Certified Cancer Coach Mirela Kopier
October 16, 2020 By Mirela Kopier

Ask the Cancer Coach

Issue seven is our women’s issue, and it is an honor for me to talk about the amazing women who are battling cancer every day. I am inspired by the dedication, sacrifice, creativity, strength and love our women warriors embody. It encourages me to continue doing what I love as a cancer coach.

Although statistics indicate that men are more likely to develop cancer than women in their lifetime, women tend to be the caretakers, researchers, volunteers and supporters of loved ones who receive a cancer diagnosis. According to researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, this discrepancy between cancer diagnoses in men and women occurs because women carry extra copies of specific protective genes in their cells. These copies function as an additional line of defense against cells growing out of control. 

Nature does its best to protect us, but sometimes our bodies need a little extra help. How can we increase our line of defense to avoid a cancer diagnosis or improve our chances of recovery after a diagnosis? Let’s talk about it.

There are many tools that women can use to navigate their battle with cancer, but one useful tool is often overlooked—sleep. Yes, that’s right. Busy schedules and responsibilities don’t vanish because of a cancer diagnosis, and many women battling cancer are still juggling their normal routines as best they can. Many have demanding jobs and wear several hats like stay-at-home moms, devoted partners, extracurricular dynamos or volunteering gurus. Self-care is critical.

When you receive a life-altering cancer diagnosis—whether it is yours or someone else’s—two things usually happen. A million thoughts begin racing through your mind or, sometimes, things go completely blank. After the initial shock, your mind will start working again. You may picture your family and how this diagnosis will affect them. You might think about your career and how this diagnosis will affect your ability to continue working. 

It’s easy to get lost in the fray worrying about how life will change post-diagnosis. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you’re processing it. Remain focused on the best self-care methods to get through this. Believe it or not, counting sheep is one of them.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, sleep is a significant component of boosting your immune system. Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are produced and released during sleep, causing an increased negative effect if you don’t get enough sleep. 

As a patient, the drugs you take to fight the cancer can strain your immune system. It’s vital, therefore, to do everything you can to boost your immune system when possible. For caretakers, you may spend several hours, days and months trying to provide the best care for your loved one.  But you can’t do that if your immune system is compromised.

Here’s the problem: getting enough sleep is easier said than done. Chemo and other cancer treatments can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. One proven alternative therapy to help your beauty sleep is meditation. The mind is powerful. If you can focus your mind, you can supersede anything that’s going on in the body.

If you’ve never meditated before, start with a simple exercise. Five to 10 minutes before bedtime, open a meditation app like HeadSpace or Calm. Both apps offer free three-, five- and 10-minute bedtime meditations. Another great option is taking a warm bath. A bath before bed is a great technique that will allow your body to relax enough to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. It’s time to pull out the bath oils and candles, ladies! 

If you can handle the smell, aromatherapy can also be helpful. Scents like lavender, chamomile and bergamot can relax the mind and body before bed. Try adding a few drops of these essential oils to your bath. You can even squeeze a few drops under your pillow for a peaceful night’s sleep too. 

There are herbal remedies you can ingest to help with sleep, but please check with your doctor before trying anything new. I like to use valerian root to help me fall asleep. My mom, a 15-year stage IV cervical cancer survivor (we’ll save that story for another time), uses magnesium with calcium for restful sleep. 

I hope one of these suggestions can help you fall asleep and stay asleep, so your body can be in prime shape for anything that comes your way!

Stay well and enlightened, until next time!

Ask the Cancer Coach is a quarterly column written by Mirela Kopier, a certified cancer coach. The column is featured in Cancer Wellness Magazine. Kopier also serves as the moderator of the Mesothelioma Support Group on Facebook. Click here to check out the latest issue of Cancer Wellness Magazine. Join the Mesothelioma Support Group today!