In my adult life I have spent time as a nurse, a patient, and as a caregiver of a family member, or all three at once. I’ve come to learn that self-preservation can be useful in all three situations. Self-preservation, according to Merriam-Webster, is “preservation of oneself from destruction or harm.” This definition might sound a little extreme but let me explain.  

Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, BSN, RN
Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski BSN, RN

When I worked on the floor, at times I would have to “put up a wall” as a self-preservation technique. Some situations could be extremely emotional, and by putting up this wall, I could distance myself enough from the situation to prevent myself from reacting emotionally. It can be very difficult to be the only person in a patient’s room not crying. You are not putting up a wall to be absent from the situation, but as a self-preservation mechanism. Keep in mind though that at some point, you need to process these emotions. You may work through these emotions by talking to a co-worker, having a good cry, or singing very loudly in the car on your way home from work (my favorite). Whatever works for you, but you can’t bottle it up forever.  

Being a cancer patient can be one of, if not the most, challenging times in your life. You may find yourself distancing yourself from people who do not have your best intentions in mind or who are not especially helpful with your needs during treatment. You may have ignored these hurtful actions in the past, but right now you need to focus on you. You may not stress about the “little” hassles in life that bothered you before. You may save up your energy to do the things that you must do or that you simply want to do. This is self-preservation. You are protecting yourself so that you can focus on getting better.  

I think self-preservation, at least in my experience, may be hardest for a caregiver of a family member or loved one. As a caregiver you need to be strong for yourself and for your loved one. It can be hard while being a caregiver to focus on your own needs but your needs are just as important. If you don’t love and care for yourself, how can you take care of someone else? By ensuring that you are eating well, exercising, seeing your own family, and doing something that makes you happy, you are practicing self-preservation.  

Cancer, no matter how it is affecting your life, can be challenging, exhausting, sickening, etc. My hope for you is that you can learn some self-preservation techniques (healthy ones!) that will serve the purpose of protecting you from some of the effects of this disease.   

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