Smile for five minutes
October 18th, 2017 by Janine

Last week and this week have been soooo much better.  Less tears.  While the black cloud of overwhelm still lurks, I feel calmer, less irritated by everything, and more able to make a healthy choice in the moment.  Five minutes, have been my saviour.

I’m no perfect human, no magician.  Getting back on track isn’t easy.  Getting back on track – isn’t instant.  It’s not about righting wrongs overnight.  It’s not about becoming superwoman again; getting into action with everything on the ‘crazy to do list’.  It’s not about suppressing the negative thoughts, ignoring the fatigue or pretending to be happy.

Last week, my best achievement was deciding to commit.  Commit to doing, what I know to do, to lift low mood.  Then doing it, for five minutes at a time.  Yes, five minutes.  Anymore time is a bonus and not mandatory in anyway.   A big commitment?  Yes!

In the face of depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and everything I acknowledged in last week’s blog, yes, making ANY decision, taking ANY action, takes something.  Some days, brushing my teeth, having a shower or putting on clean clothes is a commitment.  It takes valuing myself.  It takes being in the moment, one step at a time.

I’m worth it.

I’m worth investing five minutes, once per day or eventually five minutes, six times a day, to do the things that help and help me, to feel more like me.  It’s not easy and I know I go on about it, being compassionate with myself.  I try to not buy into my ‘I’m not good enough’ belief, when I don’t manage five minutes one day or I only (loaded unhelpful language) manage five minutes a day.  This is super important and the key to keeping the commitment to doing five minute wonders.


On my first day of commitment to five minutes of healthy, helpful actions, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and got dressed – tick.  I got myself up the hill, to my blood test appointment – big tick.  The rest of the day passed somehow.

On my second day of commitment of five minutes, I managed to go back on to the website I’d had so many problems with and order the muscle builder protein recommended by the Nutritionist.  Its arrived and I’ve tried it.  It tastes ok and hopefully will work well for me!

It feels good to get back on track with healthy eating; one step, one five minutes, one day at a time.  This doesn’t mean I beat myself up for the sugar filled chocolate bar I had yesterday while at Chemo.  It means I patted myself on the back for eating well for the rest of the day, for not eating any more processed/refined sugar all day and for achieving my calorie count target for muscle building.

On my third day of commitment I managed to go to the gym!  The gym!  I went for five minutes on the cross trainer; I stayed 20 minutes.  I was very tired but felt pleased that I had gone.  It felt good, to feel pleased, about something.  I went for another five minutes, two days ago, stayed 45 minutes and had more energy.  I loved the sense of achievement, of being good to myself, doing what I know is important for me to do; build muscle so I can manage the cancer and the treatment as well as possible.  It was ok to feel tired later that day.  I felt calmer which was a bonus and good to notice.

On another day, for five minutes, I thought about my values, aspirations and those things I used do that gave me pleasure.  I looked at whether I had been taking any actions in these areas.  I wrote a list and planned some five-minute actions – not all of them for one day; one five-minute action per day.  Yoga is near the top of the list.  Up until a few months ago, I used to do this, a lot, each week, at home mostly, with the wonderful Adriene on YouTube.  Interestingly, five minutes of yoga hasn’t made it back into my world yet.  That’s ok.  I don’t have to do everything all at once.  Maybe next week will be the week I commit to five minutes of yoga, on one day, and then another, and possibly another.

Yesterday, I did something that really makes me feel joy.  I had an Italian language lesson.  I didn’t worry about whether I was smartly dressed or had make-up on; my teacher doesn’t care.  She cares more about whether I am having a chance, making the time, to listen to Italian every day; she doesn’t make me wrong when I haven’t.  I loved it.  I felt genuine pleasure when getting something right and even when I got something wrong and understood why.  I have learned Italian on and off for years (more off in recent years as academic work took over) and it feels great to be doing something that is so important to me.  This was a powerful step forward in lifting my mood.   Now I can plan five minutes of listening and Italian language practice every day.  It doesn’t have to be more.  Seriously, a five-minute commitment works wonders and is much easier to contemplate than an hour!  If the hour of practice comes at some stage, well that, is simply a bonus.  If I don’t do the five minutes every day that’s ok; every day that I do it, is a good day.


Overwhelm still hovers.  By the end of last week, I noticed I taken on too much.  I tried to allow time for rest, quiet, peace yet the time in between five minutes of healthy action didn’t always or often, feel restorative.  Planning five minutes of deep progressive muscle relaxation is now on the list.  Sitting outside for five minutes and deep breathing is also on the list.  The list doesn’t have to rule the show; it’s just a tool to remind me of possibilities for five minute wonders.  Things to try that I know have worked well in the past or may work well now and in the future, if I give them a go and commit for FIVE minutes!

A fine balance, this doing versus not doing too much.  Time for simply being is important too though when it rolls over into dwelling, rumination and avoiding, it no longer is being.  Socialising and avoiding withdrawal from others is super important for lifting low mood.  Getting back into the world is key.  Five minute excursions outside my house to the local café, newsagent, supermarket, anywhere where I need to navigate around and be with people for five minutes; it all helps me reconnect with the world.

On the flip side, when friends suggest a catch up, getting myself there is really hard some days, especially on those days when I feel like I just want to rest, sleep and keep sleeping.  Staying only five minutes might also seem strange but when I frame it like that, telling myself ‘I’m going for 5 minutes’, it helps.  Letting my friend know upfront that I hope to stay longer but a short time might be all I can do, is perfectly fine too; good friends understand.  Right now, too many commitments each day or on consecutive days is unhelpful; overwhelm can loom large.  I’m taking it a little slower than I was, before this patch of overwhelm hit.  Now the dark clouds are slowly lifting, I am taking my time with it, giving myself time and space to get back to feeling like me.  I try to remember that saying ‘No’ or consciously choosing to NOT ‘do something’ can be a valid action too.


Five-minute actions, being social in a manageable way, doing things that make me feel good, feel pleasure….that’s what I’m working on.  Smiling is back on the menu.  Five minutes of smiling behaviour can work wonders too.  Remember this isn’t about pretending to be happy.  This is about your body and mind experiencing a smile: physically, chemically and eventually, emotionally.  Right now, it’s a practice, a behaviour, not a spontaneous event.  I’d forgotten about the power of smiling behaviour and that’s ok.  I’ll do that five-minute wonder, today.  In fact, how about now?



Editorial Support: Stephanie Kemp

© 2017 Janine Hayward  All rights reserved.


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Posted in Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

October 4th, 2017 by Janine

Hello Blog.  I’ve missed you.  I’ve been writing to you, in my head, a lot.  There have been many opening paragraphs that have never made it to fingers and keyboard.  Today is a beautiful day, helped along immeasurably by clear blue sky.  Today is the day I put the last month to bed, put it into the past and leave it there, take out the learning points and not allow past negative events to colour my future.

I really wanted to say I haven’t forgotten you and provide a brief update…a reality check…

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Health-wise. I have been good on the Myeloma presence front; it’s still low.  I have been knocked for six coping with a compromised immune system.  Two viruses back to back, an extended chemo/bronchial style cough, even worse sleep patterns (didn’t think this was possible) and fatigue, weakness and low motivation to do anything…these have left me reeling with a very low mood.  I’ve felt like a patient, an invalid, more than ever before in the last three to four weeks.  Especially when I end up in bed for days, need to avoid being on public transport and wear masks more often. Concentrating to write seemed like an impossibility.  I’m here now.

Despite my low mood and fatigue, I managed to push ahead in small chunks with some of the ‘to do’ list.  No wonder I’m overwhelmed.  Have you ever felt like your ‘to do’ list doesn’t have any small, mundane admin items on it?  Instead it is a long list of huge, life-impacting topics that all require maximum brain power, planning and the ability to make decisions – something that is very, very elusive if you are even slightly depressed.

My list has included (though not exclusively by any means);

Finance.  How to finance the next few years, mortgages, budgets, investments, trying to find independent financial advisors, palliative care costs, home care costs…the list goes on).

Clinical Meetings.  I’ve been chasing meetings with clinicians to get a fresh, up-to-date view of the realities or at least their best guess on what my next few years will look like; how mobile I’ll be, how much treatment will be needed, whether I can do, plan for, bother costing out, some of the life passion things that are important to me – travel adventures, skiing, swimming, road cycling.  Securing these meetings has been a challenge and ongoing for weeks now (still unresolved) all because I want to see the original clinician I met and not my trial lead.  Dr L is both a realist and optimist.  We have worked together for months now.  It feels intensely important to hear up-to-date details from someone else, so that it lands in my head with clarity, so that Hubby and I can be exactly on the same page.  This is why I am trying to secure a meeting with Dr B.  He was the one who was honest about worst case scenarios, the very real lesions in my spine and possible paralysis if treatment was not started.  I need to hear it again; where I am and where I’m not, what I must do. I need pointers on how to live. Do I maximise the next two years assuming they are my best or plan pensions and assume I’ll live a lot longer and with mobility? Therefore, what will I need to finance?  I know Dr B will find this tough – I’m under 50 after all.  I really need his help with this.

Work.  How to work, earn income, contribute, have energy to work. Figuring out how much I can work, what work should look like so that I can strike a balance between treatment, time for doing things that are healthy, fun and will give best chance of prolonging life expectancy and support good quality of life.

Academia (My Legacy?).  I worked on my first paper and was rejected for the second time by one journal. I’m now working out how to revise and resubmit to another journal, getting ready for the all so common rejection again while visualising acceptance.  I’m also working on a second paper, one a senior academic in my viva encouraged me to publish.

Nutrition.  I lost too much weight.  I had to stop my super careful eating.  I tried to reintroduce dairy.  I felt worse.  I stopped the dairy.  I couldn’t get enough calories in without eating constantly which is impossible if you want to do anything else in life!  I reintroduced the odd treat (good quality bacon and cake once, twice per week).  I felt better and worse.  I was advised to put on lean muscle and get my weight up.  My weight is up to 63.8kg.  I feel good that my weight is up and bad that I’ve introduced things that welcome cancer into my terrain again.  I feel unable to control things.  I have no appetite and then I’m ravenous.  I find it hard to do food balance.  I want it to be healthy all the way or…I can’t entertain, the ‘not at all’ option, it feels irresponsible.  My nutritionist has recommended a medical protein powder, not high in calories but specifically designed to help create lean muscle for people losing weight due to illness.  I try to order it.  The site won’t let me.  I contact them.  They don’t get back to me.  I cry with frustration. I finally ask the Nutritionist to sort it out.  She does.  I haven’t had the energy to try again.  I will, this week.  I need to feel back in control.  I miss enjoying food, I used to love it.

Last and by no means least, Parents and Friends.  Spending quality time with Mum and Dad; how to do that, when to do that, how to have the energy and good mood for that.  Ensuring we don’t feel like flatmates co-existing under the same roof and make sure we make the most of the time we have together – how?. Sounds easy but it’s not.  A great, precious, long, hard-to-adjust-to five months (not sure how that happened… and I laugh that Mum and I laugh about that now). Yet as it spins into the last half of their stay, it is quickly feeling like I’ll look back and it will have gone quickly…

Chemo.  This crazy, demanding to do list is all with a backdrop of six days of Chemo, recovery days where I have felt worse than on Chemo days, many many days when I have just wanted to hide under the duvet with the cat for company and stay there for weeks.

Low mood.  I’m in it.  Up to my eyeballs.  Depressed.  I’ve been resisting it.  Resisting acknowledging it but I’m there now.  I feel demands on me everywhere, a sure sign of low mood and overwhelm for me.  A weekend away with hubby last weekend, staying at a very generous friend’s home near the sea, culminated in a roller coaster ride and frequent mishaps. From misread maps, and ten minute walks turning into a 40-minute wait in the rain and taxi, to random laughs (singing Delilah with a bunch of strangers in a gorgeous restaurant with fabulous view), deep tonic breaths of sea air, cocktails and a feast, before spending Sunday crying uncontrollably (on the train, at a restaurant, in a cab, just standing, sitting, in the shower, trying to put makeup on; I gave up, behind my mask, walking in the street, everywhere, leaking.)  I’ve been so withdrawn.  Haven’t wanted to be around anyone except hubby. And have not been a fun person to be with when we have been together. Trying to be practical, talk about future, plan, create with him; this just exacerbated difference in wants, needs, timeframes and how difficult these discussions are.  Overwhelm took residence.  Overwhelmed.  I landed.  Here.  Rock bottom.   Time to acknowledge my situation even more than I have already.  I have cancer.  Its terminal.  It’s Sh*t.  It has turned my life upside down. It’s created extreme intensity across all areas of my life.  It’s ok to be overwhelmed.  It’s likely to happen many times over the next few years and I’ll be alright.

Off track.  All the things that help overcome and prevent low mood have fallen off.  I’ve fallen off the track.  It’s time to get back on now.  This low mood feeling won’t disappear overnight.  I do know what to do.  Start small, just start.  Compassion. Compassion. Compassion.  Work on basics; begin exercising again, for 5 minutes, an hour, then a few times per week.  It doesn’t have to be all at once.  The mindfulness and meditation have slipped to once per week.  Get it back to daily.  It can be five minutes, 10 minutes and eventually longer.  Put a good sleep routine back in place, get up at the same time, get rid of the mobile from the bedroom, breathe, use progressive muscle relaxation.  Order the protein drink.  Get some good music back into my life; it’s been missing.  Look for the positives.

Today is a good day.  There is a blue sky.  I’ve just been to the gym.  I’m doing fine.  To coin the essence of a phrase my fab friends use on their date nights and that they wisely borrowed from Julia Roberts…  If I forget to tell you later, I had a great time today.

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Images: Me

Editorial Support: Stephanie Kemp


© 2017 Janine Hayward  All rights reserved.

Posted in Finance and Cost, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,