Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Got anxiety? Here are ways to FIGHT It & PREVAIL!

I just got back from my oncology visit. This was a HUGELY important appointment because it was my "official" follow-up post stem cell transplant. Last week, I did a 24-hour collection test, a bone marrow biopsy, and labs. The results were back. Did the highly intensive therapy work? Was it worth all the pain I endured, 25 days in a hospital, and losing my hair again? You want to talk ANXIETY? Today was it! I was nervous and full of DREAD. I did NOT want to even think about myeloma, stem cell transplant, or what might be in store for me now.

Dr. A and my PA, Mary, entered my exam room. My parents were with me. They are my "good luck" charms. They've been with me every single step of this Myeloma Journey and I needed them on this day, too. They were, thank God!

...And then I got the news. Stringent Complete Remission. A REMARKABLE and unexpectedly fabulous response. I was so relieved. My mom was crying. My dad was tearing up. Happy dance! I still say this with TREMENDOUS caution because myeloma is one sneaky disease. I have great respect of how terribly smart and wiley those cancer cells are. But for now, I celebrate. I take this journey one step at a time, one day at a time.

What's in my future? Weekly Velcade injections, weekly evil Dexamethasone, and acyclovir so I don't get shingles. Every three months we'll do myeloma markers and monitor me very closely. And pray. Lots of praying, eating well, exercising, having FUN, and controlling anxiety. And guess what? My hair is growing back (in a few more weeks, I'll have Barack Obama hair!). My eyelashes are back (they're still short but I have some!!!), my eyebrows have stopped thinning out (I thought for sure I'd lose them all but I didn't, yay!), and I went for a walk/run yesterday and it didn't feel horrible! The healing process is actually amazing, beautiful and filled with hope. Please, Lord, let this continue for a very long time. Let me be strong and resilient. Help me WIN and thrive and be grateful Every Single Day.

And here is my Divorced Moms column. How do I manage tremendous anxiety that life on Myeloma Road brings me (and, trust me, divorce and cancer have made me an expert on this topic)? Read here...

Breathe & Be Calm. 10 Ways To Combat Anxiety
by Lizzy Smith                    
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February 25, 2016
635344815452432593Fotolia_62516798_XS.jpgBefore my cancer diagnosis in January 2012, I had experienced just two anxiety attacks in my entire 44 years of life. One was sitting in horrific traffic in Yekaterinburg, Russia on my way to see a judge about adopting my daughter. The other was right before moving out of my condo to get married. Both attacks were truly frightening-- I would double over, unable to breathe, my heart pounding, palms sweating, wanting to die. But in general, I was able to handle tremendous amounts of stress really well, juggling all kinds of tasks without really dropping anything. I was pretty amazing, I thought. 
And then life threw me quite the curveball: multiple myeloma. And then life threw me a few more curveballs, one after the next. Calling the police to have my then-husband, who was drunk and screaming at me, removed from our home. Filing for a legal separation. Quitting my job. Moving two states away with my children and our cat and into my parents' basement. Major chemo and treatment. And a horrific divorce during which my husband called me every awful name he could find in the dictionary. Bam! Bam! Bam! Anxiety was my new "favorite" emotion. I had terrible insomnia. I was afraid to sleep without the TV on. I dreaded text messages (it was usually another awful accusation from my ex). I would stand in line at Costco and break out into a sweat for no reason, heart pounding.
Time has made coping with bouts of anxiety a bit easier simply because I recognize them for what they are. And most of the time, simple techniques help calm me tremendously. Here are my go-to stress busters:
  1. Exercising: During exercise endorphins are released, which is a natural mood enhancer. I enjoy walking, hiking, skiing and yoga most but just about anything that increases my heart rate helps. (Honestly, few things make me happier than Bikram yoga. During a session, I learn to breathe and get time to meditate. It is a slice of peace and heaven. So calming.)
  2. Eating Right: There is something incredibly empowering by treating my body right. I may not be able to control cancer or relationships, but I can control what I put in my mouth. I try cutting down on anything processed and gorge on fresh fruits and veggies, wild fish, and whole grains. I have discovered new ingredients that I didn't even know existed. Cooking is also incredibly calming to me. The smells and tastes are great distractions and my body simply feels better when I give it nutritionally dense, delicious food. And when my body feels better, so does my brain.
  3. Drinking a lot (and I'm not talking alcohol!): I feel horrible when I'm dehydrated. Water with fresh lemon is my favorite beverage. So is coffee, though too much caffeine is a huge no-no for treating anxiety. Still, the smell of coffee brings me huge joy so this is something that I rarely deprive myself of.

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