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Handbook for Mortals : Enduring and Changing

Taking Care Of Yourself

When you try to live your life fully, making the most of each day, you will need to focus some attention on taking care of yourself. It may seem as though the effort isn't worth it, that you're "too sick" or there "isn't enough time." Not true, but how you care for yourself will depend on how your illness affects you and what makes you feel your best. Your ability to take care of yourself, in terms of your appetite, energy level, and fatigue, can be affected by troubling physical symptoms, so getting good and reliable help from your doctor is crucial. You will need to be honest about how you feel and persist in your requests for whatever medication or therapy will be helpful in alleviating these symptoms. In most situations, adequate relief from troublesome physical symptoms is possible.

Self-Care Tips

Even though you may slip into despair from time to time, enjoy what you can and maintain your connections with family, friends, and colleagues for as long as possible. Above all, don't give up hope; not the "wishful thinking" variety, but the kind that looks forward to security, comfort, and meaningful time for you and those you care about.

Turn to a family member, a trusted friend, or a member of the clergy for support and guidance. Find a support group or trained counselor who can help you explore your options. If you prefer books and libraries or the Internet, there are some excellent resources that can further guide you. The goal is to find a way for you to live with or despite your illness and dying. Finding your way will help you live on your terms.

If you are in a support group, listen to what others say about what is helpful to them. If you are still able to be physically active, continue to exercise. This can be especially helpful if exercise has been a tension reliever in the past.

If solitude has brought you peace of mind, spend some time alone. Meditation, listening to relaxation tapes, and guided imagery can be useful, but their effectiveness may depend on whether you are already familiar with such exercises.

If you have the time and inclination, ask your doctor to recommend a relaxation class in your community. Hospitals often offer them as a community outreach program. A local faith community might have programs on how to meditate or pray.

Self-Care: The Basics

Just like any other time in your life, try to:

  • Eat as well as you can
  • Exercise, within the limits of your disease
  • Get adequate rest
  • Enjoy the time you have.

Self-Care: More Tips

  • Ask for help when you need it. Getting assistance in tough times can reduce your experiences of frustration. Tom fought the idea of getting help with his personal care until he realized that trying to do what needed to be done for himself left him with little energy for anything else.
  • Identify sources of strength that you can summon during moments of despair. Strength may come from a variety of sources such as religious faith, nature, friends, or family.
  • Find ways to feel useful and focus on interesting or pleasant activities. These are the things that often keep meaning and purpose in life.
  • Distraction is a wonderful way to reduce stress. Music can be comforting, as can a warm bath or shower.
  • Reduce your isolation by finding a support group. Living with a terminal illness can be an isolating experience. Within a support group, you might discover friendship, as well as a sensitivity and understanding that are hard to find among people who haven't shared your frustrations, fears, and losses. Support groups allow you to share your thoughts and fears, providing a chance to hear how others find strength and learn new ways of dealing with the changes in their lives. Others, no doubt, will learn from you. Even if you have never been a "group person," think about joining such a group.

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