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The Mind-Body Connection

Everyone knows that the mind is a powerful thing. For Edita, it’s that mind-body connection that helps her lead a happier, healthier life.

By Staff Writer

Your body responds to the way you think. That’s the simple idea behind the mind-body connection. And let’s face it. After a cancer diagnosis, cancer survivors may feel challenged by the negative feelings that follow them long after treatment. Sometimes, we need a little help to establish and nurture that mind-body connection.

When faced with her own cancer diagnosis well into her eighties, Edita Legorburu felt unsettled by her mind’s control over how she felt.

“After a few hospitalizations and visits to the ER, my body responded remarkably well to the R-CHOP regimen caringly provided by Dr. Georgios Pongas and the great team working alongside him,” Edita said. “But I was still contending with measures of anxiety, depression, worry, and a tendency to turn inward to my thoughts; thoughts about an uncertain future, my loss of strength, the impact of this experience on loved ones. The medications helped with the depression, appetite, sleeplessness, and anxiety, but my mind had a tendency to not fully feel calm.”

Edita’s psychiatrist, Dr. Zelde Espinel, introduced her to grounding exercises, a well-documented strategy to bring your mind to the present. Little did Edita know, she’d need this technique on a trip to the ER with a DVT in her leg.

“I had a bout of anxiety so bad that the attending doctor thought I might also be having a pulmonary embolism,” she said. Thankfully, Edita’s son, Peter, told the medical team about her anxiety. The team asked her to do some breathing exercises that brought her vitals back under control.

“On the way home from the ER, my son pointed out that the close call underscored the physical consequences that could come from not accepting opportunities for help that spanned the body and mind.”

That led Edita into one of her first music therapy sessions, led by Dr. Mary Kauffman, leader of the Sylvester Survivorship Choir.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she admitted. “I had no musical experience, and I was still undergoing chemo.”

Despite these challenges, Edita became more centered by the music therapy sessions and found a way to accept each moment as it came. But that mind-body connection training didn’t end with music therapy.

“[Mary’s] sessions have anchored my recovery experience and served as a springboard for emotional, physical, and even nutritional improvement,” she said. “I hadn’t expected the transformative experience, both in terms of my relationship with my mind and body, and as a gateway to other members of the support services team, each of whom has contributed to my living healthier, happier days, moment to moment, while being better equipped to both accept and overcome the emotional and physical challenge that life (beyond life as a cancer patient or survivor) inevitably presents.”

Edita found herself taking advantage of multiple services, including solo and group classes to improve her quality of life. She took classes with an exercise physiologist, Christopher Fitzmaurice, to help with a chronic shoulder injury post-chemo. Edita reported that she no longer experiences shoulder pain and that her range of motion is about 60% restored and still improving. Edita’s yoga sessions with Sari Velar deepened her “connection with my body while gently working to regain strength, flexibility, and balance.” She received nutritional counseling from Lori Halton to help her with energy, weight management, and eating more well-balanced meals. Lastly, when questions about “purpose” came into play, she met with Chaplain Lindsay Seyh for more reflection.

“Looking back at the last year, it’s hard to sequence the benefits provided by the different members of the Cancer Support Services team and align them with my needs along the arc of recovery,” Edita said. “In retrospect, I realize that most of the skills they have and continue to share with me would’ve been great to develop as a healthy twenty-year-old! It’s also clear that no matter what the challenges, it was never the wrong time to start. If the extraordinary work of the medical team pulled me from a certain edge and back into life, the support services team has helped me mine all I might from the precious moments since and those ahead.”

As for advice for other cancer survivors? Edita said this: “Reach out to Cancer Support Services early on- don’t wait for an invitation.”