Rather than encouraging patients to acknowledge their sickness, it’s more valuable to have them recognize their wellness.
It’s interesting how oncology nurses can have two patients with the same diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, but with entirely different outcomes. Although each patient may be cured, why will one easily tolerate cancer treatment while the other struggles every step of the way?
Mindset is often an overlooked aspect of the experience, but it is perhaps the most essential quality. Integrative remedies such as massage, aromatherapy, and acupuncture have become commonplace treatments at most cancer centers nationwide. However, there are some other unique methods oncology nurses that can use to help patients ‘see’ their way to well-being during cancer treatment.
Ignore the Cancer
I recently realized that for the past 12 years, I may have been teaching visual imagery wrong. Having patients imagine their tumors shrinking while chemotherapy attacks cancer cells could be doing more harm than good, and here’s why. If we consider the belief that positive thoughts bring positive results while negative thoughts bring negative results, asking patients to visualize cancer in their bodies could be a disadvantage.
Overlooking one’s disease may sound counterintuitive, but having patients focus on the healthy aspects of their bodies could be a far better approach. So, rather than encouraging patients to acknowledge their sickness, it’s more valuable to have them recognize their wellness. Replacing words like ‘kill’, ‘attack,’ ‘fight,’ or ‘win’ with terms like ‘healthy,’ ‘strong,’ ‘healing,’ and ‘clarity’ fosters an environment of grace and empowerment. There are also visual meditation techniques that may lead to enhanced immune responses and an improved positive mindset. Honoring each cell’s innate ability to heal through optimistic imagination is an effective way for patients to see themselves as the healthy beings they are.
Gratitude vs. Appreciation
Another approach to helping patients stay focused on well-being is to encourage the ‘practice of appreciation’ through daily journaling. Studies show that giving thanks1 leads to more happiness and pleasure. Why appreciation and not gratitude? Often, gratitude evokes feelings of scarcity or lack because being grateful can mean there was a struggle to overcome.In comparison, having appreciation comes from a neutral place of pure love and acceptance. Gratitude conjures feelings of effort and work while appreciation represents ease and contentment. It is important for the patient to focus on comfort rather than hardship.
Because it can be challenging to maintain appreciation during the cancer journey, starting small is helpful. For example, being thankful for a soft pillow, a comfortable couch, a great view from the bedroom, or the warmth of a pet are simple ways to express appreciation. Encourage patients to keep cancer out of this journal! Only give attention to things that feel good and bring joy. If a patient wakes up without nausea, have them write about how good a particular food may taste or smell. If they have the energy to walk around the block, encourage them to journal about how lovely the sun felt or how uplifting the fresh air was.
The physical act of writing keeps people in a place of thankfulness longer because more time is spent concentrating on words, grammar, and spelling. In addition, when feeling blue, reading previous entries can be uplifting. It takes practice, but these small visual shifts can improve resilience and attract more health and wellness.
Acts of Kindness
It may sound absurd to promote a ‘giving’ attitude when patients are spending much of their time healing. However, acts of kindness2 are known to release hormones that improve mood and happiness. For example, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are known as ‘feel good’ chemicals that lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and produce a sense of euphoria. Since these chemical reactions only last for several minutes, repeating acts of kindness throughout the day is a great way to maintain gratification.
I’m not suggesting that patients with cancer volunteer hours of their time or run marathons to raise money, but I am suggesting that they consider sending flowers to a friend or mailing love letters to those they adore. These little acts can help provide relief from negative thoughts or worry. Not only is there a “helpers-high” by offering acts of kindness, but there is also delight in watching someone receive an unexpected gift of love.
Oncology nurses are more than managers of disease. They are also promoters of health. Although we ensure that our patients are equipped with the tools they need to survive cancer, we also need to inspire them to thrive with cancer. In the words of Sadhuguru, “Health is not just being disease-free. Health is when every cell in your body is bouncing with joy.” By teaching our patients how to ‘see’ their way to well-being, we get to watch courage and hope turn into joy.