By Sonia Su
When I caught COVID towards the end of 2021, I ended up being hospitalized with long COVID. It took months to finally test negative and feel like myself again.
Then for this past month, I have been fighting a cold that turned into bronchitis with a severe sore throat—to the point where I wasn't able to talk for over a week. It was such a weird feeling, not being able to vocalize sounds. I am still recovering.
As some cancer survivors may be able to relate, two main feelings continue to consume me: gratitude for being alive (with a side of guilt), and frustration over how fragile my health has become.
Without a doubt, I am in awe of how far I have come from being bedridden with nausea, staring at a swirling ceiling while pondering my mortality.
Because of hitting so many lows since being diagnosed with cancer, I cherish and am grateful for the many more highs in life since then. After all, this spring, I gave birth to my first child, relatively complication free.
At the same time, I am frustrated. Last year, for example, I started having to return to the cancer center for regular infusions of a therapy called IVIG, since my body doesn't produce enough antibodies to fight off infections.
It's clear that when I get sick, I get sick. My body just doesn't function the same anymore. And it's difficult to reconcile this reality, especially when facing more lows and especially when I still feel so young.
How to Navigate and Cope with Health Challenges
If you or someone you know happens to be experiencing health challenges, you are not alone. Here are some tips that helped me on how to navigate through them:
Seek Professional Guidance
Consult with healthcare professionals who can provide expert advice, diagnosis, and treatment options tailored to your specific health condition and any related issues that should be addressed.
Educate Yourself and Stay Informed
Take the time to understand your health condition. Knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions about your care and treatment. At the same time, be sure to keep up with advancements in medical research and treatments related to your condition.
When I was treated for CAR T-cell therapy, it had only been FDA-approved for a little over a year and wasn't available at the hospital I first was treated at. But because my parents and I had done our research, we were able to find and switch to a hospital that could treat me with the new therapy.
Maintain Open Communication
Build trust with your healthcare team by establishing clear and open communication. Having trust will help you feel comfortable enough to better share your concerns, questions, and preferences and ensure you receive the best care possible. You deserve that much.
Build a Support Network
Lean on family and friends for emotional support, if possible. Join support groups or online communities related to your health condition to connect with others who share similar experiences. Kits to Heart offers virtual cancer art therapy groups where one can do just that.
Incorporate Mind-Body Practices
Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, or yoga to help manage stress and improve your mental and emotional health. Breathing exercises, for example, are incorporated in our Art for Cancer Wellness workshops to help participants reset from the day, as they embark on each art-making session.
Advocate for Yourself
Be your own best advocate in the healthcare system. Ask questions, request second opinions, and ensure that your concerns are heard and addressed.
Monitor Your Health
Remember to keep track of your symptoms, medications, and appointments. Use tools like health journals or mobile apps that may be specific to your condition.
While it is possible to encounter "toxic positivity," it is still important to maintain a positive outlook and focus on the aspects of life that bring you joy and fulfillment. Surround yourself with positivity, but know that it is also okay to have moments where you need to cry it out or just vent.
While it can be difficult letting go of control or taking a step back, don't hesitate to accept help when it's offered. Let others assist you with tasks or responsibilities when needed.
Adapt to Change
Be flexible and open to adapting your lifestyle and routines to accommodate your health condition. Embrace the fact that the only constant is change.
Prioritize self-care activities that promote relaxation and well-being. It's essential to take time for yourself, even if it's just a few minutes tacked onto your morning or nighttime routine.
Set Realistic Goals and Celebrate Resilience
Define achievable short-term and long-term goals for managing your health. Don't underestimate the power of celebrating small victories along the way to stay motivated.
Recognize your inner strength and resilience. You've already overcome challenges, and you have the ability to continue doing so.
Remember that navigating health challenges can be an odyssey filled with highs and lows. It's important to be patient with yourself and take one step at a time.
Your health and well-being are worth the effort, and there are resources and support available to help you along the way. Be sure to check out Kits to Heart's cancer support resources.
I hope that by sharing more about my personal journey, anyone else who may be experiencing health challenges can see that they are not alone. It is normal to have seemingly contradictory feelings. Some days will be harder than others, and at the end of the day, our bodies continue to fight.