How I Learned to Find Joy in My Pain as Both My Parents Fought Cancer

2016 was a brutal year. In the span of 12 months, I reunited with my dad after six years, learned of his cancer diagnosis, took care of him, and buried him. On top of that, my mom had been dealing with cancer for over two years.

This is enough for anyone to not be at their best state, and it would be understandable if they broke down at times. But somehow I was able to keep it together and function while going through this. Once in a while, I would break down in private, and that is not only normal, but necessary. But I was able to pick myself up and rejoin my day after these breakdowns.

How did I not lose it during this time? I owe it to five things I did that kept me sane and helped me find joy in my pain.

1. Regular Exercise.

While my Dad was sick, I would go on regular walks, do yoga, or anything that got me moving and my blood pumping.

How does this help when we’re going through trying times? I think when we are in the midst of pain, it is so easy to be stationary and wallow in it. This is how we make ourselves sick and spiral into a rabbit hole of sadness, making our situation worse. When I move move, it helps with my depression, getting my blood pumping and releasing endorphins. This lowers the stress and tension I may be feeling.

One thing it doesn’t do is get rid of our pain. Our pain is real and must be dealt with. What exercise does do, however, is give us the energy to better deal with it. So next time you’re feeling down, get up and move. It doesn’t have to be intense, because just 15 minutes of walking will lift your mood and help you deal with whatever you are facing.

2. Long Drives.

One of my favorite quotes says, “Nothing helps you more than a long drive and good music.” This is so true.

After my dad died, I went on a lot of long drives with my favorite music, just thinking and enjoying the radio. What a long drive does for me is it makes me feel like I am stepping away, literally and figuratively, from the day to day existence of my trials, and taking some time out for me, to think about things, reminisce about good memories of my loved one without any distractions, and most importantly, listen to good songs that function as therapy for me. I can return from these drives rejuvenated and ready to take on the rest of the week.

If you are going through a trial, I encourage you to get in the car, go for a drive and be sure to have some of your favorite music. A tip for these drives: have a destination in mind, whether it is the beach or a nice town. That way you have something to look forward to, but are enjoying the journey while you get there.

3. Nature, Nature, Nature.

A lot of research has been done on the benefits nature has on our mental health and well-being. And I can personally attest to these findings.

When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, I began a regular habit of hiking a few times a week at a local park. Being among the trees and mountains healed me, and helped me release stress. It was my one happy placeI could go to and always be myself. I was able to breathe in fresh air and be alone with my thoughts. This was priceless in helping me keep myself together when some days I just wanted to fall apart.

Whatever you’re struggling with, I encourage you to get outside, and enjoy the nature and fresh air around you. It may not seem enjoyable when we’re in the midst of pain, and seem easier to just stay home where we feel safe. But I can tell you if you take that first step outside, it will make you feel better. Once you put one foot in front of the other, it gets easier, and next thing you know you’re hiking up a mountain and feeling better.

If you don’t live near mountains, head to your local park. Many local parks have flat trails that help as much as the tallest mountain. Anywhere that has fresh air and trees will be beneficial to your mental health.

4. Supportive Friends.

After my dad died, my support system of friends is what kept me from falling apart.

I had lifelong friends show how true they were by reaching out to me, acquaintances who became my friends because they were there for me, and family members who I previously barely spoke to, who became my best friends because of the new bond we shared. Last but not least, I had my amazing husband who was my rock.

The friends who I thought would surely be there for me were nowhere to be found, only to be replaced by new friends who showed their compassion and empathy.

My favorite memory is of the first person outside of my family to call me after my loss. She and I had hung out a few times, but we were not close friends. I didn’t expect her to call at all. But she did, and when she called she told me that she had seen my online post about my loss and wanted to give her condolences. She then offered her time to be there for me if I would take it. When I was ready I took her up on her offer, and every time we would go out she would offer to listen to me as I talked about my dad.

A friend like this is priceless and rare. I am grateful that I opened myself up enough to experience a friend’s love.

5. Something to Believe In.

When my dad was sick, I turned to my spirituality to help me through the hard times. I regularly meditated and prayed to the god that I believe in. This gave me the peace and comfort I needed.

One’s beliefs are a very personal thing, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. Whatever you believe in, I encourage you to turn to it during periods of pain and heartache. It will help you make sense of the pain and give you something to turn to. If you don’t subscribe to any spirituality, there are other ways to find peace. My friend who is an atheist said when her dad died, she found comfort in knowing he is a part of her and therefore, she is continuing his legacy.

We each have our own beliefs, and grief is a good time to allow those beliefs to comfort us and help us move forward.

For me, 2016 was a hard year, but with a lot of help I was able to get through it. Because of regular exercise, long drives, the beauty of nature, supportive friends and something to believe in, I got through the pain and found some joy along the way.

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Thinkstock photo by RyanKing999

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