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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

THE SWEET SCENT OF WELLBEING: Coconut-Lime by Jeannie Snow VanOrden

I have reached an important six year anniversary.   Oddly, I was reminded of this vital milestone while cleaning out the guest bathroom. The bathroom needed to be cleaned in preparation for our next visitors scheduled to arrive sometime in November. My daughter, having left for graduate school at Appalachian State University, abandoned a number of bottles of lotion, body wash, conditioner, and shampoo.  Some bottles I just tossed others I sniffed to see if they were worth keeping for my own use. 

There it was a near empty bottle of Coconut-Lime Shampoo.  The scent struck me with a vivid array of sensations and images.  I realized that it has been six years since I finished cancer treatment and a series of biopsies showed that the tumor was gone.  My youngest sister’s gift to me just as I was starting cancer treatment in the summer of 2007 was a set of bathing products including Coconut-Lime Shampoo from Bath and Body Works.

Because I would not be able to get adequate treatment for my particular brand of cancer in Anchorage, Alaska I had to leave behind my home and family so I could be treated at Huntsman Cancer Center.  During that summer my husband and children pampered me and worried over me. My two older sisters housed me, cared for me, and watched over me as I endured chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a tumor in my tongue (a saliva gland gone wrong.)   

Daily I was bathed in coconut-lime.  It is remarkable how powerfully a scent can infuse and even give more significance to our memories.  The scent of coconut-lime brings to mind the loving care I experienced from so many people and the relief I felt over the next six years as I gradually recovered from the devastating side-effects of radiation.

Cancer treatment was wretched. But mostly I don’t think of the awful times at all.  I catch a whiff of coconut-lime and I feel a sense of wellbeing that comes from being carried along by powers above and beyond me. I’m also reminded of the importance of gently and aggressively caring for myself so that I can have the energy and wellness to enjoy life and help others enjoy life.  

This is a crucial reminder for the “retirement” phase of life.   I have been an active person: dancing, hiking, water-skiing, yoga, biking, boating, golfing and more.  I want to keep being active well into my old age, to stay as young as possible for as long as possible, able to enjoy activities of all kinds with my children and grandchildren.  However, I have realized in the last couple of years that I have a stubborn resistance to getting to the doctor in a timely manner.  With health issues great and small this can easily lead to crippling or even life threatening problems

In the spring of 2012, I had a two month bout of bronchitis that I neglected until it became pneumonia.  I finally got to the doctor and was treated with antibiotics but it was too late.  Within a week the pneumonia exploded in my lung.  I ended up in the hospital with a high temperature, racing pulse, crushing pain in my chest and sepsis; all because I was just too busy to take time to get to the doctor early on.

We don’t need to be hypochondriacs but we do need to take better care of ourselves.  We all eat too much, move to little, and wait too long to take care of symptoms that would be much easier taken care of early.  Thank goodness I didn’t do that with cancer, if I had, I would be dead.

Many of you may have followed my husband’s experience with carpal tunnel surgery.  It is a condition that is pretty common. I don’t know when exactly the right time for any one individual to have carpal tunnel surgery is, but I do know that once it starts eroding your quality of life it is not going to get any better without serious treatment.   Interestingly, Ralph has now found that he has a pinched ulnar nerve in his right arm and this very likely could not have been discovered without first resolving the carpal tunnel problems. 

Much of this first year of retirement has been spent addressing a number of health issues that have been a drag on our quality of life.  I am so grateful for the excellent healthcare professionals we’ve found who have compassionately and aggressively addressed our needs.  I’ve also learned to be more articulate and assertive when discussing my health issues.   In the long run prevention, early treatment, and good communication with our healthcare providers reduces our suffering and saves us money.   

There is nothing noble about suffering unnecessarily or stubbornly avoiding doctor visits. 
I’m going to restock my supply of Coconut-Lime bath products to be a sweet and vivid reminder of how good it feels to take care of myself, to be cared for, and to care for those around me.   Whatever inspires a sense of wellbeing for you, get it, and get as well as you possibly can as soon as you can.  It will make you and everyone around you happier. 

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