How Cold Showers Help Me Live With Blood Cancer
I know what you might be thinking, and I used to think that way too. Even though I have lived most of my life in Minnesota, I was not a fan of the cold. To me, the best part of a frosty winter was sending the wood ticks and mosquitos away and decorating the landscape for the holidays. Before being diagnosed with blood cancer, I would not have dreamed of taking a cold shower.
My search to feel better
But after my stem cell transplant, I faced a long recovery made even more challenging by a fibromyalgia diagnosis. All my doctors and specialists could not solve the intense fatigue and widespread body pain and stiffness. Some suggested a move to a warmer climate.
My son was still in high school, so packing up and moving my life across the country was not practical. Plus, I was only 48 and not ready to give in to feeling crappy and tired for the rest of my life.
So I began researching any form of meditation, exercise, diet, or supplement that would help. Although I tried many options (and still do), the one that has helped the most is a combination of breathing exercises and cold exposure known as the Wim Hof Method.
Cold showers, anyone?
Wim Hof credits these practices with his ability to perform superhuman feats, such as under-ice swims, hour-long ice baths, and barefoot marathons in ice and snow. He has set 21 Guinness world records so far.
While this is incredible, I am not aiming to set a world record. And at first, I was not interested in the cold either. Not at all.
I began with the breathing exercises that involve deep, rhythmic breaths followed by a long breath-hold. Amazingly, I was able to experience a rare, floating state of relaxation. Wim aptly calls this process “getting high on your own supply.”
My cold shower routine
Now convinced there was something to this method, I asked my oncologist for his permission to take cold showers. And then I dove in – first a toe, then a hand, a foot, an arm, and a leg. I would be lying if I said it was easy. When the cold water hit my belly and back, my whole body gasped. I wondered, out loud at times, why people would willingly subject their warm and relaxed bodies to this icy form of torture.
But I also knew this was optional and temporary. The shut-off valve was only a simple turn away. I trusted that it would get easier over time, and the benefits would come if I could just stick with it.
Even some research has suggested the benefits of cold exposure. Several studies confirm that it can relieve depression 1, and regular cold exposure (particularly winter swimming) can decrease tension and fatigue and increase memory and mood. It also can reduce pain and inflammation from muscle diseases such as fibromyalgia 2.
I realize that these studies don’t tell the whole picture of how cold exposure affects a patient with blood cancer, so I listen to my body and proceed gently and cautiously. I keep the cold showers to a few minutes a few times a week and take them almost always after a warm shower. And I take a break if I’m having a hard time staying warm or feeling ill.
Increasing my Quality of Life
And as much as I wish I could tell you that cold showers have cured me of myeloma, fibromyalgia, and all the side effects of oral chemo, I cannot. But they have improved my quality of life. I always feel better after stepping out of a cold shower than I did before stepping in. My mood is lighter, and I feel more energized – sometimes markedly so. If only I could feel that way all the time, I would have won the largest lottery in life.
The cold has also pushed me outside of my comfort zone and taught me how to be uncomfortable. Every cold shower becomes an opportunity to practice mind over matter, focus on the breath, and be present in the moment.
And as a bonus, I now absolutely LOVE winter!
What about you? What things have you tried to improve your quality of life with blood cancer? Have you tried a cold shower? Would you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Have you met another blood cancer patient?