Keeping “well”: physical and mental wellbeing during chemo

Recently several people have commented on “how well” I’m doing chemo. Well means different things to different people:

  • The treating team are happy with how I’m tolerating chemo
  • My exercise physiologist was pleased with my new set of physical tests
  • Friends and family have commented that I look well
  • Friends have commented on my positive attitude

As I sit waiting to be hooked up to round 9 of chemo I’ve decided to share some of my strategies for supporting  my physical and mental wellbeing. Together they have helped me to still be on my 3-drug chemo regime at round 9 of 12.

Physical Wellbeing

Moving back in with Mum in May has played a major role in helped me maintain energy during treatment. In addition to driving me to most appointments Mum does the majority of the cooking, shopping, cleaning, washing etc. The parishioners at her local church St George’s Malvern have stocked our freezer with food. Having easy to prepare meals when Mum’s out or we’re returning from a long day at hospital is so helpful.

Example of me “helping around the house” post-chemo. Thanks Mum for the sneaky pic

When Mum’s away for work my brother Alex, Dad and Aunt Fran all rally around me to assist. This practical support for daily life admin frees up some of my energy to focus on having a balance between treatment, exercise, social life and work.

For me staying active as part of recovery from surgery has helped both my mental state and in managing chemo side effects like fatigue and nausea. Long term there are numerous benefits of staying active in treatment which are nicely summarised by Exercise and Sports Science Association Australia here.

Under the guidance of trained Exercise Physiologists at Movement Against Cancer I complete 2 strength/resistance sessions each week either at home or at MAC in a group class. I also aim to get a minimum of 150mins of cardio each week through daily walks.

Mental Wellbeing

In looking after my mental wellbeing I’ve taken a multi-pronged approach. Since my surgery in May I’ve been seeing someone on the Psychology Team at the Peter Mac. In the space of two weeks I’d been told I had cancer, shorted my time in Europe by 2 months and moved home with Mum 12 years after I moved out. Having a trained professional to help me come to terms with all of these has been invaluable and having a safe space I can offload and talk about what’s been whirling through my brain is really helpful.

Outside of this I journal semi-regularly – ending each entry with a gratitude practice, do guided meditations, have connected with other young cancer patients and survivors through social media and continue to look for my own silver linings. I seek out “cup-filling” activities: I’ve joined the community garden, started propagating a few plants at home and plan catch-ups with friends and family that match my energy levels.

When the going gets tough I’ve gotten better at asking for support and distractions- such as having visitors at chemo and asking friends to visit. This weekend’s distraction was particularly welcome.

I wanted to be in Sydney this weekend at a workshop with some of my favourite people; passionate, dedicated volunteers from Picture you in Agriculture. Instead I was in my usual pre-chemo cycle of appointments so was feeling a bit down about missing outs. It’s expected to have some down days during this journey, but how we react to them is important. For me not trying to push the feelings away before acknowledging the why, writing in my journal/ and or telling someone has been helping. Doing something nice to help “fill my cup” again also does. This weekend’s distraction was particularly welcome.

Thanks this weekend go to Sidney and April who took me to a pre-screening of “Playing with Fire” which gave me the laugh I needed. I also managed to walk 6km around South Yarra and the Botanical Gardens while busy chatting away – hit me up if you’re also keen for a weekend walk.  

Working remotely in the week I’m not having treatment has helped keep my brain switched on, given my something to look forward to as I emerge from post-chemo fog and helped me stay connected to my life outside of being a cancer patient. I’m truly grateful to my employer & colleagues for helping facilitate this.

For me it was surprising how helpful winning a make-up masterclass with Bonnie G as well as doing a Look Good Feel Better Workshop was. Chemo has been giving me attractive undereye bags, flushed checks and an interesting grey skin texture. Demystifying bronzer, blush and lipstick application has been a real game changer for making myself feel human before heading out to socialise.

A touch of war paint for a catch up with my Phd supervisor, mentor and friend Sonja visiting from NSW.

Since I started typing Round 9 has started, when I get disconnected on Wednesday or Thursday, I’ll be ¾ of the way through, so the finish line is inching closer.

Until next time.

X Jo

Round 9 with Dad and family friend Anne. Thanks both for todays visit (& taxi service)

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