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Head Chatter Management: A Cancer Survivor Must

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Flash back three years to a urology examination room where my wife and I are sitting and my physician has just told us that I have a very aggressive prostate cancer. My wife immediately starts bawling, not crying, but bawling. I'm still not sure what he said after that. What I remember is taking my wife home and trying my best to calm her down. At some point, she fell asleep and I took a long walk outside and finally began to process the news.  

Most of us, at an intellectual level, understand that stress is our reaction to the external environment. We decide, based on many different things, how we react. My wife's parents are alive, while I was raised in a family in which my mother died of cancer when I was just starting college and my dad died of prostate cancer in his late 70s. When I look back at that day in the exam room, I realize that I'd been preparing for the diagnosis all my life.

During my long walk I immediately became angry and then felt a grief I had not felt for a long time. But at some point on that very gray day, my body-mind connection linked up with my spirit -- a spirit forged by my parents' DNA and my life experience with them.

In his book, "Achieving the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection," Luke Seward, Ph.D., suggests that it's the spirit that allows us to find the calming space we all seek. Without the connection to spirit, the body-mind connection acts like a teenager who's always self-absorbed. Immediately, I realized my life path had changed but it was mine, and like my parents I needed to find the strength to live it "well."  

You can't experience that calm space unless you find a way to shut off the head chatter or self-talk that continually runs through our minds. Most of what we say to ourselves we would never say to anyone else. It can be fear-based or at times it's what gives us the necessary motivation to take a step forward.  

How do you quiet it or at least turn the volume down? Or turn it into a positive guide?  

•    Exercise
Maybe it's a walk or a regular exercise routine that helps you focus and turn your self-talk into a positive guide. 

•    Reading
Many read what I call the "little books," like Joan Lunden's "Wake-Up Calls" or Greg Anderson's "Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do." These books help turn our negative self-talk into positive guides. 

•    Music
I have good friends who find it helpful to listen to slow jazz, classical music or good old church hymns. 

•    Mediation/Prayer
Early morning and evening prayers are a form of meditation. If you add some short prayer/meditation sessions to your days, you'll immediately notice a change in the volume and guidance of your head chatter. The Patient/Family Library at M. D. Anderson has many books that can help you set up a regular daily meditation practice.  

It doesn't matter if you're newly diagnosed, in treatment or now call yourself a cancer survivor. Managing your head chatter is critical to a "well" life.

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