Now six months out from breast cancer surgery, my physical recovery is nearly complete. Doing the exercises twice a day that I described in my earlier post “After Mastectomy Surgery,” acupuncture treatments and self massage with a natural ingredient gel for scar healing have all combined to regain my range of motion, reduce muscle tightness, and shrink scarring. So that’s a successful Phase One.

But going beyond the immediate demands of recovery from the effects of conventional cancer treatment, so many of us who face cancer are eager to take additional actions that promote wellness and hopefully reduce our risk of more cancers. That can mean making changes small and large in our lifestyles, diets, activity levels, consumer habits, and even in the ways we relate to the people in our lives and the world we inhabit. Those changes can feel both tedious and daunting, and they don’t happen overnight or without effort and intention.

So how and where to begin? For me, the 7 Healing Practices presented right here on the BCCTBeyond Conventional Cancer Therapies (predecessor website to CancerChoices)/CancerChoices website have been the best starting point in my journey toward a healthy and hopefully cancer-free present and future.

The Healing Practices are both a vehicle and a destination in the journey that I am now embracing. And the 7 Healing Practices are so fundamental to overall good health that you’ll benefit from adopting them even if cancer weren’t your main concern.

Wherever your starting point is, there’s room for improvement.

For example, my diet was already low in red meat, processed food and alcohol, and high in organic fruits and vegetables. But by following the recommendations in Eating Well I’ve now doubled down on those basic guidelines by eliminating almost all meat except for fish and consciously adding produce with known anticancer properties such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale). Life wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without at least some cheese and dark chocolate, so they stay in the diet.

I’m now much more intentional about Moving More with the aid of a step-counting device. Whereas I used to be satisfied with a daily walk with my dog and two visits to the gym each week, I’m now trying to reach the 10,000-step goal on most days with longer or more dog walks—my dog is thrilled!—and more gym sessions for cardio and strength training.

Managing Stress is a critical Healing Practice for me. Yoga, guided meditation and medical cannabis have significantly reduced my stress levels. My day often ends with a cup of Yogi kava tea for relaxation. I’m learning to be acutely aware of feeling gratitude and well-being in the present moment. As someone who has long dealt with anxiety, I’m now as stress-free as I’ve ever been. The benefits for cancer prevention and more are palpable.

I’ll skip over Sleeping Well since I’m one of those fortunate people for whom long, deep sleep has seldom been a problem. But I pay attention if my body tells me that a late afternoon nap is called for. What a delicious experience to rest for half an hour under a warm blanket as the daylight dims! Recharged, I then have the whole evening awaiting me. So if stress is affecting your sleep, you’ll benefit here also when you focus on Managing Stress.

Because I spent my career in the environmental field, I bring a lot of knowledge about the importance of Creating a Healing Environment to my cancer experience. Eliminating common chemicals and almost all plastics from my home has been a long-term project; and spending as much time as possible outdoors and in places of natural beauty like the ocean has a strong spiritual impact.

I reached a milestone in early September when I kayaked for the first time since the surgery. Being on the water and feeling the kayak powered by my paddle strokes was absolutely transporting. During that same weekend, I helped my friend Ron in his garden. Getting my hands in the dirt, weeding, laying down mulch, and generally turning into a sweaty mess was the best therapy imaginable.

But cancer has given me new appreciation for an even more accessible outdoor setting: my tiny backyard in Boston with its minuscule garden. On so many summer and fall evenings, I’ve been blessed to sit under the big oak tree that dwarfs everything else in the yard, listening to the night sounds, gazing at the tree canopy above and at the plants I’ve nurtured, and measuring the falling light by a growing sense of utter and complete peace. To feel deep peace requires being fully present in the moment because the sublime sensation of well-being dissipates when other thoughts intrude. While it lasts, it’s hard to imagine anything better than the feeling of joy in this single moment, no matter what may happen in the future. Connecting with the peace that exists within me has become a daily practice.

There’s no such thing as too much love. I’m enriched by my loving friendships with humans and animals alike.

I won’t even pretend to add any special wisdom about Sharing Love and Support, except that having cancer has taught me about the primacy of love. I’ll simply encourage all of us to express it and embrace it without hesitation as often as possible. There’s no such thing as too much love. I’m enriched by my loving friendships with humans and animals alike. I am grateful for every loving encounter that comes my way. And like any muscle, the heart grows stronger when it’s exercised, even metaphorically.

Exploring What Matters Now is the capstone for the rest of the 7 Healing Practices. My next post will start there.

Ruth’s posts in this series

Banner photo from Ruth Hennig

About the Author

Ruth Hennig

Ruth Hennig is a CancerChoices colleague and friend who has worked in the environmental field for over 30 years, including as the long-time executive director of The John Merck Fund until 2017.

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Ruth Hennig is a CancerChoices colleague and friend who has worked in the environmental field for over 30 years, including as the long-time executive director of The John Merck Fund until 2017.  Since stepping down from the foundation’s staff, Ruth has joined its board. Ruth has a track record of involvement in creating organizations that bring new capacity to the public interest sector, especially in health and the environment. In addition to Healthy Babies Bright Futures, she has helped establish or has been a founding board member of SmartPower, New England Grassroots Environment Fund, Baraka Community Wellness and IssueOne. She also serves on the board of League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. Photography, politics, gardening and yoga are her special interests.

Ruth Hennig Advisor