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Trauma Treasure

Trauma Treasure

As published in August edition of MumprenuerMovementMagazine

I once thought trauma was a dirty word.

Let me assure you trauma isn’t easy, especially with an inflexible mindset that is fear-based. There’s a scale of trauma that we all experience on some level.

At the most basic level, there is the trauma of the juggle for the busy working mother. There’s the trauma of the hustle of wearing all the hats of the small business operator. Constantly juggling a myriad of tasks that we aren’t always an expert in.

There’s the trauma of often being the family balancer for others. This often equates to meeting the key selection criteria for employment as a UN hostage negotiator.

Working for yourself gifts you the spectrum of experiences, the roller coaster of highs and lows and hopefully a smile that at the end of the financial year when you’ve been successful.

The trauma of a cancer diagnosis is also right up there on the Richter scale of stress because it immediately invokes fear of dying, fear of missing out, and even death of your expectations of how you thought your life would pan out. And then there is the trauma of being entrapped within a dysfunctional mammogram biopsy machine for over an hour with failed pain relief.

Here’s the thing, I found the gift in that experience as well, and have been able to invoke change for us all moving forward.

The short version of this horrific story was the mammogram biopsy machine experienced a glitch with me in it. The pain relief provided didn’t work and I was stuck in the machine for over an hour. Not a great experience and please let me assure you that due to my subsequent complaint that should never happen again – for anyone.

I wrote my complaint to the imaging facility, as a mini gap analysis report. This enabled the service to easily identify areas that could be rapidly changed like forms and procedures. And it identified opportunities for missing trauma-informed care. The gift of my entrapment experience, based on the outcome of my dialogue, correspondence, complaint and mediation is this- all Victorian-based breast screening services are now undertaken by trauma-informed trained staff accompanied by corresponding procedures and systems.

Trauma-informed training has been implemented not just at my local breast screening service, but every single screen facility across Victoria. Recommendations have been made for this new trauma-informed practice to be rolled out nationally.

Healing the post traumatic stress that came with this entrapment gifted me with the realisation that my biggest ally is my inner self. That child that whilst she felt broken, I used my tools to uncover a depth of resilience. Sometimes when we embrace that inner child and step up to be the adult and parent her, to guide her along the path, we connect with our own innate wisdom. We activate our own magic medicine. We become our own healers. This is the treasure of the trauma.

Want to read more like this?

Can You Risk Not Stepping Up To Mother yourself? – Click here

How To Stop Making Excuses & Start Living Your Best Life – Click here

Healing Emotions Hurt More Than The Physical Wounds – Click Here

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, LEAP & NES Practitioner, and self-confessed laughaholic. She is an avid Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’ 

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

Breast Cancer Is The Time To Gather Your Tribe

Breast Cancer Is The Time To Gather Your Tribe

Breast cancer is challenging enough, there’s no need to do it alone. No one needs to be that strong.

Have you got a tribe? A girl posse if you will? I do and I’m the luckiest girl in the world with the love they have gifted me during my breast cancer chapter. Without them, I know I would not have made it. It’s a strong statement, but that’s my raw truth.

I know I needed them when I was initially diagnosed. I needed them when I had multiple surgeries. I reached out in tears when I received my pathology news. My tribe caught me before I hit the floor and held me until I could stand on my own again. 

My tribe triple dog dared me to dress up and make chemotherapy my bitch (which I totally did!). And together we have a big enough collection of titty jokes for me to do stand up comedy.

MY tribe was and continues to be, a sacred circle of trust, love and laughter, and unconditional love. It’s a space that awakened my true warrior spirit. Women are incredibly powerful in their own power, but when they gather, something magical happens when they combine their energies

Reaching out for comfort and support is vital when you’re feeling too many feels during a personal crisis such as breast cancer. This is a time when overwhelm can set in, and that bullshit gets in the way of connecting to your intuition. Knowing what you innately need (in terms of deciding your treatment), when you need it, and choosing who will provide that all require you to have your wits intact, not shattered in pieces on the floor. 

Without a connection to your gut instinct, you may struggle to make sense of the diagnosis, or clearly decide with your full heart knowing of your treatment. Furthermore, your recuperation to treatment may be hindered as you hang onto to unwanted or unresolved emotional stress.

Never risk blindly stepping along a pathway navigating a crisis, and be solely rely on the advice by an external party. By all means, gather your medical teams (and there will be multiple parties), and listen to their recommended actions and reasons behind that. But make your decisions always being true to your gut instinct. 

I’ll happily talk to anyone who wants to about my breast cancer experience. I strongly feel that open dialogue is critical to demystify the array of fears associated with the disease and it’s treatment. I know the conversations I had with my posse were emotionally charged, as we dissected scientific-based facts and how that related to my cancer now and my long term prognosis with or without treatment. Some of these conversations even prompted some of my friends to finally go and have their initial screening mammograms.

I recently watched a webcast presentation by Breast Cancer Network Australia which included very wise advice by Breast Cancer Oncology surgeon Miss Carolyn Baker:

  • every person’s breast cancer experience is unique and different;
  • be careful of the avalanche of war stories of other people’s experiences
  • seek an individualised care plan
  • understand the pathology of your cancer which will set the tone of your treatment — grade, size, receptors, and nodes must be in your discussions
  • age, breast size, general fitness all determine the best mode of care by your team (multiple modalities incorporating various treatments)

Every breast cancer experience, in my opinion, is an enormous opportunity to learn and refine so much about yourself. It’s also a gift to solidify the bonds of friendship and your tribe. Whilst there are proven treatment protocols for various stages of your cancer, with the loving support from my tribe, I decided to drop the cancer fight and embrace it — I made my experience my own. 

I am a firm believer, your cancer is not your journey. It is an experience. There is no way I will allow cancer to dictate how I live my life. If detected early enough, the survival rates are exceptional with varieties of treatment options available. 

Having a posse to hold space and listen whilst you verbally purge is exactly like going to group therapy. Do you feel renewed when you gather? You know what I mean – do you laugh so hard that your ribs and jaw ache as you talk to each other?

Can you share your deepest secrets and still be supported? Do you all take turns sharing your fears and worries, and talking out options and solutions?

Do you gather often to share yourselves and get stuff off your chest? Ahem, pun not intended but worthy of a snoopy snigger nonetheless.

For me having a posse during this shit festival called breast cancer was soul-saving. 

My posse collectively lifted me up and held me high to the rising sun every time I felt low. Energetic medicine is miraculous like that. And even if you don’t believe in it just think of someone you love who isn’t home — does your love for them change? No. Do they feel your love regardless of where they are? Yes.

My posse hugged me (even remotely), made me laugh and cried alongside of me when I needed it the most. I never felt alone. We did this together. I am endlessly grateful for their constant presence.

I was never judged, only loved unconditionally. This is the gift of gathering your tribe. When women come together we form an unspoken union, a sacred space if you will.

I pulled together those people in my life that I could trust unconditionally, who would honour my secrets, hold me up, not gossip and offer me, love, in their own unique way. 

The reward for that trust I have been gifted a space so sacred that I could enable a self-healing so powerful that I could reinvent myself.

Here are my tips for when to gather your tribe! 

Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

A cancer diagnosis is a button pusher. No doubt about it, this news is a life changer for you as the patient and can induce terror in those around you. Everything you thought life was going to be is destroyed at that moment, at best it is put on hold. Expectations of how life was going to be are decimated.

To deal with the shock of diagnosis you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel all the feels, at your pace and in your way. Don’t hold anything in. 

Allow yourself to ask for help. And make this time about your healing.

Accept there may be gossip

It’s human nature that people will talk. They’ll talk behind your back. They’ll talk about your diagnosis, your treatment, even your hair loss!

Sometimes people talk about your stuff behind your back because they are afraid to talk to you. They are afraid for you. They are afraid of getting cancer themselves. 

Cancer is like cooties, it’s not catching but people don’t want to be associated with bald eagles! My rule of thumb is what people say about me is none of my business. They are entitled to opinions, and to vent or share their concerns.

My inner circle of friends speak to my face. We talk about everything and anything. We take it in turns going around the table when we do talk. That’s what friendship is all about. 

Limit your communications

I used a private messenger chat forum via Facebook to communicate with my tribe. It meant I only had to provide an update once, rather than repeat bad news over and over.

My tribe included persons of trust in all aspects of my life. This way if I was out anywhere at an event or activity, I knew there’d be a posse member somewhere who I could lean on to simply walk, or run interference from nosy bastards.

Share info from your specialist 

Your medical team are likely to throw a tonne of information at you. Share this literature and links, like that at BCNA, with your posse, so that you are all on the same knowledge page. It does make for great open conversation where you can openly debate science, facts and your emotional response.

Your job is to digest the knowledge you have cancer. Your friends have the job of holding space whilst you do that.

Have a communal calendar 

Let your posse know when the big appointments are coming up. That way you have an entire tribe manifesting abundance in your favour. Additionally, you create the potential for offers from your tribe to give you lifts, cook meals, babysit kids, clean, and even shop for you.

Accept help when it is offered

After my mastectomy-reconstruction surgery, I had 145cm of suture line healing. It was difficult to stand for weeks. My whole body was battered and new. It was difficult to cook and clean. So when friends offered a meal to mop I begrudgingly accepted. 

One of my friends said this to me. “Honey you are always the first to offer, please let me love you by cooking a meal or doing this one little thing. I can’t do anything else and feel helpless so let me do this little thing“.

I couldn’t argue with that and had to stick my ego in the closet! Believe it or not, your tribe make offers to help you because this is their way of showing you they love you!

Have firm boundaries 

I was very strategic with who I invited into the messenger group and shared details with. There were representatives from all aspects of my life. These friends all knew they were in a circle of trust, and respected the confidentiality I had shared with them.

These people were able to share vital news within my networks on my behalf. My tribe fielded questions and nipped gossip in the bud. They were protective and loving, and this created space for me to focus on my healing. I was so blessed to be held in such a special space of loving support.

Know Who To Tell & Trust?

There is nothing worse than having to discuss and re-tell your cancer story over and over again. There’s only a number of critical people in your life that need to know the news immediately. Your partner and your kids. That’s it. You may choose to only tell this group and leave everyone else guessing.

Final Words

A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying, and not a chapter of your life that needs or should be done alone. No one needs to be that strong. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, share the emotional load, and be supported strengthens your relationships.

Allowing yourself to be part of a tribe means you get to surround yourself with love and concentrate on healing. My wish for you is that you have a powerful posse too who can conjure a sacred circle if you are ever in need. 

My Tribal Prayer
May my tribe always shine light upon you to find your own light.
May you never feel alone and always supported.
May your posse be filled with abundant love xxx

Resources & References:

Breast Cancer Network Australia Webcast –

Just diagnosed: what’s next?

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’ 

Why Asking “WHAT” Will Give You The Answers You Seek

Why Asking “WHAT” Will Give You The Answers You Seek

How to move forward in your life!

I’ve not met a single person on the planet yet who enjoys the thought of “sucking it up” or relishing the taste of a dog turd served up on a platter. That’s what a cancer diagnosis gifts you at the start of the experience.

I recognise that’s a little confrontational and button pushing, but it’s my truth. My breast cancer experience is also my reformed resilience, motivation, exposed fears, revitalised purpose and pursuit of my dreams. It’s been a gift on many levels. 

My raw has transformed into my ROAR!

A cancer diagnosis and recovery from surgery and/or treatment are significant. You find yourself asking a hell of a lot of questions, some of which are reasonable and some are fear-based. It’s very easy to quickly fall down a rabbit hole into a pity party.

After listening to Tasha Eurich’s Ted Talk “Increase your Self Awareness” I was left with two profound key points.

Why” questions trap us into continuing to look in the rearview mirror of our life.

A why question often denotes an emotional component to answer or highlight a reason or cause. In the case of cancer, why would one person be diagnosed over another? In some cases, like smoking or drinking, the why is simple and easy to identify. There is an inference that the person’s actions were the cause. 

A why question also denotes blame shame and guilt immediately to the inquisitor. It infers the action of the question asker to reflect on the reason of cause. In the case of cancer, as my oncologist states, it’s the luck of the draw.

In my experience and research, cancer is a little more than luck but still, no-fault should be drawn. Yet we self criticise, self punish and talk shit to ourselves when the going gets tough at the time of diagnosis! Other than making you feel worse and completely stuck, what is this serving you? You gain absolutely nothing.

I could talk about the involvement of epigenetics, diet and the management of chronic stress in one’s life — all of which contribute to cancer. There are likely to be the questions surrounding why me, but what if you were to consider what can I learn from this experience?

Does that one question stop you in your why tracks immediately? Did you find yourself pausing and taking a slow deep breath and calming a little?

Here’s the thing, if you’re a newly diagnosed patient none of those reasons you procured inside your head matter right now. Do they? Looking for a cause is continuing to look in the rearview mirror of your life. The diagnosis is done. It’s not in your control to go back and make changes. 

You can’t relive your life or get a do-over.

But YOU can make changes moving forward.

You’re not doing yourself any favours by mentally beating yourself up with all the analysis of the why. Excessive or ongoing thinking literally will drain your physical energy to maintain the mental stamina to power the brain and continue assessing what did or did not go right or wrong.

The answer to overcoming the stress of a cancer diagnosis (and it’s easier to implement than you think) is to ask yourself this one question. 

What is in my control right now?

Sit with that question and check in with your body. Is it still in a state of flight or fight? Or perhaps are you suddenly eager to explore new horizons? Is there a shift?

Asking the what question shifts your vision, motivation and drive for life forward. It changes the mindset into a solution-orientated field.

What to ask your medical team?

Understand your diagnosis

Understanding medical language at the best of times can get a person flummoxed. Learning about the intricacies of your cancer diagnosis takes time to digest all the various nuances associated with your personal case.

Understand what your pathology report is informing your specialist. Be sure to continue asking questions of your medical team until you are clear on what the diagnosis means, and their suggested treatment options based on your specific results. 

Understand your treatment options

Once you’ve got your head around your diagnosis, your medical team is a well-oiled machine which will likely guide you to some form of medical intervention. It’s vital to understand what various treatment options are available to you.

There will naturally be emotions associated with whatever treatment option you choose. A good practitioner provides you with advice for treatment, based on the statistical success of short and longer-term cure rates, and allow you to decide. It’s your body after all.

I was fortunate enough to have a world-class surgical team who participated in robust discussion about surgical and oncology treatment options. We discussed the pros and cons of everything in relation to my case history.

I also asked what the success rates of various procedures, tests and scans in general. I asked specifically each specialist what their individual performance statistics in relation to undertaking suggested treatment options. 

I discussed with my team the what were the potential failure rates, side effects and complications of what they suggested for my specific case. Let me very clear, I’m not a doomsayer with a negative outlook. I wanted to be proactive and understand what I could do to minimise negative outcomes that were in my control.

Understand the statistics of metastatic return

Upon my diagnosis, I learnt many things about my hormone-related cancer. I also had to think about two strategies before making any treatment decisions. These included what I needed to do to deal with cancer in the now and present, and in the medium term in order to minimise risks of metastatic return.

I found it vital that I understood what the statistical research evidence of possible recurrence of my exact cancer. I had numerous in-depth conversations with members of my medical team in relation to the little things that I could implement to manage pain, side effects, recovery, and ability to cope with everything in between.

Final Words

One of the most empowering things you can gift yourself is to ask yourself what questions? Asking yourself what can I learn from this experience?” literally reprogram your conscious brain into solution-seeking actions, rather than hosting a pity party.

Migrating through a cancer experience is tough. You get thrown so many lessons to learn about yourself. Asking what questions enables you to have some little bit of control of the many small things you can implement looking forward in your life.

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’ 

Cancer And Grief Make A Match Made In Heaven

Cancer And Grief Make A Match Made In Heaven

How To Process Through The Grief That Cancer Brings

In my experience, people naturally link grief with cancer after someone they know has died. In actual fact, the patient experiences a form of internal death as part of their diagnosis.

We all have an expectation of how we will live our lives, and, have dreams about how long that will be for. In that moment a cancer diagnosis kills that dream. Sometimes the death is only temporary, and other times it’s very permanent in the literal sense.

Grief is the emotional response to a perceived loss. It’s natural and a part of life. It’s just not something you expect to apply to yourself. You tend to associate grief as something you feel when someone you love dies or leaves your life.

Beyond Blue discusses that grief can be expressed in a variety of ways because we are all gorgeously unique. Grief can be a rollercoaster of too many feelings that will affect not just your emotional stability, but can impact your physicality — from how you sleep, how well you respond to stress, and even your general energy levels. Many people say that grieving takes up more energy than they ever expected.

Grief has the ability to potentially affect every part of your life including “emotions, thoughts and behaviour, beliefs, physical health, your sense of self and identity, and your relationships with others. Grief can leave you feeling sad, angry, anxious, shocked, regretful, relieved, overwhelmed, isolated, irritable or numb.” — Beyond Blue

Grief has no set pattern and we all do it in our own individual way. Some people may grieve for weeks and months, while others may experience grief which lasts years. The duration is often linked with the depth of our emotional connection that has been severed.

There is an upside to grief, weird I know. You get the chance to process your stuff through this perceived loss. You get to choose to look at life differently. As you shed the layers of emotions, your available energy opens to choosing to create new experiences and habits for life moving forward.

As a patient migrating through the breast cancer chapter I can attest to the depth of grief I experienced at the loss of a breast, then a nipple, and so much more.

Grief is a natural process

Grief is a normal and expected component of the breast cancer chapter and forms an important step in the healing process. You have to be able to connect with all the emotional feels in order to release them.

Loss of Independence

I grieved my loss of independence after surgery, especially in the weeks and months having to rebuild my physical stamina. I have grieved the loss of a carefree life, a life without the worry of potential metastatic return. This residual fear returns with each new test or scan, and wondering whether everything will be all clear.

This fear arises because you have experienced the initial diagnosis and never ever want to have to feel that dread mixed with sadness ever again.

After surgery, I was extremely limited physically in undertaking basic things like food preparation and showering. It was very difficult to stand and took me weeks to relearn how to walk with a correct gait. I couldn’t lift a full kettle for months. I’m grateful for the coffee maker with buttons!

I supported myself through this process by cutting myself some slack. I asked for help (had no choice really). I drastically limited my daily goals to small milestones. I allowed myself to rest and regenerate. I allowed myself to feel all the emotional feels and purge them into my journal.

Loss of financial independence

I grieved the loss of financial independence from not working for nearly a year. Migration to a single income household was interesting and we adopted the ‘caravan lifestyle’.

Make do with what food is in the fridge, freezer and cupboard. Plan all meals ahead of time, and shop for only those items on the budget.

The caravan concept mandates only live life with what you can fit in your caravan. I can say that I’ve worked through all the gifted hand creams, bath bombs and other scented toiletries gifted to me over the years that had accumulated in my bathroom cupboard.

This perception that I’d lost my financial independence was a gem, and jam-packed with a myriad of beliefs that you need to work hard for your money and then deserve the fruits of your labour. Those beliefs didn’t include accepting support from others, and there is a sense of your independence dying. It was very liberating and humbling to finally be able to reach out to my support group and be flooded with offers of assistance when I asked.

Child’s loss

I grieved my daughter’s loss of her childhood innocence that her mother will live forever. I grieved for her sorrow upon my initial diagnosis and her subsequent sadness. Our daughter and I have always been close. Since diagnosis, we talk more about the feelings, the dreams and desires. Together we explore the why of life. We focus on joy seeking in the moment or on the day.

Partner’s Loss

I grieved the loss of my partner, who felt helpless and lost, not knowing how to support me. I grieved having a supportive partner. My husband hasn’t known what to do with himself, so he stepped back and gave me space. He withdrew and never stepped forward again.

Conversely, my husband perceives he lost his wife who has been replaced by a hormonal hot mess. The relationship loss is felt on both sides of the spectrum.

The loss of intimate support meant that I have strengthened relationships with beautiful friends and with myself. I know now I can do absolutely anything that life gifts me to learn. I now simply choose to do the lessons with ease and grace. I know the point now where instead of struggling I can seek assistance.

Loss of my breast

I prepared diligently the week before my mastectomy. I disconnected from everyone and everything and began quite the purge into my journal. Here’s an excerpt.

“It’s a little over a week since my diagnosis and my head is spinning from so many things. Funnily enough, the diagnosis is the easiest thing to accept. The outpouring of love from clients, family, friends, and even strangers has been overwhelming, and incredibly difficult to digest. Their words clarify my reality and I am terrified. Life as I know it will never be the same.”

For as long as I can remember having breasts, they have been large and cumbersome, much like a full fruit bowl. At times a source of sexual gratification, but mostly a source of embarrassment and shame. I had no ability to hide their enormity, or ability to attract unwanted negative attention.

Now that I’ve chosen to cut one off in order to rid myself of cancer, and attempt to reduce metastatic return, I feel even more shame. I am guilty that I didn’t nurture myself enough to deserve them in the first place. Why was I given the ability to nurture and mother, when others get nothing but fried eggs?

I am grateful that my breasts nurtured my baby for almost a year. Nursing her was magical moments and I grieve the loss of that part of my body that provided that nurture.

I grieve the love I should have given self all these years I have worked and worked hard. I regret the self-loathing that is left behind.

I grieve open communication with friends, who have since withdrawn since my diagnosis or piled on the sympathy because they are scared. I grieve the normality of my relationships and hate being the conversation spotlight. I hate that cancer dictates my every interaction. I am still me!

The Breastie’s Loss

I vividly recall my best friend, (now nicknamed my Breastie) who dropped me to the hospital for my first of many surgeries. She sat with me the entire time in the holding bay until I was wheeled into theatre. For the most part, we laughed and perved on cute orderlies, we engaged in our normal banter and behaviour — until the surgeon arrived with her texta.

As my wonderful doctor and I chatted about the finer details of the surgery and she marked my body, my breastie sat silently in the chair. Tears streaming down her face. Just thinking of that moment brings an intensity of love for her rising to my surface. It was intense and still brings us both to tears. She looked so damn sad and helpless.

We’ve spoken about that moment many times. The conversation has been healing for both of us. I experienced feelings of guilt for my breastie’s grief. She experienced feelings of grief and sadness because she was scared she couldn’t do anything to help me. She could only sit and hold space whilst I experienced my experience.

Grief is a process, taking time and energy

Grief is a mighty powerful mix of emotions that uses both your mental and physical energy to experience, sustain and process. Is it any wonder it can leave you feeling exhausted. Self-care during any grief is vital.

Where possible, I utilise the beauty of a nature walk to gift myself regular sanity checks. A walk in nature reminded of the things I am in control of and letting go of the junk that I am not. That walk completed the relaxation needed to get through another day. The walk provides a mental escape and distraction to the overactive mind.

I am consistent in my approach to stress management, working with my GP, psychologist and oncology teams have enabled me to focus on maintaining normalcy with my personal relationships.

When I talk to my friends about how I’m feeling, I ensure that we go around the table. I’m not the only one who shares, vents or rants. We all get a turn. This way I don’t feel like I’m burdening anyone or the centre of attention. I feel normal when we all take a turn and validate each other.

Final Words

Remember we all have days where our buttons are pushed. We all have stuff in our lives that can induce feel and feelings of loss. It’s evidence that we are alive and engaged in that life, invested. It’s ok to feel all the feels sometimes, it’s what makes you human. You’re allowed. The trick is don’t get swallowed by the feelings, do something with them.

What makes life great is how successfully you pick yourself and go chase another sunrise.

There is strength in connecting with your emotions and allowing them to flow. Never stifle how you’re feeling. That negativity resides in your tissues and clogs your pores, your connective tissue and your soul.

Allow your grief to arise so you can nurture yourself deeply. Allow the grief to arise so that you can learn the depth of the lessons and move forward in your life, healing easily, loving exceptionally. Acknowledge there’s no need to do grief alone and where necessary seek the support you need to move forward in your life.

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’ 

Healing Emotions Hurt More Than The Physical Wounds

Healing Emotions Hurt More Than The Physical Wounds

How to come to terms with the emotions of cancer

There are several reasons that cancer is associated with strong emotions. Cancer is an evocative word, which has traditionally referenced a deadly disease. Yet this doesn’t change the fact it is much harder to heal the emotions of cancer, more often than the physical wounds.

What I know to be true, is that upon diagnosis, there is an overwhelming sense of uncertainty thrown in your face. Your mortality is slapped down in front of you. There is an immediate fear of the future, fear of the unknown and fear of losing control.

I still vividly remember the Saturday morning my breast surgeon delivered the news of my pathology results. I had been able to get myself out of my hospital bed unassisted. It physically hurt like hell, but once I got comfy in the upright chair I was able to settle. The bed was for sick people, I didn’t perceive myself sick then. I was simply recovering from mammoth surgery.

When my surgeon sat at the end of my hospital bed, her face was serious and I knew something was wrong. You know that dread you feel watching a suspense movie? You experience that sensation when you know instinctively something is coming and can’t prepare for it?

She informed me that the results were significantly scarier, from what the original scanning and biopsy had shown. That was one of several days the floor disappeared and I felt like Alice falling down the hole.

I allowed myself to sit in the vulnerable

Hysterical tears don’t even come close to describing everything I felt and experienced that day. Hot mess doesn’t either. But I did both of those things and everything in between. Panic. Terror. Overthinking. Sadness. Worry. Anxiety. I experienced all of it, smothered by it in fact.

There was little resilience left after surgery earlier that week to do anything but cry. At that moment I felt completed defeated. In those conversation moments, my physical pain didn’t even rate. But I was gutted emotionally.

I can now reflect on that horrible day, understanding the true power of the fear of the unknown. It’s crippling and leaves you feeling nothing but raw, extremely vulnerable and very isolated.

The healing I’ve done on myself since has shown me that with patience and the loving support of friends and family, I have turned that raw into MY ROAR!

Even now, as broken as you may feel, you are still so strong. There’s something to be said for how you hold yourself together and keep moving, even though you feel like shattering. Don’t stop! This is your healing. It doesn’t have to be pretty or graceful. You just have to keep going. — Unknown

It did, in fact, take the promised eight weeks to recover from that mammoth reconstructive surgery. In hindsight that was the easy part. The hardest part was dealing with the resultant PTSD emotions that arose from a traumatic biopsy experience.

I had buried myself inside the physical recovery from surgery with very little time to deal with the magnitude of why I had surgery and my diagnosis in the first place.

The subsequent emotional feels that are incorporated deeply with diagnosis, and were often expressed as feelings like dismal failure and depression. Feelings of perpetual entrapment ensued, both physically and mentally.

 

Identifying dark places

That was a dark hole, which took some intense therapy to work through. With hindsight, I can see exposing the darkness of those negative emotions with external assistance, allowed me to openly explore all the feelings as the gift it was. Healing those emotions was so much more intense and way more challenging than healing from breast cancer surgery.

The talking therapy was the trick. I didn’t avoid it, I couldn’t, for that messy bitch of emotions slapped me every day. I didn’t process having cancer at the time of diagnosis. I was too busy being shuffled between appointments, having surgery and learning to walk again.

The emotional bastard bit me as I started chemo. The feels oozed out with my energy as the magic medicine flooded into my body. This was the time that my strong facade faded. And once again I was back to feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable.

 

The talking therapist supported me to gently explore the maze within and find myself again. The talking granted permission to the floodgates to open, which had been bolted tight. Those gates had held everything inside. It was everything inside that robbed me of my energy to recover physically. 

 

As soon as I wrote in my journal or purged with my therapist the cascading avalanche of all my stuff spilled out. There was a release. It was those moments of releasing the emotional that granted permission for the physical to relax and heal.

A friend shared the following quote with me during these darker days. The message was received. Be kind to self. Put self first. Do what it takes to heal. So I did.

I know you are hurting — really bad. I will not tell you to love yourself or smile, but to keep surviving, to get through this day, to eat whatever you want and not feel guilt. I will not tell you to stay in bed for a week, a month or a year if that is what your soul needs. I will remind you that you are still beautiful, even when you are dressed in all the grief. — Rune Lazuli

The emotional roller coaster of cancer is expected and very normal. It’s our human response to a stressful situation. The various things we feel are simply exaggerated because there is a societal perception that we are fighting for our lives.

 

I worked with a therapist

With the support of my therapist, I dug deeper into the abyss of the connective tissue within the wounds I now wore. Initially, those new lines caused much shame and embarrassment.

 

I openly explored my old wounds

I openly explored what my breasts had meant to me as an individual, a woman, a girl, an infant, and mother. I healed more mother wounds, and in doing so in poured an immense and deeply felt gratitude for my feminine.

 

I worked through the physical loss

I worked through what it meant to have nipples, and the grief I felt when I lost one. I was forced to process the new bumps to my milky white chest landscape.

 

I worked through the tears

I worked through months of crying every time I looked at my new chest landscape. The red scarring, the skin graft, the puckered skin and the limited range of motion made the emotions raw. It was this rawness that slowed the physical recovery. I was looking too closely at physical wounds, spending all my energy literally trying to fix them. Trying to control the uncontrollable.

From every wound, there is a scar, and every scar tells a story. A story that says “I survived” — Ft Craig Scott’’

What I’ve learnt is the depth that connective tissue stores emotional trauma. It stores a negative outlook. The tissue stores the false expectations we think we need. The stretch of the tissue holds onto the need to control and keeps you in a state of physical stuck and emotional disbelief. This equates to non-acceptance and inability to flow physically and mentally.

Now that I am embracing my role as a patient it’s getting easier to see those new landscape lines. I’ve researched tattoo designs, and the meaning of the symbol I’ve learnt that the ancient Amazon Warrior amputated her right breast in order to shoot her arrow strong and true.

The lesson learnt and accepted is that I now point true north — metaphorically, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. 

Final words

 

If you find yourself, a friend or relative, on the cancer rollercoaster, and the likelihood is that someone in your life will be affected at some time, I offer you this. We are gifted challenges, not to endure but to experience. These challenges which arise enable us to explore more of self. These challenges gift us the chance to choose a mindset to focus on what is in our control and surrender to that which is not.

The more we can soften our emotional and mental perspective, the faster and more at peace our physical vessel will respond.

 

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Wellness Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’ 

A Date With An Oncologist

A Date With An Oncologist

Embracing the dreaded Big C and getting on with life

I recall the first official appointment with my oncologist. That was one of the more significant and stand out days for me in this cancer chapter. That was the day when I really lost my shit and could no longer stuff the overwhelming emotions inside. 

Up until this point, I had been brave, courageous and overwhelmingly positive. I had a kick-arse attitude which prompted me through surgical recovery. But I had a lingering fear of that impending oncology appointment.

If I am, to be honest, I was shit scared. I don’t admit that much, mostly because I’ve got a set of hairy balls and nothing much generally phases me. This appointment certainly did.

The oncology waiting room was filled with beautiful women … who were all bald or had their noggings covered in peach fuzz. I remember as clear as day, bright lipstick, colourful clothes, laughter and bald heads.

Here I sat with a head full of luscious thick hair listening to them banter and laugh amongst each other with sunshine reflecting off their shiny scalps. Feeling totally out of place and terrified of the unknown and unexpected. My need for control lurching full steam ahead.

I don’t often feel left out but I did that day. This wasn’t a group I wanted to join. I had made a surgical decision to avoid adjunct therapy, and yet pathology results forced the decision and this impending and subsequent appointment. 

What had originally been estimated to be only ductal carcinoma, revealed a high-grade hormone receptive invasive tumour amongst the tissue. Hidden from both mammogram and MRI, I am grateful to have made the surgical decision of mastectomy in hindsight. 

 

Spirit had spoken loudly and guided. I listened intently.

 

My feelings must have been all over my face sitting in that rambunctious waiting room. Several of those gorgeous women gave me winks or a reassuring smile. I just wanted to crawl up my own backside and hide from the reality of being there in the first place.

That was the day my cancer diagnosis had become very real. Even though I’d had significant life saving (and altering) surgery, that was one of the days I reaffirmed what strength really is. It’s so much more than a brave face or being humorous or positive.

That was a day to make a choice to bloom from within or wallow and throw a pity party for one. That was a day to embrace the moment and dig deep into the warrior woman amazon archives.

Cancer forced me to show my belly. I had no choice but to allow myself to be vulnerable. Needless to say, I cried as soon as I entered the oncology liaison nurse’s room, for I could no longer contain the burbling volcanic emotions. Honestly? I completely and utterly lost my shit and sobbed.

That appointment permitted me to allow myself to connect to the cesspool of emotions, and then word vomit out all my feelings when the oncology liaison nurse asked: “so how are you really going?”.

Through the streaming tears, that oncology nurse somehow made sense of my babble. She checked my post-surgical wounds, even though that’s not her job. She quickly ascertained that I’m a bit of a control freak, and required information to improve my failing self-management of the anxiety that afternoon.

What felt like half a tissue box later and a discussion of my allergies (and there’s a list) I met with the oncologist. He listened. He smiled. He reassured. We talked biochemistry of the cancer pathology results. I got the sense that not many patients enter his rooms and can talk shop like a colleague.

We conducted a tour of the oncology ward so I could familiarise myself with staff, the protocols and the process. I had chosen the ‘cap cooling option’ during my chemotherapy treatment. 

Imagine a cap with flowing water, connected to a refrigerant machine and your head freezing. Literally your scalp and wet hair are taken down to minus two degrees. To tolerate this you’re given a couple of pain relievers and a ‘relaxant’ and smothered in pre-warmed blankets. 

Create a picture in your mind of a goofy dog emerging out of anaesthesia, doped to the hilt, snuggled in a blankie, arm cannulated, with drool dripping down my chin. Glamourous, nowhere close. Life-saving, yes. Well that was what I became once treatment started!

You think chemotherapy and your automatic response is bald, vomiting hot mess. Right? I am grateful that my treatment and side effects were different.

Fatigued? Of course but this wasn’t all the time. My treatment hit me three days after administration and I’d be down for two or three days then bounce back.

Neuropathy? (That’s pins and needles, numbness, even burning sensations in the extremities of fingers, hands, toes and feet). Still experiencing those symptoms four months down the track. WHilst I have exceptionally good pain medications, they leave me with a hangover. So I feel very grateful that my naturopath had some goodies in her toolbox to combat this.

Chemo brain? Say what? Of course. Delighted to report the IQ and memory recall are returning. So if you know me and see me down the street, tell me your name cause that filing cabinet is still a little jammed and my recall of face to the name is a bit wonky!

Proprioception? I know I can already hear you squealing “what does that mean?”. It is simply a fancy word which references our perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. When you receive chemotherapy treatment the neural pathways can be affected. 

You can walk like a drunk, trip over a piece of paper and slur your words a little. You may have trouble with balance or even holding things like a cup or phone.

Digestion? The discussion of monkey bum is always an entertaining one. No one wants to be asked how their bowel movements are! Gosh, I feel for the nurses! Since the adjuvant treatment does affect epithelial cell lining (mucosal membranes so everywhere from mouth to butt hole – charming isn’t it??!!) patients can experience symptoms of constipation and or diarrhoea. Either way, your butt gets red like the baboon at the zoo — hence the reference to monkey bum was born!

The extreme of this is swelling and splitting of other sensitive areas like inside the mouth, nose, vagina or anus. I used powdered glutamine in my daily smoothie to keep my pink bits happy. You can grab it over the counter at any chemist or bodybuilding shop as it’s marketed as a post-exercise supplement. Chemo definitely gives you a workout!

Hair? Society has this misperception that chemotherapy will automatically mean your hair falls out. And it does, in hand fulls. However, with the aid of scalp cooling, I kept a lot of hair on my head. That said, it’s still sparse (for me) and my head is cold so I wear turbans and caps to keep myself warm!

My eyebrows and eyelashes thinned out drastically but I never lost them completely. The peach fuzz hair on my face disappeared, as did the hair on my forearms and patches on my legs. 

But guess which hairs returned first? The witchy poo rogue hair on my chinny chin chin was the first to return after the chemo rave party, and brought seventeen mates with him! Bastards! It’s like I’m growing a pubescent boys beard!!

It’s nuts how the body responds to being bombarded with poison!

Due to hair loss, because they are the most fragile and easily replaced cells of the body, you get nose bleeds and sniffly nose. This is the body’s natural response to flushing the exposed cells where hair normally captures foreign bodies.

Nails? Yep if you’re lucky you keep them as they tear easily. Others experience their nails lifting off, an extremely painful experience. Some experience fungal infections as the nail bed becomes exposed and their immune system is working overtime.

Pain? Chemotherapy targets white bone marrow so you can experience deeply seated bone pain. I found topical magnesium massaged into my legs enabled me to continue walking. On the bad days, I would also resort to low dose pain medication to take the edge off. On the really bad days, I befriended the couch and Netflix and tried to sleep it off knowing it would pass.

It’s vital to be able to listen to what your body is saying. Receiving chemo, or magic medicine as I now refer to it, doesn’t discriminate and affects everyone a little differently.

Fingerprints? I know how weird is this, but the fingerprint lines disappear during chemo. I definitely struggled turning pages of books, picking up objects and getting good grip on the steering wheel. 

Sleep? Luckily, chemo pushes the hormonal balance out and you commence menopause symptoms. It’s a barrel of laughs being hot and sweaty one minute, then freezing cold the next. Interference with sleep due to such power surges and or pain is common. Reduction in sleep can lower one’s tolerance for being able to cope and reduce your resilience.

Mindset? When you combine pain, sleep deprivation, and fluctuating hormones, your emotional mindset is significantly challenged. Even the most positive Percy’s can be easily reduced to tears on a bad day. There are moments you can cry rivers, and the next nearly wet your pants laughing.

Sanity? For me, it was healthy to maintain daily walks and meditation. I journaled a lot.

Support? My support network was jam-packed with inspiring positive people who lift me up. They recognised the days when I was low and gave me lots of space to rest. These were the people that didn’t treat me differently. They just hugged and kissed me, sometimes laid on the bed with me. Others walked beside me. Some even helped me shower or brush my hair.

There was a common theme amongst my support posse. I maintained a private messenger group where I could update my gang once. I didn’t have to continue repeating news — good or bad. There was often dialogue. There were celebrations for the small wins, and expletives issued when the news was bad. Links were shared when the technical stuff got too difficult or tiring to explain.

 

In this space, there was only ever love expressed and received, and for that, I will be eternally grateful to this group.

 

This group of wonderful people never asked for the updates, for me that was the worst thing you could do. Why would you want me to relive and re-experience all the crap all over again?

The key thing I have been routinely asked is “how are you?”. There are times this drives me crazy because I am sick to death of repeating the same cancer story. I am sick to death of talking or even thinking about it. Why? Because I’m the one living and growing from this experience.

So next time you see a mate who’s undergoing chemotherapy, simply ask them “is today a good day?” and adjust your conversation and action accordingly. Ask them if it’s ok to hug them. Ask if they’d like a hand or foot massage. Book an exercise date with them. Ask how their skin is holding up and offer them some moo goo cream or liquid silica!

Do some research on their disease and treatment so that when you are talking you will understand and not ask unnecessary questions that force them to repeat difficult to digest news or information.

Ask your mate whether they would like to be accompanied to an appointment. Having a fresh face rather than your partner is a lovely distraction. It gives your family a break and some downtime and it gives the patient a new person to talk to.

Ask what sort of meal they want to be cooked. Don’t simply make the offer of a meal because most people will reject that. When I offer meals, I provide the recipient with a choice of meal A or B, because I know the value of sitting down to a meal without having wasted my precious energy to prepare it. 

I take myself to and from oncology appointments, and the last thing I want to do after travelling a couple of hours each way is to cook a meal when I get home. So when someone offers to cook I thank the angels and say “yes please, that would be fabulous and such a big help”!

 


 

These days, I waltz into the oncology ward. I know everyone by name. The staff are like a second family. Some of the patients have become ‘magic juice’ mates. There is laughter amongst the shiny heads. I’m part of that banter now.

I see beyond the bald scalp. I see the beauty within those undergoing treatment. I see the compassion within the staff. I see life as a gift from my own eyes, and cancer has changed me. It’s changed me into a different person. One who values every second as a gift.

I have come to accept that the adjuvant treatments are life-saving on so many levels, they are my magic juice! The key to shifting my mindset was to confront my fears about the treatment itself and to hug the gift of cancer.

I talk openly about this chapter of my life because there is so much stigma associated with someone doing battle with the drug regime. Acceptance of the actual disease is a whole new story!

Karen Humphries, Change Chick, Change Facilitator, Kinesiology, Wellness Coach, Australian Bush Flower Essences, LEAP Facilitator, Trauma, Public Speaker, Cancer Ambassador, Blooming From Within, Traralgon, Victoria, Gippsland

About Karen

Change Facilitator

Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’