Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chemotherapy Recovery: Cycles of suffering.

Regularly observing cycles of self directed suffering increases the likelihood of recovery from any major disease or issue.

Overlaying the principles of a sine wave in the context of overcoming cancer and its many treatments is important for recovery. The RMS (square Root of the Means (average) Squared) value of an alternating sine wave for household voltage is 120 VAC. It alternates between 170 and 70 volts so fast (60 cycles per second); no one notices the highs and lows. Sometimes you can hear a 60 cycle hum when passing under power lines. We see most people in their RMS or average state. However, loved ones see the highs and the lows and the highs and lows are always changing. This adversely impacts relationships of cancer survivors or anyone facing chronic illness or chronic stress. These extreme highs and lows can contribute to some negative behaviors that often are worse than the disease or treatments themselves.

One of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that anyone can receive is self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23) or longsuffering. The way I mature or grow this fruit is acts of self-discipline, or self-directed suffering. An example is fasting a particular appetite during the season leading up to Easter (Lent). This self directed suffering is a spiritual discipline to prepare a person to "rejoice in sufferings", or to "glory in tribulation (Romans 5:3)". A self-directed season of suffering is also seen in physical exercise. On a regular basis a person who exercises self-directs themselves to suffer for a brief period of time while doing exercise. This self-directed suffering produces long lasting benefits to spirit, soul and body when integrated with spiritual disciplines and accomplished for a cause greater than one's self. It can take the form of something proactive such as exercise or abstention such as no dessert or no caffeine or no carbohydrates or no alcohol for a self-directed or self-controlled season. The more a person is self-controlled, or engages in self-directed sufferings, the better prepared one will be during and after cancer treatments.

I have discovered that I am 'vagal'. I don't have a high pain threshold so, I have fainted numerous times while giving blood, getting shots, or experiencing moderate levels of pain. I don't mind it, and let my nurses always know that it is a possibility. I have provided tons of laughter at my expense because of my 'vagalness'. I have fainted in some of the best doctor's offices around the country. I remember distinctly, admitting this to the congregation I serve and instead of laughing at me, one of the members was in disbelief, and said something like: "You cannot be serious. Anyone who runs forty and fifty miles cannot have a low tolerance for pain". I laughed, but pondered this. I found that as a result of self directed suffering through extreme exercise that my tolerance for pain had drastically increased. I also found that after falling flat or 'splatting' (see earlier post), that the time of recovery was quicker. I only fainted once during chemotherapy and it wasn't pain related. My blood pressure dropped below sixty and I almost left this planet for the heavenly one, and because I knew I was losing consciousness I was able to alert the nurses that "I am leaving…" (Another story).

Suffering need not debilitate us forever. It's true, that suffering will debilitate a person for a lengthy period of time. During chemotherapy, especially in the fourth, fifth and sixth treatments it takes a much longer time to recover. And anytime during and afterwards, if something unusual gets thrown into the mix, it takes even longer. Last year at this time, a simple mowing of the lawn after the fifth treatment resulted in four compression fractures of my vertebrae. The back pain this caused is something I still have to deal with 24/7. This particular cycle of pain bottoms out less now, than it did, but the RMS value of my overall sense of well being was very low for very long periods of time. I never fainted, because of the self directed or fruit of self controlled sufferings had elevated my pain tolerance.

As a pastor, I am always encouraging my congregation to engage in as many spiritual disciplines that involve self directed sufferings as one can endure. This fruit of the Spirit can grow in such a way to speed up the cycle of suffering towards recovery. What if a person is forced to not drink coffee when that same person has never self-directed themselves to suffer from a lack of caffeine? What if a person is forced to not eat for a particular test? If they have never on their own, not eaten, or abstained from coffee this could prove to be cycle of suffering that bottoms out much longer than it should. I recently felt the Spirit asking me to fast a mental enjoyment. Listening to "classic rock" (sixties and early 70's music is classic for me) and watching old movies was something I did when I was relaxing. However, I was noticing higher levels of mental chatter going on in my head, and was facing difficulty focusing in on the Lord and His promises. I was easily distracted and my mind was wandering instead of focusing. This self directed suffering from listening to classic rock and watching old movies has slowly helped my mental state recover. Everyone has a will, and self directed suffering can exercise that will to positive purposes.

Romans 5:3Not only so, but we
also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Cycles of suffering will eventually begin to rise up from the depths, and by engaging in regular self-directed disciplines that cycle will turn positive much quicker. Once a person is in chemotherapy, I am not sure a new discipline can be attained and added to one's lifestyle. At least, for me, I found the season of chemotherapy one in which I just needed to get through, not develop some new discipline someone else was recommending for me. Growing a fruit of the Spirit is more tolerable when it is welcomed by self-discovery, not recommended by another. To raise one's RMS sense of well being, a self-directed plan of self controlled suffering increases the possibility of the upswing after a low. While one is healthy, is the best time to direct one's self into suffering of your own choosing.

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