7 Things I Learned Recovering from Illness: Making Time to Heal: One Day at a Time

Thursday, June 15, 2017

You know that BLAH feeling you get after being ill for months and months? Well, that feeling can linger on even after your surgeon/oncologist informed you that “Everything’s OK. All lab results came back benign and you can resume normal activities in 3 days.”

At first, I took a deep sigh of relief and gratitude. I didn’t realize how waiting to officially hear the word “benign” was causing a burden on my heart, so when it finally hit me, I burst out crying.

Then, there’s hope that recovery will be smooth.

The surgeon did say “resume to normal in 3 days”.

Normal in 3 days? Really? What does “normal” even mean?

What happens to your body when you’ve sat on the couch for at least 2 months?

What happens to your brain when you go under anesthesia - 4 times in less than 6 months?

I've been in healing mode for a while, and there are 7 things I learned while recovering from multiple surgeries:

1) Surround yourself with people you love. In whatever we do, deciding who we choose to be surrounded with matters a lot - not just at work and relationships, but also when we're not feeling well. We have to be around people who will help us reach our goals.

Your family and closest friends will always be there for you. They provide constant reassurance that you are on the road to recovery. A short phone call or visit can mean the world when you're not able to move around. 

Your mother's homemade soup or congee has a way of making you feel good inside.

A surprise visit from your out-of-state children is the best medicine. I remember when I used to fly thousands of miles to see my Dad. For some reason, he got energized every time he saw me. (Dad, I miss you dearly!)

A partner or husband who worries even at the slightest hint of a cold, and  will research alternative and holistic ways to make you feel better. He might even analyze all blood work and lab reports, to the dismay of your Primary Care Physician. ( But hey!, my husband's analysis saved me from catastrophic medical issues multiple times, and he is my Primary Care Partner!)

2) Listen to your body. Only YOU know how your body feels. When the doctor says "resume to normal in 3 days.", it doesn't mean you can really go back to your normal self after being on the couch for at least 2 months, let alone being sick for 6 months! When you work-out every day, or run a few miles,  or just take your daily one-mile walk to your town's coffee shop, "resume normal" activities may mean that you can start walking slowly from the couch and towards the kitchen.

Same is true with what you can eat. When people and doctors say you can now go back to your normal diet, think again. I did just that and I cried in pain! Just like anything, take your time, introduce different food groups, one at a time, and listen to how food affects your body.

What about exercise? Don't be frustrated when you can't do your normal perfect form push-ups or when your abs contract painfully from a short walk to the driveway, let alone a simple core workout.  Do you know what happens to your muscles when you're immobile for 2-3 weeks, let alone 2-4 months?  Not utilizing your muscles leads to atrophy and weakens your muscles and immune system. But don't be discouraged, you can go back to normal, just do it one step at a time.

Just in case you're interested, I post my exercise routine on instagram ( @gottalovemom )

3) Fuel the mind. Studies say that anesthesia has lingering effects on one's brain. I can say it's true because it has taken me hours to construct a sentence. With the 4 anesthesias I've had, the multiple CT Scans and ultrasounds, my cerebral functions are on  s  l  o   w    m  o  t  i  o  n.   

Aside from fueling your brain with essential vitamins and minerals, it is crucial to start reading a book! I've picked a few paper backs to retrain my brain to focus once again. This is the toughest challenge, especially with social media.  I still have to finish an entire book.

4) Vent. When you go through trauma, sometimes you're shy about complaining especially when you know there are others who's going through worse times than what you're going through. However, we all feel pain - emotionally and physically - and sometimes it is important to release all that emotion before you explode. Having a friend to vent to is important. We all need to do the emotional cleansing. However, one thing to remember, once you vent, let it go! Don't dwell on it or keep it in a jar to open for future venting sessions. Once it's out, it's gone! 

5) Make a list. What happens when you can't do anything for a month? To-do lists grow! Once you're back on schedule, creating a checklist and prioritizing what needs to be done will play an important part in getting things done, and will make recovery less stressful.

The first thing I did was order canvas storage cubes from Amazon. It helped me de-clutter and tackle my to-do list one category at a time.

6) Listen to music.  There are various studies that show that music heals. You can read this article from mindbodygreen on "6 Ways Music Can Heal"  and it'll confirm what you already know that music brings JOY.  Luckily, my son has been home and has been playing the piano non-stop.

To my son, thank you for this precious gift!

7) Gratitude and Forgiveness. When one goes through challenges, there are a lot of concerned people - family, friends, and strangers - who offer prayers.  I am thankful for all of you, for your prayers, your messages, your love, and your patience.

One book I finally completed reading while I was sick was Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life".
 Here are some of my favorite quotes worth memorizing:

“Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it.  
 Trust must be rebuilt over time.     
 Trust requires a track record.” 
 "Life minus love equals zero."
“We are healed to help others.  
We are blessed to be a blessing.  
We are saved to serve, not to sit around and wait for heaven.” 
"Patience is a form of faith."
"God changes caterpillars into butterflies, sand into pearls and coal into diamonds by using time and pressure. He is working on you, too." 

I had 2 vascular surgeries in October and November 2016; and a cholecystectomy on April 2017 to remove gallbladder and a mass between the gall bladder and pancreas which was originally thought of as an ectopic pancreas.

The top photo was taken a couple of years back at Mandarin Oriental in Singapore.

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