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Living the best life you can with a chronic illness

man sitting on a bench listening to music

contributed by Lisa A Schneider, MHSA, Health Educator, Patient and Family Support Services

Each of us is challenged in some way, be it our health, our work situation, or our interpersonal relationships. Living with any chronic illness takes courage, perseverance, and acceptance. Below are a few principles that may be helpful regardless of the challenge you are facing:

    1. Generosity - When you are living with chronic illness it can be difficult to think of others. But research has shown that giving back can improve your outlook and make you feel better about your particular situation.

    2. Asking for help/support - Chronic conditions can be isolating. Having someone in "your corner" as a trusted supporter – be it a family member, friend, or work colleague can help you cope and remain resilient. Many chronic conditions have support groups that are already established. Find a support group here.

    3. Hobbies - People who pursue their passions, be it wood-working, music, writing, yoga, gardening, or volunteering, have an easier time coping. Plus, getting back into your favorite hobby is a major milestone on the road to recovery.

    4. Exercise - Engages the body and its own natural healing properties. Exercise improves mood, enhances sleep and is good for mental cognition. If you can, try and exercise outdoors. According to a report published in Environmental Science and Technology, people who exercised outdoors had greater feelings of revitalization, energy and positive thinking.

    5. Goal setting - Can be very empowering when you're living with a chronic health condition. Being able to make daily lifestyle and behavioral choices that enhance your health can be very satisfying and rewarding. By taking larger and sometimes more abstract goals (“I want to lose weight”) and distilling them into specific action steps ("I will start exercising 3 days a week for 30 minutes") that are do-able can lead to improved self-confidence and readiness to tackle the next goal. Here are some good apps for goal setting:

    6. Be Gentle with yourself - It's easy to get mad or frustrated when you don’t feel like yourself. You will feel like yourself again as you learn how to fit your illness into your life. There's a learning curve with everything and learning how to fit your illness into your life – be it testing your blood sugar, using an inhaler, or doing rehabilitative exercises after surgery takes time and patience.

    7. Learn more about your illness - Learn how to live with your chronic illness. At first it might seem like it is controlling you, but the more you learn and can do for yourself, the more normal and in control you will feel.

    • One excellent resource for finding more information about cancer is the Patient Education Resource Center (PERC). The PERC is a full-service library with access to journal articles, books, DVD’s and hundreds of brochures. The PERC can be a vital link between you and the most current cancer information.

    8. Gratitude - Having cancer or another severe chronic illness is a major life setback. It can be hard to see the positive when fears and concerns are ever-present. However, this can be a good time to be grateful. Not for what has taken place; but for what hasn’t. Gratitude helps you to see your situation in a different light. Share the things that you are grateful for with a close friend or loved every day. It really does help. I’ve made a practice of saying what I’m grateful for before going to bed at night. Here are a few things that I am grateful for: the smell of baking bread, the feel of warm sand between my toes, a starry night, flowers, a hug from a loved one, and a really good belly laugh!

    9. The power of acceptance - Accepting that you have a chronic illness can be very freeing. While reading through articles before writing this one, an underlying tenet in all is that accepting one's illness did not make the illness go away, but it did remove a layer of suffering that comes from struggling against what is true in the moment.

Continue reading stories of hope, survivorship and coping with cancer:

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