Navigating an Unexpected Health Crisis
Something happened on the way to my retirement. I had everything mapped out well. My financial plans were firmly in place and my budget was established. My goal was to make sure that I would want for very little to nothing. There was room for travel, vacationing with family, dining with friends, and creating new pieces of art to sell. My bike was prepped for long bike rides, and I was ready to go.
Then I felt it. A lump in my breast which led to an earlier than planned mammogram and the dreaded diagnosis – breast cancer stage 2. The news took my breath away and I felt as if I was in shock. I could not think and the only thing I felt like doing was to crawl up into a ball and cry. I had to replace my planned vacation with weekly regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. This was not what I planned; it was what I had to do.
This is how the road to ReLaunch began for Rhonda. Her retirement route was well planned and well-defined. As soon as she embarked upon her journey, she faced an obstacle requiring a detour. She is not alone. We can all expect detours along our retirement journeys, some of which will significantly affect our financial resources, some which will impact our physical and emotional well-being, and some may create havoc with all of these. This is due to three inevitabilities:
We are getting older
Our social circle is getting smaller
Our financial resources are becoming more limited
We cannot escape the aging process, though we can certainly try! Truth is, by the time we retire, we have fewer years ahead of us than we have in our past. How do we make the most of the years ahead of us? Creating and following a healthy regimen incorporating a diet filled with vegetables and fruits and ensuring at least 30 minutes of exercise per day will help. My friend, Rhonda, did all of that and she still got cancer. The reality is that our bodies become more susceptible to disease as we age. There is no getting past it. How do we navigate around an unexpected downturn in our health?
It is so easy to feel frustrated, angry and scared. Allow yourself those feelings and take the time to grieve the things you may have lost such as strength, stamina, perception of youthfulness. It is normal to feel powerless as a result of a health downturn. It is also normal to go through denial. You may feel that you have lost your own identity and now see yourself as a victim of the disease. You will also need to find patience for the treatment process and your recovery. Eventually, you will need to replace the negative thoughts with those that are positive and hopeful for the sake of your recovery and overall mental health. Rethinking your health crisis by replacing the negative with the positive will allow you to take control and navigate this detour. The next three steps will help you rethink your self-perception, redefine yourself and redesign your retirement.
Identify a Support Network
Sharing your thoughts and fears with a close friend and/or family member who you know are good listeners will help you regain a positive outlook. Consider also connecting with someone at your place of worship such as a Stephen Minister who is trained to provide emotional support for those experiencing life difficulties. Joining a support group will also allow you to engage with others experiencing similar health challenges and provide resources and information you can utilize.
Take Time for Self-Care
Not enough emphasis can be placed on the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise. The food we eat provides the nutrients we need, and exercise at any level reminds our mind and bodies that we are active and alive. Additionally, embracing mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing has been scientifically proven to positively impact emotional and mental wellness. Expressing yourself by writing down your thoughts and emotions in a journal will not only provide an effective outlet to relieve worry and stress, but it will also help you to refocus your thoughts. Don’t forget to continue to visit your salon or barbershop and it is also acceptable to treat yourself to a visit with a good massage therapist.
Pursue Activities that Give You Joy
What are those activities that you love so much that when doing them you lose track of time? Perhaps you love spending time with your pets as they bring you such joy you forget about all that might worry you. Do you have a talent you would like to discover or develop such as music or art? Then taking music or art lessons might be a great way to focus your energies. If you love nature, spend time enjoying the world around you while hiking, fishing, or walking your dog. And if you have a desire to make a difference in your community, consider volunteering for a cause or charity. Pursuing activities that bring you great joy will help you redesign your retirement journey in a way that will provide meaning and restore your self-worth.
Let’s return to Rhonda’s story for I spoke with Rhonda about her journey a couple of years after she experienced her health crisis. She shared with me that she had always worried about getting cancer and by confronting and navigating through this crisis she no longer felt the fear. Rhonda identified several gifts that she received from taking this detour. She learned to embrace her short curly, gray hair and she found renewed energy in creating paintings which she has been displaying and selling at several venues. Rhonda has also become an avid bicyclist, biking at least 25 miles per day and completed a 450+ mile bike ride. Along the way, she enjoyed the support of family and friends who cheered her on. Furthermore, Rhonda shared with me that she has always held a curiosity that drives her to explore different routes when she is biking and in life. Her curiosity along with her support group supported her as she navigated this detour along her road to a ReLaunched Life.
We can always expect the unexpected. An unexpected change in our health as we age is more likely than not to occur. The way we approach this detour matters and navigating it while focusing on our mental and emotional health is as important as the treatment to regain our physical health. What is most important is recognizing that there is nothing negative about seeking guidance from family, friends along with qualified therapists, counselors or coaches.
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