My Past Experiences
I always get asked the question on how, as a cancer survivor, I healed from my health experience: the surgeries, procedures, chemotherapy, and all of the other fun stuff that came along with the trauma of cancer. I talk about it a lot in Power to Persevere, but wanted to create this blog post as a three-year update. While healing is non-linear and a lifelong practice, taking baby steps each day can help you get to where you want to be.
Just a little background on Power to Persevere, I wrote this book in effort to inspire others going through challenging moments. I do still practice and believe in everything I wrote in the book, but I felt called to disclose more. I started officially writing the book one year out of treatment (age: 21). It was published when I was about two years out of treatment (age: 22). Now, I am three years out (age:23), and have tried even more healing modalities and tools. With a little more life experience, I am glad to say that I have more to bring to the table.
Now, before discovering these three new modalities I practice every week, I want to talk about past research. Between all of the advice I would ever read in magazines and websites, I kept reading the same things: keep a gratitude journal, exercise, and meditate. I was doing all of these things. Some worked more than others, but I did not feel complete. What if I did not want to keep a gratitude journal, or already was doing it and still did not feeling optimistic? What does exercise constitute as, and what if I cannot physically go on a run or lift weights like the suggestions say? What am I supposed to do when meditating and why can’t I calm my mind down? These were the questions that circulated my mind.
So, I was on my quest to find more ways to continue to heal.
My Source of Conformation
I have recently learned a lot more about the scientific and researched-based part of trauma in the book The Body Keeps the Score, and everything that I have practiced this specific year makes complete sense. Trigger warnings when reading this book. However, I would 100% read it whether you have been through a life crisis or notice that you have certain thought patterns, limiting beliefs (hinting at childhood trauma), uncontrolled outbursts, or chronic emotional dysregulations. This book was my source of confirmation that everything I had learned along the way was scientifically proven to work.
My Main Realization
Before I reveal my top three healing modalities, the main take away I have learned is to SLOW DOWN and DO NOT put a time stamp on the healing process! I cannot stress this enough. I learned this the hard way.
In order to heal from anything, you need to give your body the space and time to do so. You need to find ways to reduce your stress and bring yourself into a state of “rest and digest” and homeostasis. When you go through a traumatic experience, your autonomic nervous system goes on overdrive and your body goes into a state of fight or flight. The energy and emotions around the experience are stored in your nervous system, and until they are reprocessed, then they will be released.
After chemotherapy, I wanted my old life back so badly. I had just been through a time period where I had lost control over my life and slowly started to see myself die. I remember right after treatment, about a month later, I would FORCE myself to go on runs (which I would barely even complete). The first vivid memory I had was when I was in Arizona in February. The weather was beautiful, and warm enough to run in. I put on my timer and started to jog. I could barely even run five minutes. My joints were aching and I was having trouble breathing. I started to become very down on myself and upset with my will. Mind you, I had just completed eight rounds of chemotherapy which equated to four toxic months of what my oncologist referenced as “baby atomic bombs.”
Why me? Why can others workout like this, but my body is failing me? I used to run track in high school and was extremely active in my early years of college. Running 5 miles at a time in less than an hour was no big deal for me. I would do this a couple of times a week. Also, I had some doctors who were not helping wither. They had told me that after treatment, I should just go back to my normal life. At 20 years old, this is all I wanted. I tried to, but kept falling a part and getting worse. I believe it was because I was not slowing down or allowing my body to heal.
The reprocessing occurred months down the line for me, personally as soon as I started to “look” the way I left my old self. That was in July 2020.. so about two and a half years out. I suffered from panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and overall terrible symptoms of PTSD. They only started to slowly go away through these three healing tools:
No.1 – Practicing Bilateral Simulation and Tapping
Bilateral stimulation is a resource tapping mechanism to help reduce stress and regulate the nervous system. This somatic work helps tap, no pun intended, into the parasympathetic nervous system. I was able to practice how to rewire my nervous system through EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing). During this, I have practiced this tapping to help find safe places and resources to turn to that my body was already accompanied by in the past. What’s happening is that there is a bilateral alteration occurring in your body, between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Dr. van der Kolk talks further about this in The Body Keeps the Score. This is also known as EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique.
Essentially, with the tapping, we can access and break emotional circuits in the body. These are stored in the limbic system, a collection of structures in the brain that deals with memory and emotion. They help regulate the body’s nervous system’s reaction to stimuli. by tapping acupuncture points to register calmness.
I would practice butterfly tapping either on my shoulders or right below my collar bones. To do this, take your right hand and bring it to your left side, and your left hand and bring it to your right side. Then start tapping your body.
When I am doing this, I try to think about places or things that have made me feel safe and calm. I pinpoint any smells, sounds, colors, or emotions I feel. I focus on my breath and begin to release the tension in my body. I used the first thing that came to my mind. A cup of warm water and lemon is my physical item, and a specific beach in Bermuda is my safe place.
No.2 – Energy Healing Meditation + Visualization
I have practiced about every type of meditation, and was not moved and transformed until I started to learn about energy work. This is a holistic practice that energetically moves and shifts energy blocks in your body. I first became acquainted with this through reiki, universal life force energy.
In reiki, we focus on cleansing the seven energy systems in the bodies, known as the chakras. Essentially what happens is the practitioner practicing the reiki taps into universal energy from source and transfers it to the body to help it heal. I have gone through attunements and training myself, but before I became a student, I was a patient.
When I got treated with reiki for the first time, the practitioner read my energy through a body scan and picked up different points that needed assistance. Energy can stay stagnant in the body if it is not moved. Supposedly, if not moved, illness can occur. Every point in the body takes two to five minutes to cleanse. The person receiving the reiki also has to be winning to accept the healing in order for it to work.
When I received reiki for the first time, I was told that my heart had some major blocks. When the practitioner worked on my heart, I literally felt one sudden intense pulse, and a jolt of energy transfer throughout my body. A matter of fact, this was done virtually. That day I had to drink lots of water. That week I had intense dreams and flashbacks. This was all part of the healing process. Some people experience heat or tingling sensations as well.
When I practice energy healing meditations on myself, I visualize energy flowing through all of my body, from my head down to my feet. I pretend to see a white light transfer through my crown chakra (my scalp), and slowly paint it’s way down to my third eye, throat, heart, abdomen area, pelvis, my root chakra (my groin) and then down to my feet. I spend more time on places that I feel like need more love.
No.3 – Yin Yoga
In general, yoga offers nourishment to the body’s nervous system due to the breath (pranayama), poses (asanas), and spiritual connection. There is a musculoskeletal connection what helps release pain and discomfort, while building healthy facia, lengthening and strengthening your muscles, and supporting your tendons and ligaments.
Yin yoga in specific is a practice that specifically targets deep connective tissue in longer periods. It can be uncomfortable, but you start to focus your energy on your breath and visualize your body working for you. It helps lengthen connective tissue, bring circulation and flexibility to certain points in the body, and tap into the parasympathetic system. Yin yoga works like reiki in a way because it opens up blockages to make energy flow better.
When I practice yin yoga, I hold my poses for 2-3 minutes, or around 20 breaths. My exhalation is always twice as long as my inhales. I love asanas that focus on the spine, vagus nerve (which is responsible for igniting the parasympathetic nervous system), and third eye in specific. I start to feel my heart rate and breath slow down, as my muscles start to relax and lengthen.