Clinical psychologist, Dr Heather Mc Loughlin, shares a practical approach to finding peace within your cancer journey.
In my work with cancer patients of all ages over the last 30 years, I’ve developed a list of tools which people can use to cope with both the loss and trauma symptoms experienced in all phases of the cancer journey. These tools can be utilised by both patient and family member. Some can even be used as family activities to gauge where everyone is emotionally and as a tool for communication.
Letters and/or journals. Write letters to, for example, yourself, family members, the cancer and your deity. Don’t give these letter to the people they are addressed to as these letters are therapeutic, and you can pour out your innermost feelings on paper. After writing, burn or tear up these letters. Keep a journal if you’re a writer. A spiritual or secular journal are equally effective.
Do something creative
Art, music, crafts, poetry, cooking, gardening, handwork, such as sewing or knitting. Choose small projects and call them healing projects.
Make a physical or virtual memory box with only positive memories included. These can be photos, pictures and objects which remind you of a good day, fun holiday or safe space. When you are anxious or down, take out or look at one of these. Relive that whole day or holiday. Think of what it was like using all your senses. For example, how was the weather? What did you wear? What did you smell? What did you taste? How did you feel emotionally? (Remembering positive memories will allow the body to release positive endorphins).
This is a therapeutic collage. Fold a big cardboard in half and paste pictures and words that depict what you feel at the moment on one half. On the opposite half, paste pictures and words that depict how you would like to feel. Put it up where you can see it and track your progress.
Get rid of anger/frustration
This has to be done physically. When you are ill you may not be able to do anything more than squeezing a stress ball/sponge or tearing magazines/newspaper.
For the rest of the family and when you are well, here are a few ideas: boxing bag, swing ball, throwing stones at cans, water/paint bombs, throwing apples at a wall, darts, golf driving range.
The idea is to be mindful of what is making you angry and getting rid of some of it with each squeeze of the stress ball, each time you hit the tennis ball or throw a water/paint bomb in the garden. (This is something the whole family can participate in).
Have fun/do something you enjoy
Go for an ice cream, walk in nature, work in the garden, and play with pets or children. Playing board games, watching funny movies, YouTube or doing crafts together as a family are also great opportunities for communication.
Take part in sports, exercise or participate in parkruns. Minimal exercise is also good for you. Walking short distances when recuperating is as good for you as a 5km run for a healthy person.
- Hot baths and pampering.
- Prayer, reading, religious rituals, watching uplifting movies or YouTube videos.
- Take time to be on your own; especially those parents who do not take time out.
- Listen to music for relaxation or pepping up.
Pick and choose
This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list, but a guideline only. Remember that tools in a toolbox are not used all at once and some very rarely. Therefore, it’s important that patients and their families pick and choose those tools which will work for them or even that tool which will work at a specific time. My philosophy is that a person can always implement some small strategy to manage emotions in a helpful and healthy way.
MEET THE EXPERT – Dr Heather Mc Loughlin
Dr Heather Mc Loughlin is a clinical psychologist in private practice specialising in medical psychology at Pretoria East Private Hospital. Her practice includes psychotherapy for medical trauma both pre- and post-operatively, psycho-oncology, arthroplasty preparation and relationship-related therapy as well as psycho-education related to patient and carers in the hospital setting.
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