Why “Self Care” is not “Selfish”
Cancer survivors and their loved ones are no strangers to the adverse effects chemotherapy can have on one’s body, mind, and spirit. Despite these setbacks, Mirakind community member and blogger, Heather Trojan, refuses to let her cancer treatment lead her to a toxic life.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011, Heather believes that “self care” is not “selfish,” but rather noticed the correlation between a particularly stressful time in her life and when her doctor believes the cancer first erupted. On her CaringBridge account she writes, “Dr. Shen did confirm that I am stage IIA, and I have had it for about 2 years, which correlates with when my life presented me with excessive challenges; I allowed particular people and situations to create an abundance of stress and anger.”
Heather did not allow her diagnosis or treatment to dictate her life, but maintained her active lifestyle, running a 5km race a month after her initial diagnosis and continuing to walk and do Yoga throughout her 7-week radiation treatment.
Her diagnosis also propelled her to become an advocate for cancer research. In 2011, she found the Army of Women, the Susan Love Foundation’s partnership with MiraKind, that sought to help Dr. Weidhaas recruit 2,000 volunteers for a breast cancer research study.
When posting the links to the AOW study on her blog and encouraging others to participate, Heather effused enthusiasm writing, “I am helping researchers to identify and learn more about the impact of hormones on women with certain biomarkers that could help prevent and treat breast cancer in the future. Have I mentioned how much I like research?”
Heather says she also sought out genetic testing in part because she was considering having a child and wanted to understand the ramifications of these genes better. She tested and received negative results for both the BRCA and KRAS-variant genes, but noted that her experience with the respective companies differed dramatically. Amidst her cancer treatment, like others, Heather found herself in a financially-uncertain time. She remembers, “I had to pay a lot of money for the BRCA result, but MiraKind offered financial aid and that meant a lot to me.”
She also recalls listening to Dr. Weidhaas’ webinar when she talked through the participants’ results. Heather remarked of the MiraKind research and website, “I haven’t seen perimenopausal or endometriosis subpopulations highlighted before. I remember commenting about [endometriosis] in college, but no one followed up. There should be more research [like this] about the onset of menses and what it can mean for you later in life.”
As a six-year breast cancer survivor, Heather incorporates alternative methods to find healing and strength amidst the difficulties surgery and chemotherapy can bring. She uses yoga and acupuncture to help manage anxiety between completing MRIs, ultrasounds, and scans of the like and actually receiving results.
Heather also remains steadfast in her commitment to “eliminating stressors (people, places, or things) that impede…my emotional and spiritual well being.” On her CaringBridge account she continues, “I will focus on services, activities, and people that nurture me and allow me to strengthen my emotional well being and spirit.”
As is the case for too many cancer survivors, Heather finds the triumphs of successful surgeries, years post-diagnosis, or enlightening meditations are tempered by the side effects of treatment and persistence of cancer. In January 2011, she was diagnosed with a benign granular cell tumor of the esophagus and in July 2015, discovered that her breast cancer had metastasized to her right pleura.
Heather continues to battle her cancer with the same vitality and fortitude that she has retained since 2011. In June, she spent five days at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where she participated in a yoga and shamanism program, “enJOYed” some time in nature, and ate green, clean meals.
On her most recent blog update in July 2017, she writes, “Proud of myself for managing to take time to replenish the mind-body and spirit for ‘survival’ and in order to be of service. Need to continue reserving energies for healing this body-mind & and spirit and offering healing energy to others when asked. Feeling emPOWERed.”
You can find Heather’s blog at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/heathertrojan.