Many years ago, my cancer counselor asked, “What happens if you take a vacation from cancer?” A vacation from cancer? He must have been kidding. How does someone who lives with MBC take a vacation from cancer?
Then, one of my very wise teachers reflected that when you have cancer, your body is always in fight or flight mode, which means that my sensitive nervous system perceives cancer as a threat, so I launch into survival mode (the irony!). As a result, [a] carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps [me] to fight the threat off or flee to safety Unfortunately, this type of chronic stress affects other systems within my body, which in turn, has the potential to negatively affect how my body fights cancer (again, ironic!)
With these ideas in mind, I am going to try what my counselor suggested. Take a cancer vacation. Here’s what I am planning:
- Set Boundaries: My cancer vacation will last five days. In these five days, I will (try) not to think about cancer; check my lab reports; worry that an ache is new cancer activity; or discuss my diagnosis with friends, family, or strangers.
- Say it Aloud: I will tell my friends and family, “I am on a cancer vacation for five days.” Like any vacation, I will turn off my BC Instagram notifications and not check my closed Facebook groups to see what people are asking or talking about. I will tell cancer, “I will call you back, when I get back” and leave an “Out of Office” on my email signature.
- Hold Myself/Others Accountable: When I think about cancer (which is inevitable), I will gently remind myself that I am on a cancer vacation. I will let cancer know that after my five days away, I will be happy to return to worrying about it. But until then, when someone looks at me with compassion (or pity) in their eyes, I’ll tell them that I am not talking about cancer today. I won’t even feel the need to explain why or to quickly jump in with another conversation topic.
- Plan Fun Things to Do: I just finished watching White Lotus (another blog post for a different time), and what I really enjoyed were the “Behind the Scenes” clips after the show. One question they asked in “Vacay Q&A” was Plan Everything or Go with the Flow? For my cancer vacay, I will plan everything. There will be time to read, hang out with friends, go on an adventure with my kids, eat chicken salad, sit in the hot tub, and maybe drink a glass of wine.
- Encourage My Caregiver to take a Cancer Vacation, too: The other day, a friend texted me to tell me her caregiver said, “Ok, I need a break from talking about cancer.” This phrase is an important reminder that our caregivers need a break, too. I am going to encourage mine to come along on my cancer vacay and practice what I noted above. Hopefully, they, too, can return home and feel refreshed.
After my five days, I will return to cancer, which has been waiting patiently for me to unpack my suitcase, throw my dirty laundry in the pile, and add the magnet I bought to the fridge.
I am certain my nervous system–which hopefully will have found some peace and quiet for five days–will be thrilled that at least I tried!