Stressed out!

Stressed outMusicians do a lot of odd jobs in order to be able to pursue their dreams. Funny thing though – I never realized just how stressful it was going to be to become a professional orchestral musician. I was trying to explain this to my oncologist the other day. Stress, after all, does affect the immune system, and I need every bit of my immune system to make sure that I stay cancer-free. WHY it’s so stressful is fodder for ten other blogs, believe me. THAT it is stressful is why I am changing my life.

I’ve been keeping a journal since 1988. Apparently I’ve not been happy with my job for a very long time. In 1993, after a very disappointing “almost” in an audition in Fort Worth, I wrote that I would probably do my Nashville job for another year or two and then go to nursing school. 1993.

Fast forward to 2013. We all know how life gets in the way.  We get seduced by a regular paycheck, benefits, and all that, and before you know it, 20 years have gone by. Still in the same job. Well, at least I tried. I was in school, starting the process that would hopefully lead to a physician’s assistant degree, when I was diagnosed.  If for no other reason, I knew I couldn’t continue because I needed health insurance, and I wasn’t going to be able to be a student and buy my own health insurance now that I was going to have a history of cancer.

We should never let easy money make up for a bad job. And believe me, my job is way better than most. (At least for now…) That’s why I’m always looking for multiple streams of income, and I’ve had pretty good luck at it. I’m taking steps to control my own destiny – my own health insurance, my own income, my own schedule. It’s how I’m de-stressing my life.

The Immune system and cancer

Overall, my doctor is extremely happy with how I’m doing, especially considering how sick I was. He’s always been very positive. But he gave me a gentle admonishment about lowering my stress levels.  According to Mitch Golant and Dr. Melissa Weiss, there is no direct stress-cancer link. However, stress does affect your immune system, and to paraphrase my doctor, you need your immune system in fighting shape. The classic example of stress leading to illness is “vacation flu” – you work really hard right up until you get some time off, and your body says “enough!” and you end up in bed while your friends are on the beach.

In my mind, cancer is a disease of the immune system. Most cancer experts will tell you that we all have cancer cells in our body, but a function immune system gets rid of them.  It’s when the immune system is overloaded that the trouble begins.

How to relieve stress

We all have stress in our lives. There is good stress, like running around planning a birthday party and shopping for gifts. Then there is bad stress – perhaps you have a constant struggle with finances, or you are in a difficult relationship. So what are some ways that we can cope with our stress to make sure that our immune system is there when we need it?

  • Meditation

There is a fantastic website,, that has a ton of information from a non-Western medicine slant. While I do not agree with everything on the website, I can say that I was helped immensely by the meditation CD they sell. I firmly believe in the body-mind connection, and I believe I can do anything I set my mind to. Like beating stage 4 cancer.

  • Diet

Bad dietWow, this is a can of worms. There are so many people out there who claim to have THE diet, or THE cure, or THE whatever. I’m sick of hearing it. Even one of the biggies, the connection between alcohol and breast cancer, is being questioned. (or is it just wishful thinking on my part?). The bottom line? Perhaps what my very Lutheran grandmother always said – everything in moderation. Of course it makes sense that broccoli is better for you than ice cream, but as long as you don’t overdo it, perhaps it will reduce your stress, which is a very good thing. Besides, worrying about every bite you take can cause stress.  Don’t want that, do we?

  • Exercise

exerciseNot only will exercise help keep your weight under control, but you can work off all that excess energy your body produces when you are restraining yourself from choke somebody who obviously needs it. There are multiple benefits to exercise, according the Mayo Clinic. Swimming can be especially good for also stretching out any muscles and tendons that were mangled during surgery. Screaming at stupid drivers during rush hour is NOT considered exercise.

My #1 stress reducer

teddy roosevelt laughingLaughter. As my favorite humorist Mark Twain wrote, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Try to laugh every day. Find the humor in a bad situation. Be silly. Play with your dog, or if you don’t have one, play with your friend’s dog. Read a funny book. Ask your friends to make you laugh. Do whatever it takes, but laugh every day.


Until next time, laugh!


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