seeing it as “my body is telling me it needs a break.”

Stress can be so common that it begins to feel like your normal state. Instead of doing things to decrease my stress, I just decided that it was part of life and that I had to live with it. I quickly learned after I got diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma that stress was actually a big part of what got me here. So in order to give myself the best chance of healing I needed to do the work, the real work, to take care of myself and make it my number one job. Cancer quickly taught me that I needed to take care of myself or there would be no self to take care of. This is when I really looked within to understand what I enjoyed doing and what made me feel at peace the most. I gravitated to those things and discovered ways to make myself feel better during a time where I had never been more miserable.

I found I felt happier simply when I was outside in nature. A little thing like an Epson salt bath calmed my mind and allowed me to relax. Getting massages and receiving holistic treatments like sound healing soothed my spirit. Even today, I take the time to do something for myself every single day, whether it be as small as laying down to rest or as big as planning a retreat to nurture myself. I now listen to what I need and I take the time to do it. Take the time!

Here are some of my favorite forms or self care:

  • Getting a massage
  • Walking on the beach barefoot
  • Taking a bath
  • Being outside in the sun
  • Watching a romantic comedy
  • Going on a wellness retreat
  • Dancing
  • Having lunch with a great friend
  • Taking a nap
  • Meditation

Make a list of when you feel the most whole, happy, and at peace. It does not need to be grand or what you’re “supposed to say.” There are no wrong or silly answers! Ask yourself to identify when you feel most cared for, calm, and “light." This is where your deepest person, the part of you that needs reassurance and healing during cancer, feels the best. Spend more time doing those things.

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