We have a beautiful courtyard just outside our front door. Danny and I have shared games of scrabble, cocktails in the dark with our neighbors, and on Saturday afternoon, in such a happy place, I stretched out with my new book, The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness. It's a perfect find, just as I'm nearing my Thursday morning MRI. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:
"It was my right to choose what I did. Even if I didn't prevail - and I didn't expect to - it was my only chance. I deeply wanted to live, so I had to fight. Then I could tell myself that I had tried, that I had done everything possible. There would be no regrets."
His was a libertarian mind-set, one that placed the individual squarely as the ultimate arbiter of his fate. It represented a certain form of hope - the hope to be strong enough not to yield, to have the determination and the fortitude to fight.
When we feel pain from our physical debility, that pain amplifies our sense of hopelessness; the less hopeful we feel, the fewer endorphins and enkephalins and the more CCK (important regulation factor in response to anticipatory stress) we release. The more pain we experience due to these neurochemicals, the less able we are to feel hope.
To break that cycle is key. It can be broken by the first spark of hope: Hope sets off a chain reaction. Hope tempers pain, and as we sense less pain, that feeling of hope expands, which further reduces pain.
One more, which happens to be my personal favorite. I wish my oncologist and his team would read this...
We will likely discover genes that contribute to the very complex feeling we know as hope, but the circuits in the brain that stem from this feeling are not static. Rather, events in our lives modify them, and I would posit that the words spoken and the gestures made by physicians and surgeons and nurses and social workers and psychologist and psychiatrists, and family and friends, influence the synaptic connections. No one should underestimate the complexity of factors that coalesce in this biological process.
In order to succeed in healing myself, I have created an ever changing bag of tricks. Sometimes it's a walk along the lake, or a jog with a friend. Other times it's trying a new healthy dinner recipe, or a vegetable smoothie, or perhaps a micronutrient dense juice. Inspiring books, or personal stories, have also been a wonderful catalyst, changing my whole mindset and energizing me to continue the fight. It's important to find the things that inspire you; it's imperative even, to not only survive, but to thrive.