Survival. This word is one of literature’s favorite topics. For centuries, we have been fascinated by the human will to survive. The shelves are filled with extraordinary stories about resilience, endurance, courage, perseverance. We have been there, trapped in an isolated island or outrunning a volcano, lost within the pages, wondering if we could really get through such experiences. But some of us had to jump into reality and realize we were the main character of a terrifying piece of paper, written by an unknown almighty, who has put us in a quite challenging setting.
These weeks have been really distressing and burdensome for millions of people all over the world. A new strain of a virus is changing our societies far and wide. Schools and diverse educational institutions are closing. Businesses are shutting down. Hospitals operate overcapacity. Governments are announcing borders shut down. Our economies are deeply affected and thousands of people are losing their jobs. We are isolated from our family and friends. We stay home, hoping to be safe. It seems our normal lives have come down to nothing. How will we survive? What will we do? Who did write this creepy script? We don’t have the answers. It seems this threat is here to stay. We need to learn to survive and shift our daily paradigms. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek affirmed that this “is way too serious to be in panicking.” Perhaps it is time to understand that we need to build a new society based on cooperation and solidarity.
For that reason, we want to share with you this interview with Casey Head. She is a 3x cancer survivor. As a cancer thriver, she really understands how loneliness can affect our lives and general health. There are diverse factors that contribute to cancer patients to feel alone: they navigate in the anxiety and uneasiness of really rough treatments. Most Cancer patients spend months in confinement and social isolation either at home or in hospitals. They fear their lives are just a mere fleeting dream. And yet, they hold on hope. They cross fingers everything will be alright even at the worst turn of events. We can learn from them to find gratitude every moment in our lives. Casey is an extraordinary woman with a very wise outlook on life. She is a cancer survivorship couch that helps women to live their new normal after treatment. She has been very honest and open about her experience and we are sure she has some little tips for all of us to go through these days of isolation and quarantine. After reading this, don’t forget: Stay home!
1.What type of cancer were you diagnosed with and how did it affect you emotionally?
I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on February 14, 2014, which has affected all areas of my life. The emotional impact that it has had was and is beyond anything I could have imagined. I feel like I am a completely different person than I was prior to cancer. Going through cancer treatment has made me a much more compassionate person toward others. Prior to cancer, I would have just stuffed the emotions down and not really dealt with them but since I feel much more in tune with my emotions and don’t hide them at all.
2.What does the word “surviving” mean to you?
Surviving means facing really hard physical emotional and mental challenges and not backing down or giving up the fight. It means you did the best you could to just get to the other side of the challenge.
3. What was the hardest moment from your treatment and how did you deal with it?
The most challenging moment for me physically was when I had my stroke about four months into my treatment. It left me temporarily paralyzed on my left side. They also didn’t stop chemotherapy when I was in rehab because my cancer was so aggressive they didn’t want it to kill me if we took a break. I just knew that if I worked hard enough that I would regain full use of my left side, which at the time they weren’t sure how I would recover.
The most challenging part emotionally and mentally was coming out of cancer and navigating the new normal, which is never the same and figuring out what I wanted out of life. The doctors are so focused on just making sure you are alive and that’s great. But once treatment ends there’s no system or protocol to help guide you after treatment ends. There are a wide variety of emotions that come up, which need to be addressed. It’s figuring out what and how that’s really difficult. I had to learn how to live life again without the constant worry that my cancer would come back.
4. What did help you to keep your spirits bright during social isolation?
I did read a lot during those days alone. I tried to keep my mind as busy as possible. Ultimately, it was challenging but I always knew it was temporary that I would see my friends and family again. Having the understanding that it was for the greater good of my health became a huge motivating factor. I had no desire to go back into the hospital if I could prevent it.
5. How did you learn to cope with the side effects of treatment?
Managing the side effects of treatment is a lot of trial and error to see what will work. I ended up eating a lot of the same bland foods so that way I knew it wouldn’t upset my stomach. I exercised daily to manage the aches and pain that came along with the chemotherapy, which drastically reduced the impact of the medications.
6. What were your means to keep fighting on and heal?
I just knew that I had to keep fighting for my family. After the last relapse, I didn’t think I could do it again. I took a moment and cried and said I just don’t think I could fight any longer. I was tired and exhausted. But after I said that I looked at my husband and said okay one more time. I can do this because all I kept thinking in my heart was that I didn’t want to disappoint anyone knowing that I didn’t do everything I could to stay alive. Having my reason why of my family basically is the only reason I kept fighting so hard because they supported and believed I could beat cancer.
7. How did you decide to start helping others with your a Happier Healthier You program?
I just saw that there were a lot of women that were really struggling with the aftermath of treatment. They were physically exhausted, but emotionally and mentally they were broken, just like I was. I did the work to heal but so many women didn’t even know where or how to start. So I started talking to them giving advice and then ultimately designed my program around what I had done along with a lot of research to reinforce that what I was doing is correct. I don’t want any women to suffer if they don’t have to. Surviving cancer isn’t good enough and we all deserve to thrive in this new normal after cancer.
8. These days people are talking a lot about the benefits of yoga and working out at home. What are your thoughts about it?
Working out is the cheapest therapy you can give yourself. It lowers cortisol, the stress hormone, while giving you a boost of endorphins and dopamine, the feel good hormones, that the body truly craves. You will feel better physically emotionally and mentally from just 20 minutes a day. You can still get a great workout at home done even without equipment. Your body is the only thing you really need to get the same benefits.
The benefits of Yoga are endless. There is a lot of research being done right now to support how good it is for you, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. Yoga can help you to connect to your mind and body through movement using the breath as your guide. Yoga doesn’t matter what you did yesterday or what you can do tomorrow, it’s about honoring your body where it as at on that day, which is why it is called a practice. It evolves with you and your body for that time you are actually inflow. With access to the internet now, there are so many online options available that it is possible to keep up a really good home practice.
9. Why should we take a deep breath?
The simple act of deep breathing physically calms the body down. Taking it out of the fight or flight mode that is being created by fear and anxiety. Once you calm the body down the mind will follow. With a few deep breaths, you can instantly feel the difference. Using your breath is a simple, cheap and easy way to support your body in a time of crisis.
10. Do you find any similarities between Cancer and Covid-19?
There are similarities in the fact that healthy people are getting a small dose of what cancer patients and survivors live their lives like on a regular basis. We avoid large crowds, constantly wash or use hand sanitizer, obsessively wipe things down using anti bacterial clothes and wear masks to cover our mouths. We by default are germaphobes that don’t leave our houses. Right now the rest of the world is finally understanding what we go through for the greater good of our health. Plus the worry and fear that everyone is experiencing for the first time about just going out and living is the same type of fear that cancer survivors have in regards to living a normal life. We are scared to do because we don’t want it taken from us, again. We don’t want to “let our guard down”.
11. Any advice would you like to give to anyone out there?
How much space do I get, just kidding. Right now my advice is to take it one day at a time. Thinking about tomorrow won’t serve you in the present, it will only bring on more anxiety. That as a result of what is happening in the world we as humans will become more resilient as a result. Also, you only have one life to live so laugh, love and feel every single day.
12. Teresa Magazine is a literary magazine, so we need to ask: What is your favorite book?
I have a lot of favorite books but I would say “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. My other favorite author is Margaret Atwood.
If you want to learn more about Casey Head and her a Happier Healthier You program, you can follow her Instagram account @thehappierhustle