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Success Story: Finding Strength Through Stress Management

Rev. Arlene W. Christopherson, Northern Illinois Conference

photo of Rev. Arlene Christopherson

Christmas Eve 2013 took a turn I never could have predicted. That afternoon, my doctor phoned to give me the results of a biopsy on a tumor found in my breast during a routine mammogram a few weeks earlier. There is no breast cancer history in my family, but this was cancer - a lobular tumor. Within days I was swept up into the world of internet searches, oncologists, medical jargon, surgeons and scans. During the first 24 hours I was numb, which was good, because I didn’t want my news to overshadow our family’s Christmas Day gathering.

The early days of the treatment were intense, but after a time, the work of beating cancer became part of my routine. For five years following the more aggressive treatment, I stayed faithful to a drug therapy that altered my body chemistry in challenging ways but gave me some insurance against future recurrence. In the spring of 2019, I was glad to begin a new chapter as a survivor, having finished my course of treatment.

It took almost another year for the side effects of the ongoing treatment to lift. I was feeling normal again and ready to celebrate just as we entered into our new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. On came another period of unpredictability, with eight months of social distancing, Zooming and learning to adapt in so many ways. Now we live wondering what the new normal will look like when we get there.

In those early days of learning to live with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, I found strength in routine which included my job as Assistant to the Bishop, a focus on exercise and weight loss and desire to find “a new normal” in relationships, physical appearance and activities.

I was already a faithful Virgin Pulse tracker, but the monitoring of my activity now took on deeper meaning. I linked the My Fitness Pal app to Virgin Pulse and learned more about healthy eating. I never went on a “diet” but I built better habits, balancing my protein, carbs and fats. Eventually, I lost 50 lbs. I found acupuncture a good alternative to taking drugs to counteract the side effects of taking drugs, and I learned to value the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

As we move through a season of stress brought on by the pandemic, our struggles as a nation with our history of racism, daily reports of violence and a contentious political season, much of what I learned to do to address stress during cancer has helped me to maintain balance in these unprecedented times. I haven’t arrived, there are still days when circumstances can feel overwhelming, but now I have some solid habits and practices I can fall back on and embrace. Virgin Pulse continues to be at the heart of my routine.

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