3 Reasons Why You Need Coping Skills

I’ll get right to it.

1. Coping skills will help you adapt and adjust to the uncertainties of life.

Let’s face it: we’re often not in control of what happens in our lives. Arguably, we are never in control. Three axioms from the erudite to the profane make that point:

If you’re a person who needs to be in control at all times, good luck. Control is God’s domain. Remember that.

A few years ago,  I went to a weekend seminar called “Redefining Health.” The most valuable point from that weekend is that you can decide to be upset, or not.  Emotions can range from rage to despair to euphoria. A state of “upset” encompasses a broad swath of the negative emotions.  There are times when something is undeniably upsetting, and then there are times when you let yourself get upset. How long you wallow in “upset” is on you.

Coping skills help you regroup and be resilient.

Drowning in despair

Wallowing in despair

2. Not being able to cope is downright unhealthy.  

Over the long term, failure to cope could lead to:

  • chronic stress
  • chronic inflammation
  • a compromised immune system
  • chronic disease
  • destructive behavior
  • prescription medications
  • self-medication
  • poor self-esteem

Years ago, I broke up with a fella I loved dearly. Nice guy, but not the right guy and the relationship needed to end. I was distraught and inconsolable, and couldn’t stop crying. I decided to try therapy. After one session, the psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant. After taking pills for two days, I felt numb — emotionally, and even physically in my right arm — and didn’t really care about anything, including myself.

Ever practical, I thought about it and decided I didn’t like how the pills made me feel.  I needed my edge back. I had simply wanted to talk to the psychiatrist; but, she wanted to fix my pain with pills. I didn’t want or need to be medicated.  My distress was only about a breakup after all.  To get over it, I embraced this four-letter word:

“NEXT!”

3. Without coping skills, you risk social isolation. 

Do you really want to be the person who seems to always have the Dark Cloud over their head? Do you know the type? This person is negative, a complainer, perceives conspiracies everywhere, and has built a wall based on distrust. You can only take but so much of the person under the Dark Cloud before you start evasive maneuvers.

Here’s an example based on another common misery:  a job. I had two particular friends, whom I hung out and talked with on a daily basis. At first, we were all complaining about our jobs. One by one, they found new jobs and were re-energized. I hadn’t tried to change my circumstances like they did. Instead, I continued to bring my misery-fest into our interactions. Eventually, they stopped calling and returning my calls. I had been dumped. My feelings were hurt, but some time later, I had to admit:  I would’ve dumped me, too.

Sometimes you find yourself under the Dark Cloud, but some people live there for real. They let the Dark Cloud envelope them like a cocoon.  That is the point at which a person becomes a “social repellent.” You do not want to be that person.

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Stay tuned for a future post on coping tips!

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Aging: It Doesn’t Have to be Straight Downhill

Aging — it happens every minute of our lives and starts at birth.  Aging — it  can neither be denied nor held at bay, not even with alluring products and superfoods that claim “anti-aging” magic. In developed countries, we’re living longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going well.

Let’s aim for living and aging well.

I wonder all the time how well will I age, and what kind of old person will I be?  From observing people around me — and remembering the people I no longer see — I figure that how well anyone gets on down this road is partly in their control, and partly a crapshoot (including the vagaries of the gene pool).

My parents aged differently, although my father had quite a long run. He was house-bound and no longer driving his car the last two years of his life. When Daddy was having a rough time, he’d chuckle and recite this poem:

The Golden Years are here at last

I cannot see, I cannot pee

I cannot chew, I cannot screw

My memory shrinks, my hearing stinks

No sense of smell, I look like hell

The Golden Years are here at last

The Golden Years can kiss my ass

(Original version by Kimers)

My mother, on the other hand —  “Ms. Daisy” —  is still vibrant in her late 80s, having adventures of her own. I also know a certain nonagenarian, who’s closer to 100 years of age than not, who recently went on a Panama Canal cruise with his younger girlfriend. My three siblings and I share this gene pool and it’s not clear yet how things will go for us. It seems that I’m the one with some kind of weakness, having had major surgeries of the back, abdomen, and breast at a fairly young age. But, so far so good for us all.

American culture glorifies youth, who often act like older people are just in the way; that they have an expiration date or a shelf life. I saw as much in trite comments about former President Jimmy Carter on Twitter after his cancer diagnosis was announced. A few comments were along the lines of: “He’s had a long life, no need to be sad” and “It’s gotta happen sometime,” etc.  This former President continues to add value to this world into his nineties. He is a treasure, plain and simple. We should all strive to be fractionally as productive. (And Mr. Carter is a lifelong tennis player, too.)

Don’t underestimate old folk or write them off.  I was in my 20s when I faced an unlikely opponent in a tennis tournament. She walked slowly onto the court wearing surgical stockings and a thin sweater, like she had a chill. She carried only her racquet, not a tournament bag full of gear like the rest of us. To me, she looked old as hell. I thought: ‘I’ve got this.  I’ll overpower that old lady and run every ball down.’ Old Lady had a different notion. She planted herself in the region of the court called “No Man’s Land” to return my serves and ground strokes. (Few people have the skills to play an entire match there.) Old Lady took all my balls on the rise and yanked me from corner to corner. Hardly moving from that area the whole match — and certainly not breaking a sweat — Old Lady ended it with ruthless efficiency. I was running balls down all right, many of which were out of reach.

This is how I looked.

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Old Lady waxed me with wisdom.

The other aspect of aging is accepting and feeling positive about physical changes you cannot help without surgery. I’m not a fan of plastic surgery because I don’t want to have “puppet-face.” Besides, it’s a waste of money; gravity wins over time.  Speaking of which, looking down in a mirror revealed to me gravity’s effects on my face and neck. I was, like, damn….  Anyway, there are a lot of things to come to terms with as time marches on. I’ll embrace the aging process because I’m happy to be here, and I’m still me. There’s always some wise person to remind us that growing old beats the alternative.

This photo of tennis teammates makes my point for living and aging well. (Teammates ranged in age from a few thirty-somethings to one septagenarian, featured below. To say this team was “selective” is an understatement. Everybody kicked butt!)

Teammates from the Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women's team

Vicious Vollies / Prince George’s County – Maryland State Champions 2015, 3.5 18 & over women’s team – Photo courtesy of Tinya Coles-Cieply

Taking an example from a certain President and a certain tennis teammate, this is how I want to be in my Senior Years:

  • Helpful and an inspiration to others
  • Still an athlete, playing USTA league matches in every age category from 18 & over  to Super Seniors (ages 65-85)
  • Not dependent on meds
  • Still traveling
  • Full of joy
  • Hanging with friends (young and old)

How do you see yourself in your Senior Years?

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Healthier Eating in 4 Easy Steps

After my last post, some of you asked for “baby steps” toward better health.  I thought these four steps might be helpful. Some of you said that cutting back on sugar and certain other carbs is tough.

Giant Spanish donuts

Biggest donuts I’ve ever seen: Bakery in Madrid

I battle the sugar demon on a daily basis, so I get it. We’re not in total control of our fate; but if we were, wouldn’t you choose health over sickness?

We have control over what we put into our bodies.

Let’s get started:

I. Shop the grocery store’s perimeter for colorful, local, seasonal, and organic produce.

You have control over this.

The perimeter — or areas against or near the walls — is where you find meats, fish, dairy, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. This setup is used by both mega-grocers and organic grocers.  You don’t even need to buy all organic produce.  Find the list of pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, known as the “Dirty Dozen,” here.

Farmer’s markets, community gardens, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions are great sources for diverse, colorful, and local produce.

Community garden in downtown Detroit

Community garden in downtown Detroit

What does it mean to buy local produce? The theory — and it makes sense — is that local produce may be higher in nutrients because it doesn’t travel far or spend time in a warehouse; meaning less time between harvest and when it comes home with you. It is likely to be seasonal. For instance, summer is the season for stone fruits, like peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries. You can still find pears and apples in some grocery stores, but they are probably not sourced locally. Their season is really fall and winter. Believe me, fruits eaten in their season even taste better.

(Speaking of what’s in season and where it came from, I bought an “unseasonal” butternut squash from Mexico in July. I really, really wanted  some butternut squash.)

II.  Be Discriminating! Read labels on packaging. 

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You have control over this.

Fats – Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. The right type of fat is, in fact, good for you. Check listed ingredients and avoid partially hydrogenated fats. Best fats are olive oil and coconut oil. I avoid products that list two or three different oils that might be in the product. Every time I eat a snack or meal, I make sure it has some good fat, along with protein and fiber. (Examples: nuts and 70% or higher dark chocolate.)

Sodium –  Good practices:  be aware of sodium content and taste food before reaching for salt. High blood pressure can lead to a lifetime of meds. Who wants that?

Restaurant meals, canned foods, soy sauce, miso, and cheese can be high in sodium. Bragg’s Amino Acids can substitute for soy sauce in stir-fries because it has a lower sodium content and it’s gluten-free.  At restaurants, you could ask for low-sodium entrees — that’s probably no fun — or ask the chef to dial down the salt.

Sugar –  Check for two specific things: the type of sugar in the listed ingredients; and the amount of sugar grams. Avoid a product that lists high fructose corn syrup, that being The Worst.  If food at home is sweetened with it, dump it. As for number of sugar grams, try to stay below double digits.

Yogurt is generally considered healthy. But, consider: a) the quality of the milk; b) the sugars already in milk; c) added sugar; and d) sugar in added fruit. All these things ratchet up the sugar grams. I think added sugar in yogurt defeats the beneficial value. You can retrain your taste buds for plain yogurt, which is supposed to be sour, anyway — and blend it with sweet, fresh fruit.

The Ingredients List – If you can’t pronounce the ingredient or don’t know what it’s doing in the product, leave it at the grocery store. Avoid products with coloring and flavoring ingredients. When I see words like “natural flavors,” I’m wondering, what the hell does that mean?  Answer:  lab work.

[Note: Local produce might not be certified organic or farmed according to organic and sustainable practices. Sometimes there’s a tradeoff.]

III.   Avoid Fast Food Restaurant Chains. If You Don’t, They Win — You Lose (with a notable exception)

You have control over this.

Be skeptical about food that is sold so cheaply and mass-produced.

Some great news here:  CHIPOTLE.

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Check out Chipotle’s philosophy.  The restaurant tries to source local and fair produce. (“Fair” means the agriculture workers are treated right with decent wages.) My sister, Cheryl, eats at Chipotle often and confirmed this: Chipotle won’t offer an item on the menu if it can’t find a good source for it.  I love that the company puts itself out there with its philosophy. Is that integrity, or what?! Clean Plates — a service that lists restaurants that provide sustainable and healthy food — endorses Chipotle, too!

Food for thought:  Convenience foods are about time management. Work on that concept and you might not need to stop at a drive-thru window.

IV. Cut out soda. Period.

You have control over this.

Here’s the real skinny on “diet” sodas:  they don’t help you lose weight. In fact, you may head in the opposite direction. Regular sodas have 65-77 grams of sugar in a 20 ounce bottle; and some are sweetened with corn syrup. There’s no good news on the soda front.

Learn to love water and drink it liberally. If you need flavored water, you can infuse filtered water with real fruit and save money while you’re at it.

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Sparkling mineral water – better for you than soda (or, pop, as we call it in the Midwest).

These four steps will make you more mindful of what you eat and what you might crave. Do you think these four tweaks to your eating habits could make you healthier? You’re not powerless; you have more control than you think. What are you willing to do?

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To Detox or Not Detox?

I’m on a mission.

I have one little lingering issue from surviving estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.  I didn’t take a drug my oncologist prescribed seven years ago. The drug basically blocks estrogen production in the body.  Every year I see the doctor, she still asks if I’ll take the drug, which is now supposed to be effective for 10 years. Nope, I say. At the 10 year mark, I’d be on my own, anyway.  I decided to reinforce and tweak my eating habits instead.

I’m on a mission to take my health to another level.

So, why tweak eating habits that have already made me lean? Because I still craved sweets; I had become more agitated and stressed; and sometimes didn’t sleep well. I’ve read a ton of information to figure out which way to go because I’m not a candidate for certain prescription drugs.

I learned there are different types of estrogen and not all are bad. In my oncologist’s view, estrogen is my enemy. Period. But, I think it depends on how it’s metabolized in the body. I decided to go a natural route and balance my hormones through diet and by removing man-made substances in my environment that could disrupt that balance. It sure couldn’t hurt to try.

At the beginning of the year, I signed up for a three-week hormone-balancing detox and seminar offered on this website. The seminar was right on time and what I had been looking for. I liked the instructor’s credentials, her focus on functional medicine, and her own wake-up call that started with her husband’s health crisis. (I also think she favors the Paleo diet.)

The seminar included a few hour-long lectures, a community board for Q&A with the experts, and support during the detox, and recipes. She explained the endocrine system in layman’s terms. There’s a lot of information out there about certain foods and chemicals that can disrupt this system. The endocrine system plays a vital role in whether you develop diabetes or another hormone-related disorder.

Some people debunk the whole notion of detox. They say:

  • There’s no such thing as a food “toxin” because “toxins” are a classification of defined substances, like botulin.
  • Sugar is not a toxin.
  • The liver doesn’t need to be “rested.”
  • Detox supplements are gimmicks; and peddlers of detox services are quacks.

Those arguments don’t get to the reason behind why people may need a detox. They don’t address  the collective adverse effects to our bodies of  highly processed foods, refined sugars, and the abundance of chemicals in our environment.  I agree that the wellness industry has its share of quacks and bad products. But, let’s face it — they’ve successfully played in the wellness market because if we only needed a “magic pill” to make us healthier, we would take it.

It seems to me that we are either absorbing or ingesting substances that are working at cross-purposes with our health. Diabetes is rampant in the U.S., as well as some other parts of the world. Our bodies are letting us know something’s not right. We need to pay attention.

I learned some things that were brand new to me. During the three-week detox, we were asked to eliminate some foods that are Paleo-acceptable, like eggs and fatty meats (like beef and lamb). Dietary suggestions seemed to follow the Paleo diet protocol, but were also very vegan-friendly. Recipes and menus came with the seminar — some of which I liked, and others not so much.  I also did my own thing in the kitchen within the provided guidelines.

Blueberry scones (gluten-free); sweetened with coconut nectar

Blueberry scones made with almond flour (gluten-free); sweetened with coconut nectar

Here’s what I got out of  the three-week detox program:

  • Better ideas for snacks
  • Good information about plastic and food: replacing plastic storage containers for glass, and plastic spatulas and spoons for bamboo or wood
  • High cost of a Paleo-centered pantry
  • Switching to a variety of coconut products and sweeteners; not buying so-called healthy snack foods
  • Smarter grocery-shopping with a list; and less food waste
  • Understanding which foods can spike blood sugar, like dairy (and oatmeal); substituting dairy with unflavored almond milk
  • Passion flower herbal supplement for calming the nervous system
  • Flaxseed meal and tempeh —  estrogenic, but not necessarily bad
  • Magnesium and vitamin B supplements — additional support to the body
  • Wine (sigh) is not necessarily my friend. (I drink it on fewer occasions now.)
  • Sleep — very important
  • Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, arugula, bok choy, and kale
Red and white cauliflower

Red and white cauliflower

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Red and green cabbage

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Red kale

I participated in this online seminar along with 200+ other folk, each of whom had their own concerns about the effect of hormone imbalance on their health. All in all, I’m glad I did this hormone-balancing detox. It was my first step this year on my very personal mission to resolve that last lingering little well-being issue.

What do you think of a diet-based detox?

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Taking a Break is a Good Thing (or, How I Spent My Hiatus)

When I took my eight week hiatus from actively blogging, I had quite a few things to sort out so I could have a more balanced life. I was well on my way to a year that I would sum up as being ho-hum. The first three months were dominated by work, eight tennis leagues, and my blog. I had shirked a few too many personal responsibilities and become a bit disconnected from friends. It was time for a “corrective action plan!”

One of the most inspired things I did — and it fit neatly inside my hiatus — was to register for the six week O-course called Thrive. The course was created by Arianna Huffington and based on her book, Thrive.  Huffington encourages her readers to re-define success as being more than wealth and power. She coined the term “Third Metric,” which is apropos in our increasingly data-driven world.  Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the value Huffington gave to the four pillars of the “Third Metric”:  Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving.

Whaaaat?? I signed up!

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Working on the Thrive course.

When Thrive arrived, I dove into the book with the anticipation of seeing in print the philosophy by which I want to live. I’d only gotten as far as the Introduction when I saw this paragraph on pages 15 and 16:

Eulogies are, in fact, very Third Metric. But while it’s not hard to live a life that includes the Third Metric, it’s very easy not to. It’s easy to let ourselves get consumed by our work. It’s easy to allow professional obligations to overwhelm us, and to forget the things and the people that truly sustain us. It’s easy to let technology wrap us in a perpetually harried, stressed-out existence. It’s easy, in effect, to miss the real point of our lives even as we’re living them. Until we’re no longer alive. A eulogy is often the first formal marking down of what our lives were about — the foundational document of our legacy. It is how people remember us and how we live on in the minds and hearts of others….

This message hit home and reminded me of two foolish decisions I made that allowed my job to trump two medical procedures I needed the year I was treated for breast cancer. One was a second surgery to clear the margins around the lumpectomy — or, what I call the “re-do;” and the other was a liver scan to check for tumors. On each occasion, I was scheduled to give a 30 minute training presentation for my job. I was all about my work ethic and keeping commitments. I asked the organizers if they’d move my presentations to 8 a.m. so I could make it to my medical procedures in the early afternoon. Sure – no problem, they said.

There are a couple of things I’ve never forgotten about playing the martyr. First, I actually expected recognition for it — and never got it — and carried that resentment for years. (With this post, I’m over it.) Second, it was an utterly unnecessary thing to do.  I showed up at the medical procedures unbalanced and exhausted from my job commitments earlier in the day. The real deal is that my reputation for follow-through and strong work ethic would not have suffered one whit for taking care of myself during my health crisis.

Lessons Learned:  1) There is always someone else who can cover the job commitments; and 2) I shouldn’t expect anyone else to care more about my well-being than I do.

The last eight weeks were also an exercise in math:  I added some things in and subtracted others to balance time spent with friends and family, and on activities and community service. I’m glad I pushed that “Refresh” button!

Fog over lake at Kripalu

Fog over lake at Kripalu

There is no better place to actually “refresh” than a yoga retreat. Right around the time I decided to take a hiatus from Wobblenot, my friend, Rindi, suggested we meet at Kripalu in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It so happened that my Thrive course encouraged meditation, movement, better sleep, and unplugging from technology. The yoga retreat was the perfect place to work on these things and establish new and better habits. I took at least two yoga classes a day, hikes, a nutrition workshop, and meditation sessions.

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It is easy to unplug at a yoga retreat.  Kripalu does not have TVs, and wi-fi is only available in specific rooms. You don’t see the mobile zombies  — you know, the people walking around with eyes cast downward and glued on their mobiles. At Kripalu, you can use your mobile phone, but you’d have to either duck into a little booth in the hallway of the main building, or go outdoors to talk – quietly. It’s your choice to be either fully or partially unplugged.

I thought of my job, to which I have been expected to stay connected 24/7, and all the devices I’ve been given to make that possible. For a period of time, I was even required to check work emails first thing in the morning when I woke up and last thing at night before I went to bed. Really???? (That madness has since ended.)

The atmosphere at Kripalu was the antidote for stress. Three days at the retreat did my spirit good. Woo hoooo!!!

So, there you are…those were the main doings during my Hiatus, in addition to re-vamping the blog design. (Hope you like it!) I’ve gotten personal obligations under control. And, best of all…I feel grounded, balanced, and oh, so much better!

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The Minimalist’s Running Plan

Let’s be clear… I hate to sweat.  I practice yoga because, initially, I’d believed that yoga wouldn’t make me sweat—you glide; you step in, out, back; and, you stop.  Most of the time, you’re still and breathing. Of course, I discovered that not all forms of yoga are placid calm. Running, on the other hand, will make you sweat—every time!

So, why on earth did I agree to run in a 5-K race?  My friend, Leslie, got me into this for a good cause.  I really need to work on saying “no!”  Nevertheless, July to September seemed like plenty of time to get in shape for the run. Siblings, Kim and David, laughed loud and often about my running anywhere for any reason. (I last ran at age 15 — my legendary run from second to third base that resulted in a bloody split chin, stitches, and an immediate end to my athletic career. Even worse, it happened in front of a boy I liked!) A few words of caution: never announce a bad decision to the world, for you will be held to it!

Before I could hit the road, I needed the right shoes.  As it turned out, in spite of sticker shock over the cost, buying the Asics was the easiest task. Next move: put on the shoes. OK, they felt great, so I decided to run just a block to test my ankles that almost always get shooting pains from even trotting from house to car.  The test was successful and enough for that day.

A co-worker told me about training guidance called “Couch to 5-K” from www.coolrunning.com. The nine-week, three times weekly training schedule looked like so much work; although the running gently increased in time and distance during each practice and throughout the nine week period. I’m sure this is a wonderful training program for most highly motivated beginners. But, I know myself.  When faced with the prospect of that much consistent practice, I would run one day and think about it the other two. Not good.

Leslie stepped in, suggesting the two of us run at least one day a week before work. The result was what I call “The Minimalist’s Running Plan.” Each week, I would do one run with Leslie, one run on the treadmill in an air-conditioned gym, and one yoga class.  The Minimalist’s Running Plan was more in keeping with my modest goals: finish the race upright, and breathing. You could say I set the bar too low, but I knew better!

At long last, the day came when the race would finally be in my rear view mirror. In a field of 350 runners, I placed 249, finishing (upright and breathing) in 44 minutes, 56 seconds!  I had met my goals!  Today, I continue to run — reluctantly — once a week with Leslie. I can bear at least this much if it is a social activity and not organized training for a race.

Now, if I can just practice saying “no” a little more often, I’ll be more balanced, not to mention more comfortable!

-Cheryl

Running Shoes


Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: How I Am Today

My oncologist proposed a fourth treatment in her plan– a hormone-blocking drug, also known as an aromatase inhibitor. She wanted me to start taking the drug after radiation ended and continue for five years. Side effects included bone loss, joint pain, insomnia, and raging hot flashes — none of which would have been good for my tennis and overall health.

I had a bone density baseline test done as I considered this drug treatment.  After giving it a lot of thought, I asked my doctor what was the plan after I finish taking the drug. The disturbing response:  we’d watch to see if my mammograms stayed clear and if I developed pain somewhere. So, basically there was no medical plan beyond five years.  I did some research and found that broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and even grape juice are aromatase inhibitors, like the drug. There are also supplements that provide similar, though probably not as powerful, protection. The supplements, though, would not cause side effects like the drug.  So, I declined the drug and focused on managing my diet and stress.

People have asked me if I’m in remission, and I never quite know what to say. I don’t claim to be cured because the cancer cells were invasive. But, I don’t view myself as a time bomb either.

I had my oncology exam at the six year mark. I was supposed to have had my last exam in 2013, as I did with my surgeon, but my oncologist wanted to see me again the next year.  She told me that studies show the hormone-blocking drug is now effective for 10 years. I still declined — No, thank you. She asked if I want her to examine me for another four years. I said yes. Western medicine saved me. And, I’m betting that my plan to support my body through alternative therapies and whole foods will keep me alive and healthy.

Early on, I was ultra-conscious of the lymphedema risk to my right arm from cuts, bug and animal bites, burns, etc. So guess what happened? The more I worried about it, the more things happened that I didn’t want to happen. For instance, I had my first bee sting. Where? On my right shoulder, of course, as I was coming off a tennis court. I’ve also burned my right arm on the oven a couple of times; a rogue dog bit me and pierced the skin on my right wrist; and I had a crazy case of hives only on my right arm after eating bread pudding.

When I’ve thought about it, I’ve let friends know that if I become unconscious for some reason, they are not to let medical personnel take my blood pressure or draw blood from my right arm. I wear a compression sleeve and glove on long flights, along with a medical bracelet. Otherwise, I do not obsess over my right arm.

I still have acupuncture treatments every other week and take Chinese herbs twice a day. I get additional treatments if I’m under a lot of stress. Cancer is not staring me right in the face now, but it’s not in the rear view mirror, either. I keep it in my peripheral vision. I am a breast cancer survivor and a tennis player. I have no physical limitations and am as athletic as ever. I am also a work in progress when it comes to staying healthy and having a balanced life.

 

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Battling Breast Cancer Series – The End