Navigating the Brackish Waters of Symptom Management: A Guide for You, as Captain of Your Ship!

Hear My Voice Outreach Volunteer Doris-Ann Price, on how nature inspired her approach to coping with symptoms and side effects. Be a part of the Beyond the Breast Campaign.

IMG_8231I never expected that two recent outdoor jaunts into the salty New England sea air and water could feel more like positive spiritual reinforcement of my life navigation strategies — but BLIMEY, so they did! First, over Labor Day weekend, nature reminded me how important it is to stay attuned to the many unseen challenges it poses to navigating successfully through the channels of the Cape Cod Bay, I listened carefully as it reiterated a couple of basic truths about the importance of plumbing one’s own inner resources and staying strong but calm when faced with navigating the bay’s deceptively shallow waters.

Then again today, I heard that same voice from the sea calling out from New Hampshire’s rocky, heavily buttressed seacoast. I appreciate that being prodded always helps when trying to remain strong against the unforgiving pummeling of the unpredictable waves of life. What a gift from the sea it is to feel attuned to nature’s messages, and to be able to draw from its sage urgings as I continue seeking new ways to stay the path along my journey with metastatic breast cancer.

Last week on Cape Cod Bay, I learned from my boatsman friend the importance of tuning in to the message of the sea to help navigate through unreliable channel markers. The channel markers at low tide that afternoon had been all rendered inaccurate by the shifting sand beneath the water, so they did not reveal the shallow sandbars impeding our route. I observed how my friend applied his skills of observation, along with knowledge gained from years of experience, in order to help strategize how to get our boat through the murky water and into safe harbor. He explained the importance of knowing the nuances that daily impact navigation on the bay at low tide, as well as the impact of seasonal shifts, then added that sometimes it even becomes necessary to cast to the wind the ‘rule book’ for navigating the brackish waters. Nature, it seems, will generally find a way to pummel our every expectation, in defiance of whatever ‘knowledge‘ we think we have working for us; so as stage IV patients, it can also be extremely useful to understand how to summon our own resources to help us reset our course and make our way to safety.

I learned from observation that the persistent voice of the crashing waves is much like the unrelenting, ever-changing symptoms that we MBC patients encounter each day. While the seawall serves as a barrier to protect low-lying coastal areas from the ocean’s fury, I observed how it is constantly buffeted by powerful waves that threaten to infiltrate its cracks and undermine its apparent impermeability. Nevertheless, I noted that seawalls continue being erected and reinforced in spite of the inevitable power of the sea to break through their seemingly stony facade.

Likewise, we patients must continue seeking new ways to repair the ‘cracks in our facade,’ and to apply new strategies to keep our emotional fortress strong!

IMG_8232Indeed, it became increasingly apparent to me during these recent adventures along the challenging New England seacoast that navigating brackish waters requires much more than a compass. Moreover, resisting and restraining the power of the sea demands persistence as well as effective strategies as we seek to mine our own rich wells of experience, knowledge, and instincts. And last, but not least, the challenges of nature invite us to open up our hearts, cross our fingers, and mine our spirit in spite of unanticipated setbacks that may threaten to sink our boat.

Applying The Lessons Of The Sea To Symptom Management

And so it is with navigating symptom management: Each of us needs to know how to recognize and tap our own resources, so we are better able to navigate through the ever-changing symptoms and side effects of treatment. Being able to do so is empowering as it turns us into our most powerful resource – an empowered self-advocate!

Building My Own Protective Barriers And Fending Off The Side Effects Of Treatment

Anyway, here I am, 3 weeks into what I hope will be yet another “protective seawall” (in my own 9-and-a-half-year series of frequently debilitating, temporarily effective back-to-back MBC treatments). With mets to my brain, thyroid, lungs, bones, liver, and lymph system (plus paralyzed vocal cords that causes difficulty swallowing and speaking), my physical challenges continue to mount. Yet I never fail to seek new ways to keep my freak flag flying!

I am told frequently that I am strong or brave, and that my strength lies in my positivity; but I am as vulnerable as the weakest among you. I believe my strength resides in my ability to look at the whole picture, but restrict my focus to one issue at a time – applying available information, innate knowledge, experience, and faith to seek a solution to my challenges. Moreover, it lies with my continued determination not to allow fear and additional waves to break through my seawall!

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As I write these words, I am temporarily located almost 800 miles from home, where I am enrolled in an early phase clinical trail at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. I am also trying to reignite my spirit and morph into the next phase of ‘new normal.’ But even though I am blessed here with the support of new friends, I am still far from home, family, long-time friends, and familiar surroundings.

Although my challenges are great I still believe that the best approach to ‘keep on keeping on’ lies in being able to mine my own natural resources, and then find ways to stay strong against the relentless advance of shifting sands that sometimes feel like a greedy hole that (if I allow it) will suck me under.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

May you discover your own seawall of strength, learning how to mine your own unique resources, so that you will be better able to resist tides of negativity, powerful waves of doubt, fear, and insecurity, and any challenges that threaten to pull you into a dangerous vortex and drag you under.

A LESSON FOR ALL OF US

Meanwhile, I am holding ground here in Boston, and remain a passionate but realistic self-advocate who realizes she does not have ultimate control to prevent her ship from eventually succumbing to the sea, but nevertheless intends to continue charting her own course to better navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life (and yours), and I have discovered that the best I can do is to attack daily challenges through my self-advocacy, and to continue discouraging unproductive self-blame and regrets. We cannot know what would or should have been, and we do not know what may happen tomorrow. But we can be resourceful, and make the most of what we do have today!

Think about it: How amazing is it that each of us can gain access to our own strategy for living with BC mets, once we identify how to quiet down our lives long enough to invite our spirit to align with nature? So give yourself a hug and let’s congratulate ourselves for making it through another day!

May each of us discover how to best access and draw on our own strengths, while inviting our spirits to align with the natural world. That’s a journey we should all be able to LIVE WITH!

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