Lung cancer and breast cancer survivor: Wait to worry
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
Lung cancer and breast cancer survivor Dian Snowden has been through a lot in the past 16 years. Not only has faced two cancer diagnoses, but her husband, Fraser, was also diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006. (Today, they’re both cancer-free.)
The couple used many tactics to alleviate stress over the years, from exercise to music. But one particular motto has helped them a great deal: “Wait to worry.”
Here’s how it works: If Dian starts to worry about an upcoming appointment, she’ll choose to wait until later to worry. She makes that decision each time the anxiety starts to creep in. And pretty soon, she’s put off worrying for so long that she hasn’t worried at all.
“I try not to let external circumstances affect my chance for a sense of peace,” she says. “I need to have peace of mind to survive.”
Learning when to worry
Anxieties still come up naturally for Dian, but whenever she starts to feel them, she turns her attention to something else. “Personally, any time I’m engaged in worry, I feel like it’s a waste of precious time,” she says.
But she didn’t always find it easy to shrug off worry and anxiety. It’s something she had to work at.
“It took a conscious effort of years of practice and learning how to face my fears,” she says.
Here are the practical methods Dian used to teach herself to put off worrying.
Focus on others
Asking others about their lives has always helped Dian forget about her own. Even something as simple as inquiring about someone’s day has helped ease her own anxiety.
One time Dian was feeling nervous about getting her blood drawn and the results that would follow. So when the phlebotomist asked how she was doing, Dian responded and then quickly asked the phlebotomist about her day. Hearing about her helped Dian relax and think of other things.
On another occasion, Dian could feel the tension in the waiting room while she waited to undergo a mammogram. She could tell everyone was nervous, just like she was. So she started talking to the others gathered there. Pretty soon it just felt like they were visiting and not as worried about their upcoming appointments.
Even in the face of challenges, Dian strives to be grateful.
“You can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time,” she says. “The two emotions just can’t exist in the same moment.”
While waiting for an appointment, Dian suggested that she and her husband list their happiest memories. Pretty soon they were happily reminiscing instead of worrying. Dian and Fraser even ended up dancing in the empty surgical clinic waiting room.
Dian spends a lot of time meditating and says it has helped her to face her fears. One meditation she does is called “soften and flow.” In this meditation, she focuses on the thing that’s giving her anxiety, and then she works on calming her mind. When the source of her anxiety actually comes up in daily life, she’s less likely to become anxious because she’s taught herself to associate an easy feeling with that stress or fear.
Focus on the present
When Dian goes to an appointment, she’ll focus on the little things: How a nurse moves her hands or the sound of someone’s voice. It keeps her from worrying what the results will be, because in the present moment the results and the prognosis don’t matter, she says.
“If you practice it often enough, pretty soon it becomes second nature,” she says. That holds true for all of Dian’s techniques. Practice is what made waiting to worry possible.