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6 Unique Ideas to Reduce Your Stress

by Heather Smith4 year Stage IV ALK+ Lung Cancer ThriverMay 6, 2020View more posts from Heather Smith

When I was diagnosed, I turned to social media to search out people who had a story that looked like mine and never found anyone with a mountain of medical bills piled up on a countertop.

A messy bathroom, clean (but not yet folded) laundry. Nor anyone saying: “well, we can go for takeout again” because someone didn’t have any gas left in the tank to think about meal planning, let alone leaving the house for groceries. Did I mention the never ending to-do list that comes with adulting? Or buying a fixer upper? Not to mention the small ones (furry or human), spouses, family obligations… I could go on for DAYS about the things that stressed me out pre-diagnosis.

Post-diagnosis? There’s a never ending stream of medical appointments and treatments and those leave you teary eyed, sitting in the car, silently crying because you are too exhausted to lift your hand to open the damn car door.
I see these beautiful curated photos of a kick-ass cancer survivor and it looks like she is kicking ass AND she has a clean bathroom AND has zero medical bills. But I am here to tell you, I have scoured my social media, I have googled. I have asked around. I have NOT found anyone talking about the damn struggle bus I was (and still am) driving to just manage any of it. The bills, the fatigue, the complete disarray of my formerly organized life.

Let’s get OFF the struggle bus!

I am here today to talk about all of these things. To be real with you because it is a struggle. Every. Damn. Day.

‘Adulting’ is hard without being a cancer thriver. I know, because I see THAT all over my social media feeds. To be totally honest, I love it when people share the real nitty gritty on their social media. It reminds me that everyone has their own struggles.

What I do see is really great content designed for helping the average person with their troubles. “Five Kitchen Gadgets You Do Not Need” or “How to Get Rid of (XYZ) Fast!” or “How to Stop Eating Out Every Night”. And I am here to tell you, I love this kind of content. Pre-diagnosis, I devoured it like a rabid animal. I loved to plan and organize and file and de-clutter.

And then my diagnosis came, and for a while these systems held up and did make life easier… but after a while, the overwhelm was just… well, overwhelming.

My wife traveled for work. Like, a LOT. Most weekends, I was lucky to see her for 36 hours and she was sleeping for a good portion of those few hours. She was recovering from grueling 10+ hour days, physical labor and driving all over the USA. So, I had to step up my game. I was tired from my targeted therapies, but my wife? She was also tired. She was sleeping in a noisy hotel room far from home in a foreign bed. She was eating terrible food (although: we did finally nail down the perfect work-week-cooler meal plan for her).

I knew I had to get on top of the overwhelm, it became imperative for me to function at my best, so that I could help her function at her best, so WE could function at our best.

6 unique ideas to reduce your stress

  1. Unsubscribe from emails and junk mail. Yes, this takes some time and patience, but it is important. I no longer have a stack of physical mail to sort through. I only see emails I want to read in my inbox. Clearing it up can do a lot for your mind: you are only consuming content that makes you smile, and you are not fighting to keep the stack of unopened and junk mail from tipping over for the millionth time.
  2. Try minimalism in your closet and with your products (makeup, hair, etc.): okay, okay, I know – this one is scary. (I love coats and winter boots). Hear me out, though: if you only have things in your closet that (as Marie Kondo says) “bring you joy” and everything matches everything else, getting dressed is easy (I have a uniform for work: black top, colorful dress pants. I can literally get dressed in the dark). Start small and work your way up and out. I started with my closet and then my dresser. It expanded to my makeup drawer, my hair products, and my bag. The unexpected but worthwhile bonus: Eliminate decision fatigue! I do not have to think about where I put that one thing. Everything is in its place, and there aren’t many places to look when I lose something (and on some of my targeted therapies, I had major brain fog).
  3. Try minimalism in your house: Again, SUPER SCARY! I get it, but – I have just one sentence for you: you do not need to stress about the dust if you have a minimal amount of things that need dusting around, off, or under!
  4. Get help: You know how people ask: “how can I help?” and you shrug off that offer- stop doing that and take a breath. ACCEPT THE HELP. Do you need help folding your kiddos 18th load of laundry? Ask for that ONE thing to be done. Check a discount site for a house cleaning company. Let them take care of scrubbing the toilet. You do NOT need to waste your time, your energy or your brain space on (or in) the toilet.
  5. Get a Little Brain: In our house, that’s my trusty bullet journal and the magnetic white board on the fridge. If that’s not for you: get a notebook, a white board, a composition notebook, a stack of post-it notes, use the notes app on your phone. Write that shit down. All of it. Once a week (or so), gather it all up and check to see if it still needs to be done. If not, mark it off and move on.
  6. Grocery Delivery (and beyond!): if it’s available to you, have someone get your groceries FOR you. Shoot, ask your kind neighbor who asked “how can I help?” to do your shopping. Or have them delivered directly through your favorite online marketplace.

I could go on for days talking about this, and I have about a dozen (or more!) tips in my head, so if what I am saying is resonating with you, come find me on the socials where I share my lessons, tips and tricks and am transforming my life (and yours!) into a kick-ass cancer thriver.

Meanwhile, when I saunter into the kitchen after writing this, I know what we’re having for dinner tonight and for the rest of the week. It’s all written out on my trusty magnetic whiteboard. Hmmm, I should add “toothpaste” to the grocery list?

Heather, The Designated Thriver is a 4 year Stage IV ALK+ Lung Cancer Thriver. Figuring out how to transform from a cancer patient to a cancer thriver. Living with an incurable and terminal diagnosis. A wife, adventurer, tiny pop up camper, kayaking, dog walking + yoga doing kick ass thriver. Writing at Living Lives with Lung Cancer, on Instagram @foxxnsoxx

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

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