MHOA Monthly Newsletter No.1
Positivity in Adversity
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from indomitable will.” -Mahatma Ghandi
Welcome to the MHOA Monthly Newsletter!
The focus of our newsletter each month is health, wellness, and joy. Each issue will be filled with healthy living features designed to build awareness, increase knowledge and teach skills, all aimed toward enhancing the balance between mind, emotions, body and soul.
Coaching people to find their personal balance between the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of healing
has become an essential part of my work. In my years as an advocate for cancer patients and a proponent for the scientific study of traditional and complimentary medicine, I have seen people overcome seemingly insurmountable cancer challenges with the right resources. My plan is to bring these resources to you, in the hope that some of these tools will be helpful additions to your path to wellness.
In the recent months I have had the pleasure to work with Dr. Alec Goldenberg, Dr. Karen Haglof and the skilled and compassionate staff at MHOA.
I have also had the opportunity to hear many of the personal cancer journeys from individuals in the MHOA family. We have shared many laughs and a few tears, and I have been inspired by the strength and determination that I have witnessed. While the individual diagnoses and specific stories are different, unifying themes resonate: Overcoming shock and fear, locating the best physicians and caregivers, finding support and resources, feeling a wide range of emotions, developing a healthy attitude despite the circumstances, and, of course, focusing on LOVE and positivity.
These were all familiar themes from my own history which led me to become a patient advocate. My cancer journey began in September of 1999. I was finishing up a fashion modeling shoot in a photo studio in NYC. As I waved goodbye to the photographer, my cell phone rang. On the line was an oncologist from my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He informed me that my beloved Father had just been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I immediately flew home to be with my family. Walking into the hospital room that night I saw my father, a former West Point Army Ranger and state tennis champion, in a hospital bed hooked up to IV feeding tubes. It took all my acting skills to project a sense of optimism that could counteract the fear and defeat in my Dad’s eyes.
What followed next was the darkest time. We were both shocked, scared and frustrated. The doctors gave no medical options, saying that the cancer had spread so extensively that Dad probably had less than a month to live. It was hard not to give up. I saw the vibrance of my father’s life diminish without hope. I began to feel strongly that there had to be some way, any way, to move forward.
In our case, hope took the form of humor during a second medical opinion. The doctor walked into the room, looked at my father’s dire medical chart, and said, “So, you have a touch of cancer…” as if he had a touch of the flu, which made my Father laugh. From that day on, my Father and I made a conscious choice to laugh (as much as we possibly could), even through the most painful and challenging times.
A college friend sent us a book that helped this decision called Love, Medicine and Miracles. It was written by Dr. Bernie Siegel, a surgeon who started an organization called Exceptional Cancer Patients, after he noticed that his patients with positive mindsets consistently enjoyed better medical outcomes and quality of life. A recognized authority in the field of advanced cancer and a celebrated teacher at Yale University Medical School, Dr. Siegel provided solid scientific evidence that attitude can be a crucial part of strengthening the immune system, correcting blood chemistries, and fighting disease.
Dr. Siegel’s books helped my Dad to start practicing positive visualization techniques, and soon he was not only seeing his cancer treatments work, but he was also playing tennis tournaments again. We believe it was the combination of the medical treatments with the positivity, laughter, and love that turned things around.
Fifteen years ago, when my father was diagnosed, not a lot was discussed about this subject of mind-body connection. We now know much more from scientific studies how one’s emotions and mindset affect survival rates. There have been studies which prove laughter positively affects the survival of cancer patients and many studies that show emotions affect the genes which control immune function.
In order to inspire our MHOA family to employ these important mindful practices of visualization, relaxation, and positive attitude, I spoke this week with Karen Elizaga, a top executive coach and the author of Find Your Sweet Spot. She works to inspire, motivate and empower individuals for optimal performance and success, and she also encourages her clients to use her strategies in challenging times. Here are a few of her tips that have helped her clients in times of adversity:
Focus on the positive. Karen agrees with Dr. Siegel – the mind is incredibly powerful in providing the guidance that the body needs to move toward health. Instead of worrying about the worst case scenario, Karen encourages focusing on a productive process to envision happy, healthy outcomes, so that each of her clients becomes motivated to participate in his or her own healing process.
Practice gratitude. Even in the most challenging health situations, there is something to be grateful for. The kind smile of a nurse. The support of one’s family. The fact that we woke up this morning. That we are breathing. The blue sky. These items may seem trite and trivial, but being able to have gratitude for something big or small allows us again to focus on what we have, rather than what we don’t.
Do what you love. Whether we have a month or a century ahead of us to live, spend the time doing what you love, being with whom you love. This will enhance your ability to be grateful, to focus on the positive. These strategies all feed one another.
Breathe mindfully and purposefully. Take in deep inhalations, and when you do, breathe in love, grace and peace. As you breathe out, exhale toxicity, and stress. Say it in your head as you do “I breathe in love, grace and peace. I exhale toxic stress.” Stress factors significantly into illness, and to the extent you are able, destress. Breathing deeply will help you to do that.
Remembering the resources that helped my own family, talking with Karen, and hearing the individual stories at MHOA have all reminded me once again of the importance and power of mindset in the healing process.
Goals- Empowerment- Progress
Two patients of Dr. Goldenberg shared how setting happy goals (walking her son down the wedding aisle; or celebrating a birthday trip to Greece) helped them focus on getting and staying well. Perhaps my favorite story about positivity in adversity was recounted from a patient of Dr. Goldenberg involving a temporary cancer treatment side effect that resembled restless leg syndrome. It was nearly unbearable, and caused a great amount of discomfort and sleepless nights. She begged Dr. Goldenberg to adjust her medication. But the treatments were working, so she agreed to stay the course, even with the side effects. Describing herself as a “tackle things head on kind of person,” the next night she exclaimed to her husband, “since I can’t sleep anyway, we may as well go dancing!” They spent the next few weeks dancing the nights away at the Copacabana and having breakfast at sunrise. What could have been some of the worst weeks of her life became some of the most positive memories in their marriage. Talk about indomitable will!!
Others at MHOA have descibed the love and constant support they receive from husbands, wives, friends, family, and support groups. So many shared their gratefulness for the personal and compassionate care that they receive from MHOA’s doctors, nurses, support staff, and administrators. Quotes like “while I could discern the direness of my situation on other people’s faces, the only thing I ever saw in Dr. Goldenberg’s eyes was hope.” And: “When Dr. Haglof said, ‘we have some work to do, because we are going to get well,’ I knew that she was the one I wanted to go through war with.’” Comments such as these exemplify the positivity at MHOA.
Thank you for sharing these personal accounts with me. I look forward to hearing from others who may want to share their stories and what has helped them to find their Strength and Indomitable Will, and I look forward to providing you with many more resources that may help you to a faster and more enjoyable recovery.
All the Best,
Read more about Karen Elizaga
Read more about Bernie Siegel, MD