As you approach the new year, you may be making resolutions for positive health behavior changes. Birthdays and other anniversaries also prompt us to take stock and vow to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Two of the most common promises we make to ourselves are to increase our physical activity level and our stress management skills. Research is now showing that combining mindfulness meditation and physical activity can dramatically improve physical and emotional health.



In addition to cold weather, winter sometimes brings sadness and depression.  Some people experience depression only during the winter. Others with year-round depression have worsening symptoms in winter. Terms such as “winter blues,” “wintertime depression” and “winter-onset depression” refer to a potentially serious form of depression called “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD), which affects people during the coldest and (most importantly) darkest months of the year.



A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).


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Both my parents experienced the sudden change in life’s priorities associated with the diagnosis of inoperable cancer.

Suddenly, things that have occupied our mind, time and energy are reappraised in light of a stark reminder of life’s uncertainty and our mortality. Hope is kept alive by modern medicine’s remarkable results with conventional treatments and the fact that some individuals do much better than expected, even with serious and advanced cancer. But even those who respond well often find their lives are forever changed as they search for meaning in their illness and their life. Living fully, living well and leaving a legacy become increasingly important.

One of the blessings of modern medicine is the growing appreciation of the need to tailor cancer treatments to the whole person and his or her personal preferences, not simply treating the cancer itself based on a biopsy-proven cell type or stage of cancer progression. Oncologists and cancer centers now routinely offer a range of conventional treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and others) as well as complementary approaches that can help patients manage stress, treatment side effects and overall quality of life.

If you or someone you love is living with cancer and would like to integrate complementary approaches with conventional treatment, ask your oncologist or primary care provider to help you identify

respected complementary practitioners with whom they are familiar. It is important to discuss your use of complementary approaches with your medical team in order to enhance the effectiveness of your overall treatment plan and avoid unfavorable interference with conventional therapy.

For some people, a cancer diagnosis serves as motivation to get basic, practical matters in order, such as a will, living will and power of attorney for finances and health care. Others may reflect on and reconsider the choices they have made about work, relationships, personal habits and behaviors. For some, a cancer diagnosis marks a turning point in which life’s meaning is examined, often for the first time. Questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? What do I want to do with the life I have been given?” can take on a poignancy like never before. This self inquiry and search for meaning and values leads some to even describe their life after the diagnosis of cancer as richer and more meaningful than their life before it.

Answering such questions is deeply personal, and helping people find their unique answers requires great skill, training and compassion. If you or a loved

one are asking these types of questions in response to a cancer diagnosis, consider meeting with a respected mental health or pastoral counselor to explore your emotional, interpersonal and spiritual life.

The resources below include a variety of print, audiovisual and retreat options to help you live your life fully and meaningfully – not as a cancer patient but as a human being whose life has been touched by cancer. These resources remind you that, even while living with cancer, there is more right with you than wrong with you. You can learn to mobilize your inner resources for healing even when curing is not possible. These programs offer a variety of approaches, including group support, narrative self-expression, imagery, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, massage, expressive movement, nature and spirituality.

I have confidence in each of these resources. Ellen Fein is a licensed clinical social worker, cancer survivor, cancer coach, board member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and author of Not Just a Patient. Elana Rosenbaum is a licensed clinical social worker, cancer survivor, faculty member at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and author of Here for Now: Living Well with Cancer through Mindfulness. The nationally recognized and widely respected retreats offered by Cancer as a Turning Point and the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts are often deeply transformative.

Cancer survivors and their caregivers and loved ones are facing one of life’s greatest challenges. Thankfully, there are resources available to help meet this challenge and enable us all to live well with cancer.



Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

more articles by dr john patterson