I have worked for 22 years as a registered Nurse in the Canadian health care system after graduating from Saint Francis-Xavier University with a BSc in Nursing in 1988. I have a Master of Education in Lifelong Learning from Mount Saint Vincent University, and a Master of Education in Counselling and Psychotherapy from Acadia University.
I am a certified Hypnotherapist through Daybreak Therapy and Training.
I am a member of both the Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists and the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
I provide counselling for clients who have received a life altering diagnosis such as cancer, are managing a chronic condition like Crohns or diabetes, or are experiencing a developmental transition as experienced with aging or menopause. I offer both individual and group counselling depending on client preference.
Often when a person has had a stressful and anxiety provoking experience the autonomic nervous system becomes activated. This is perfectly natural, and it contributes to our survival as a species. When we are alert to potential danger, we are more likely to behave in ways that increase our ability to avoid life threatening situations. The autonomic nervous system is held in balance between the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and rejuvenation and the sympathetic nervous system responsible for action and survival. In short Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS) is “rest and digest” and the Sympathetic Nervous system (SNS) is “fight or flight”. Both systems are necessary for survival.
Although we may not be facing a large lion, or bear in our lives we can face threats which are just as frightening but may be less obvious. When we get a diagnosis, which alters our relationship with our future we feel extremely vulnerable. Forcing ourselves to undergo treatments we do not really understand, and to return to the environment that we associate with frightening information and loss of control can activate our Sympathetic Nervous system. We feel our heart race, breath quicken, and cannot seem to focus on those around us. This fight, flight, freeze, fawn response is completely automatic and the way in which our body gets ready to defend itself from injury and attack. With a life altering diagnosis we cannot fight it, flee from it, or hide from it, this can increase feelings of fear and helplessness. Sometimes people who have had such an experience suddenly feel that they fret about everything. In this new state of anxiety, they struggle to concentrate on tasks such as decision-making regarding treatment options, diet requirements, medication regimens, and just everyday life decisions.
It is not uncommon for people who have had a life altering diagnosis, or an invasive medical procedure to experience anxiety feelings that seem to have nothing to do with the event that elicited the first response. The statements, “I was never like this before. I never felt so anxious about anything. Now I fret about everything.” are not uncommon. Long after the threat has passed the person may maintain a state of hypervigilance so that small things elicit big anxiety responses.
Using knowledge of the vagus nerve can allow the sympathetic nervous system to be down regulated through the act of breathing in a conscious and purposeful way. Activities that focus on breath control such as a yoga practice, swimming, or singing, with prolonged exhalation can begin to send a subconscious message to your Sympathetic Nervous system to downgrade threat perception, this in turn can decrease sensations of anxiety.
Porges, Stephen. (2017). The pocket guide to the polyvagal theory: The transformative power of feeling safe. New York. W.W. Norton & Company
Science Confirms that the Vagus Nerve is the Key to Wellbeing
Learn more . . .
Often, we get information about health care and advances in healthcare from sources which are unclear. It can take up to 5-7 years for new research impacting health to make it into mainstream practice. We may read an article in the newspaper or in a magazine which uses the phrase Scientists have discovered a new hope for the treatment of…Or physicians are using latest scientific research to successfully treat….
The challenge is to know what makes good evidence for adjusting a treatment regimen and what interventions should be approached with caution. How much time should elapse between a new treatment option becoming available and the implementation of that treatment as a trustworthy alternative. Are all research methods of equal value, how should someone determine what sorts of treatment changes they may want to adopt? How does someone determine the balance between treatment efficacy and possible adverse risks associated with adopting new treatment regimens? Generally relying on a well-informed health care provider is a good way to determine if new advances generated by reputable research should inform changes or new strategies in managing conditions or diseases.
The article you may read in a newspaper or in a magazine about advances or challenges to present treatment practices are the result of a science or health care reporter collating research articles presented or published in peer review journals. In the references and links below you can see how the first random controlled trial about the connection between emulsifiers and other food additives to Inflammatory Bowel Disease becomes the basis of the following article published in a newspaper. Although the newspaper article is more accessible in terms of readability it depends for its validity on the previous rigorous scientific research study.
It is important as a consumer of health care to be clear about the sources being used to inform popular and accessible versions of trends in treatment and changing healthcare standards. To be an informed consumer of health care you must ask questions regarding the funding, and methodology of research among other factors to determine if a source is reliable or not.
Vindigm, S,M, (2016). The intestinal microbiome barrier function and immune system in inflammatory bowel disease: A tripartite pathophysiological circuit with implications for new therapeutic directions. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 9(4) p. 606-625
Study Links Common Food Additives to Crohn’s Disease, Colitis
Learn more . . .
A Mercola article
And this . . .
Sometimes we all feel that thoughts are intrusive, and we cannot help but have the same thought over and over again. We have the same old thought. But sometimes our thoughts do not reflect reality. Take any thought you often have that seems to lower your mood or create anxiety for you. Try and insert the statement I am thinking that… before the thought. I am thinking that my test result is taking a long time to come back. This places the thought into a context that is simply something you are thinking and not actually something that is happening. If you can then take this strategy one step further and state; I am noticing that, I am thinking that, my test result is taking a long time to come back. Then you will be able to distance yourself from this intrusive thought by noticing it is there without investing energy into maintaining it.
Using a mindful strategy where you notice the thought (I am thinking that…) then you acknowledge the thought (I am noticing that….) you can let it go. The defusion exercise below uses a leaf on a stream metaphor, but you can use a package on a UPS truck theme, seafoam on a beach theme, or cars on a highway theme. Any theme that works for you which can allow you to visualize your acknowledged, noticed thought leaving, will work.
Often the thought returns and that’s okay just let it get on the truck and leave as often as it needs to. The goal of the exercise is not to make the test result arrive faster but to recognize and become aware that the thought is the intrusive aspect of the experience. Allowing the thought to flow away is a step toward reducing its power in your life.
As you travel through the cancer experience feelings such as anxiety, sadness, and anger can be common. Many cancer patients report that they have difficulty in forcing themselves to attend appointments and follow up visits to the cancer clinic. Patients say that the moment they enter the hospital or cancer care center they feel profoundly anxious. They may report sensations such as hyperventilation and a pounding heart. Often these are manifestations of our threat response and are almost completely involuntary. For many cancer patients the smell, lighting, color schemes, and sounds of the cancer ward, chemo lounge, or radiation suite can bring on feelings that make them feel panicked. Many patients describe these bodily sensations as “anxiety attacks” or “panic attacks”.
Using deep breathing, guided meditation with visualization, and hypnotherapy to combat these overpowering and uncomfortable sensations can help to allow the patient to get through their treatments with minimal distress. For many patients they are not remembering the events of diagnosis and treatment, they are re-experiencing those events as though they are occurring in that moment. Using Hypnotherapy and meditation to go to a safer and more pleasant place in your own mind can alleviate the anxiety provoking experiences of cancer treatment. If a patient knows that they might have panic feelings when they return for follow up visits to clinic, they can prepare themselves for those visits by practicing breathing and relaxation techniques. Using hypnotherapy or guided meditation can distance patients from the experience and lessen its negative impact on their feelings of well being.
The added benefit of these anxiety reducing strategies is that the patient’s vital signs and health assessments will reflect a more accurate picture of their wellness. The patient may also be more receptive to educative strategies if they are not in a state of hyper-vigilance. The patient will be more likely to attend follow up appointments if they can successfully manage their anxiety.
When you get a cancer diagnosis you can find yourself in a lonely place, the health care world is one which is not very familiar to most people. If you can hardly remember which cancer specialist, you are seeing and what it is that they do, you are not alone. Even the language can be confusing. A negative result is a good thing! A positive result is not a good thing! This strange world can make you feel anxious and powerless.
Feeling anxious regarding your cancer diagnosis is completely natural but adding to those feelings of uncertainty can be the very system you rely on to help you get through this experience. The number of specialist physicians and other personnel you may encounter during your cancer journey may seem overwhelming. You may see a surgeon for the physical removal of your cancer. Then you might see an Oncologist for your chemo regimen. It is not unusual to be referred to a Radiation Oncologist as well to irradiate the cancer. The one constant in all this besides you and your family or friends will be your primary care provider. Using your primary care provider to help you negotiate the health care system can make the experience seem less intimidating.
Although you may have family and friends who are doing their best to be supportive and encouraging ultimately you are alone in this fight. No one else can have a chemo treatment for you, no one else, however well meaning or willing to be supportive, can really understand what you are experiencing. For many this can be a very lonely time. It may be helpful to remember that although your friends and family cannot have this painful experience for you, they are suffering as well. They are there when you receive treatment and are frequently having many anxious feelings too. Sometimes it is difficult for you to share what is happening to you because you do not want to frighten your family, or you think they cannot understand what you are going through. Sharing your experience with a counselling therapist or peer volunteer can alleviate your feelings of aloneness at a time when feelings of isolation are common.
Things like journaling can help both you, your friends and loved ones through this challenging time. Using counselling both in group and individual formats can also create the sort of unbiased support that is often helpful. The cancer society can provide resources for counselling services to help both the person with cancer and those who are co-surviving to cope with this life altering challenge. Your emotional and mental well being is an important part of your recovery. Taking advantage of resources to improve your mood and reduce your anxiety can reduce feelings of loneliness during this cancer journey.
Carr, Kris. (2007) Crazy, sexy, cancer tips. Guilford, CT. Globe Pequot Press.
Katz, Anne. (2012). After you ring the bell…10 challenges for the cancer survivor. Pittsburgh, PA. Hygeia Media
If you have had a cancer diagnosis and have completed your treatment you may have feelings that are mixed. Of course, you and those in your life are very happy you have completed your treatment. You may have a sense of relief, or you may just be too exhausted for that, and are just grateful that the whole thing is over and done. Well meaning friends and family may tell you that you are a “survivor” and for many people this does boost their mood and make them feel they have managed to endure their diagnosis and treatment successfully. For others the designation, “survivor” may make them feel uncomfortable.
At the time of your diagnosis you may have felt so shocked that you couldn’t really think about what this cancer journey was going to be like. Your health care team may have moved very quickly making appointments for you with a variety of “specialists”, and although they explained things to you, at the time you really couldn’t think too much about what they were telling you. With cancer things move both fast and slow and your mind is often distracted. It is not unusual for all sorts of feelings and thoughts to surface after all the treatment is completed and you have returned to your primary care provider whether that is your Family Doctor or your Nurse Practitioner.
The post treatment period is often one of the most difficult times for a former cancer patient to experience. It may be the first time you have really had time to think about your experience and to start to try and make sense of it, and how it has impacted your life. At this point using a cancer counsellor may seem a little too late, but this is usually when you may find a counsellor who has an understanding of the cancer experience most helpful.
The time after your treatment is one when many former patients find themselves in a transition between how their life was before their cancer diagnosis and how their life is now. It is completely understandable that a life altering diagnosis may make you want to examine your values or suddenly experience feelings you had not had before such as anxiety, sadness that leaves you exhausted, and often anger. Counselling can be both a place to express all those confusing emotions associated with a cancer experience, and to start to make sense of how you are impacted in your life by this going forward.
Katz, Anne. (2012). After you ring the bell...10 challenges for the cancer survivor. Pittsburgh, PA. Hygeia Media