Trapped in fight or flight

When we are in a chronic state of stress, it causes a physiological and psychological response called survival mode. This means the MIND AND BODY are focused on one thing and one thing only: danger ⚠️

This mode involves the release of stress hormones and the activation of our stress-response systems.

Here’s the thing: this mode is essential, it’s life or death because our bodies NEED to be able to detect a threat and know the difference of when to fight, or flight

Now, imagine not being able to make your way out.

That is what life with an adrenaline secreting tumor is. Your body is trapped in this state, regardless of how calm your mind is. The TUMOR(s) are producing or rather secreting these stress hormones in excess. You can’t shut it off, you can’t control it, and so your body is constantly feeling like there’s a threat even when there isn’t

Someone who’s lived with this disease, even the trauma of it, will catapult the system into a survival state. Just as any disease or trauma can.

What I’m talking about is a little different… but still intertwined. I’m referring to a forced physiological impact from an over production of stress hormones SECRETED by these tumours. Still with me? Our bodies are withstanding a physical trauma every single day. Pretty wild huh?

You will often hear pheo para patients explain this disease as being chased by a predator all their life. Like a lion is running after them that never quite catches them… but is always on their tail

I want to empower you with information that can only be understood from a lived perspective. I want to show you how you can fight back – by not fighting at all

I don’t think we can ever fully explain to someone who doesn’t have this disease quite what it feels like or what it does, but I try my best. Why?

I feel it’s important for us to understand (to the best of our abilities) how this impacts our daily life.

To be able to differentiate how much is the disease and what it us. How much we have control over, and what we cannot. Allowing ourselves and our loved ones to better manage the impact of a longterm chronic state of stress.

I am approaching 32, which means I have been actively living with pheochromocytoma for over 13 years. That is almost unreal to think my body has been in a chronic state of stress for that long and it has been able to survive. Even when it was so close to the end

Let’s take a moment to honour the absolute incredulous miracle our bodies perform every single day. Pause here to feel those vibes!


I’ve explained a pheochromocytoma attack hundreds or thousands of times, but when you hear it from a stress response perspective it’s so different. When we truly understand the impact on our entire system… we can take back some control

A control we are often left feeling isn’t possible or simply cannot exist. How we take back control is by learning to shift back into the parasympathetic nervous system when we’re not actively in attack

Your parasympathetic nervous system is a network of nerves that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger. It also helps run life-sustaining processes, like digestion, during times when you feel safe and relaxed

If we are constantly trapped in fight or flight, (which many of us endure for years with this disease – and years AFTER removal!) our entire system begins to misfire and that is what we call survival mode. Where we can’t function properly because our body will never relax and feel at ease

Medically, they use medications called ‘blockers’ to protect our system from the output of adrenaline hormones. It allows us to withstand a higher level of adrenaline and can protect us from having a heart attack or stroke.

With metastatic disease, we go through different forms of treatment such as surgery and radioactive therapies like MIBG or PRRT to try and shrink and/or reduce metabolic activity from the tumor. You can click to learn about my personal experience with these, but….

Something I wish I’d known early on is how all of this impacts the nervous system. How it’s crucial to understand this impact and do what’s in our power to protect it. We can’t simply turn it off, but…

Making a conscious effort to shift back into the parasympathetic system helps– you notice I say effort. It’s not a guarantee that we can control or fully combat the effect the hormones are having on our bodies. But I know from experience – it’s better to try. Especially when treated palliatively, it helped to extend my life.

The reason I’m sharing this and will continue to talk about it is because this disease is all consuming. We deserve to know more than how to barely survive – we deserve to know how we can live a life that is balanced and feel safe in our bodies

I’m not quite there yet, but I can promise that the ways I’ve learned and incorporated different efforts into my day to day life has helped. Each day I feel I take a little piece of me back. I feel I learn to cope more effectively, and most importantly – I feel a little more calm and able to come back quicker from the attacks. I will even go as far to say that the attacks are less aggressive right now with the combination of both my efforts and the medical intervention. Keep in mind I am not on active treatment – other than pharmacological blockade.

I will never say for certain what is specifically made the biggest impact or what will work for you. We are all different and these disease is impacted by a number of things. I just share what I know and what I do with the hope that even one thing can help ease some of the pain.

15 things to incorporate into your daily routine:

This isn’t something we learn at the doctor unfortunately, so take notes my friends! In no particular order, I am constantly updating this list.

  1. Guided meditation. I simply cannot stress how important this is. This is something that is free to access, can be done as much as you want, and has proven scientific benefit dating back thousands of year. If you’re skeptical, just try 5 mins a day. You don’t have to sit cross legged, your mind isn’t too busy, you are simply listening along with a voice that is instructing your body how to relax from a subconscious level. I wouldn’t make it through my most painful procedures without years of meditation practice. Fact: meditation/hypnosis used to be used as anaesthesia! Search on YouTube for free meditations specific to your mood and schedule. The mindful movement and Michael sealy are some of my personal favourites.
  2. Deep breathing: too obvious? Most of us don’t mindfully breathe from the belly. Next time you’re feeling stressed, pause, take 3 deep breaths by inhaling through the nose expanding the belly and then exhaling by the mouth. You can also follow along with breathing exercises through certain apps like ‘aura’ or ‘headspace’
  3. Noise + Light: if you’re feeling reactive or triggered, dim the lights, ask those around you to speak quietly or leave the room and go to a safe place. This is especially important while in hospital since health care workers are trained to speak loudly, and the lights are very harsh.
  4. CBD: always check with your doctor first as it can counteract with other meds. I’ve had amazing success as of recent with CBD oils. I have tried both THC therapy and pure CBD, the THC aggravates my tumours + symptoms. CBD on its own alleviates and calms my system during the day and helps me sleep at night. Do your research for quality & safety! Sleep has been my biggest struggle over the years with all the residual adrenaline. However it’s so essential for our healing, if you can find something that works for you it’s such a blessing. I use a specific sleep compound that includes melatonin and CBN, this has helped with pain and sleep quality which has in turn helped me to calm my nervous system by being able to heal through the night.
  5. Zero gravity position: raising your legs above your heart. NASA puts astronauts in zero G before take-off to equalize their weight and ease the stress on their bodies as they are launched into space. Cool right?! It is said to benefit digestion, breathing, and provide proper blood circulation. They have beds with this technology, wedge pillows that offer this ability. Or you can prop your legs up against a wall, or build a pillow fort. Whatever works for you
  6. Gentle movement, walking, light stretching, anything you’re able to do. My husband and I have been enjoying Justin Agustin fitness videos. They are designed for a true beginner and can be incorporated while in active treatment. They can be modified to both of our disabilities and are mobility focused. Thai chi, and other forms of gentle movement can be incorporated as long as you have approval from your doctor and are comfortable. With pheo paras this is tricky as anything can set it off, but keeping in mind that muscle atrophy and pain is worsened when not moving at all. The idea being not to elevate your heart rate at a spike is key. Physio movements can also be done in bed with assistance from a caregiver.
  7. Red light therapy: only 10 mins to see incredible benefit for mood, pain, and anxiety. I recently invested in a home setup because I needed the access safely and consistently for what I’m looking for. Laying in the warm red light is calming in itself, but it’s proven to have benefit for a host of other things. The idea behind red light therapy is that it’s healing the body from a cellular level. It’s actually healing the mitochondria which helps with SO many functions in the body. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the science. There’s plenty of clinics, spas, and salons that have red light therapy. There is also a wide range of options + sizes for home. This is the company I used.
  8. Vagus nerve toning: a device I’ve been enjoying is called ‘sensate’. I was first just trying it out but am now a firm believer it has an incredible impact on my overall well-being. It’s a necklace that uses is infrasonic technology to stimulate the vagus nerve. It vibrates against the sternum paired with calming sounds on an app through your phone. You choose how long you want your session to be and select the music and just enjoy. It’s scientifically proven to ‘tone’ the vagus nerve with continued use. I love when I find things like this and they actually work. Again, just the 5 mins of calm is beneficial BUT with built in deeper benefits. Absolutely phenomenal and has helped many others see the same benefit! Very promising
  9. Nutrition plays a role in everything. I’ve talked about this before and if you have pheo or para you probably follow a low tyramine diet. If you’re wondering what that is – the MAIN no no’s would be fermented/pickled foods, processed foods, and soy. Having MCAS I can’t eat foods high in histamine either or else my system goes haywire. Being mindful + learning what triggers your body’s stress/anxiety helps a lot! I will never recommend any specific way of eating, because we are all individual. I think knowing what not to eat can be pretty life changing to our system.
  10. H20, If you are dehydrated, your body is not functioning properly, and therefore may cause increased levels of stress. Ever notice your heart rate increases or feels like it’s skipping beats when you don’t have enough water? There are many many tricks to stay hydrated, this isn’t something to skip on.
  11. Journaling: a daily self care practice that can release so many thoughts and emotions. You don’t have to love stickers or even like writing. However it can be used as a way to ‘brain dump’ whatever emotional storage you’re bringing around with you. Think of a journal as your safe space to say whatever you want without being judged or have to think about how it sounds. Just write it out, let that shit go!
  12. Trauma coaching: at the beginning of this year I made it a goal to begin treating my PTSD. It’s no secret that the body stores trauma, this was one of my ways to try and get it out. There are many forms of healing therapies that exist now Vs traditional talk therapy. I personally wasn’t a fan of that – but doing whatever feels safe and comfortable to you is key. I just happened upon a trauma coach during a cancer support conversation and it’s changed my life. We are doing a focus called ‘internal family systems’ or ‘parts work’. It’s been close to 6 months, the most notable difference I’d say is being able to slow down. When you’re stuck in survival mode, we will often not want to just ‘be’. We always have to be doing something or distracting ourselves or else it feels too overwhelming. This is what I wanted to get away from, and am proud to say is starting to happen for me. I feel I have the tools to manage my triggers and reactive states. Click here for more information regarding trauma coaching
  13. Self care: this is meant to make you set aside the time to care for yourself. It’s amazing what an hour or two of doing something just for you can impact our mood and peace. When I’m feeling particularly stressed, I may take a bath, or maybe I’ll sit and listen to music while doing my skincare routine. The point is to be intentional and really set aside the time to take care of you and you only.
  14. Gratitude practice: it may sound silly at first, but I’d recommend reading this book if you’re new to gratitude practice. It shows how at its simplest form being grateful can change how our bodies feel. If we’re only grateful when things are going well – it’s easy to get caught off guard during hard times. I recommend writing down 3 things you’re grateful for each day, this simple exercise when added to a daily routine completely changed my ability to cope. Which in turn helped me return to my baseline state of calm.
  15. The art of doing nothing: there is so much power in this one. I won’t explain much further, this comes with time. I haven’t fully achieved this ability yet, but I try every day to just be with myself and do nothing for even 1-2 mins. You may be reading this and saying “well doing nothing isn’t hard?” Yet in survival mode, this can seem like an impossible task. If you know you know

There’s no one formula to magically shift out of survival mode. As you can see, it’s an ongoing daily effort to help relax our system. It’s a combination of emotional, physical and spiritual needs. It is grounding ourselves, reminding our brains there is more to life than suffering, it’s living – not surviving

I hope wherever or whenever this finds you, it reminds you that our bodies are capable of incredible things. We are never broken, we are healing. We can take pieces of ourselves everyday. Each one of these practices has its own unique way of helping us to return to our baseline state of being.

I’m here to remind you that no matter how hard it tries, pheo cannot take away your ‘fabulous’. I hope these practices offer the gentle reminder you needed to feel more like you.

If you want peace, stop fighting

@pheovsfabulous

you are the lion.

A lesson in life and death

“Being given this gift is a rare insight not many get to have, until it’s too late to apply it. I have the pleasure of giving a glimpse to all of you now” pheo vs fabulous

Being palliatively treated was one of my biggest fears, because it meant I was dying. Everyone was speaking to me about my death, it was the hot topic of my 20s. A lonely place to be in.

If something is terrifying to you, it’s because it’s foreign. By getting to know our fears better, it will become less so.

My curiosity made my fear of death less foreign. I challenged the purpose of this care, whether it was to die or to help my pain and suffering while LIVING.

If used properly, it can be such a beautiful way of removing suffering allowing you to LIVE fully. I am privileged to have learned this

I realized then by sharing my life and my story as a young seemingly vibrant ‘full of life’ woman… it would make others challenge the ideology that surrounds death also. When someone else is confronted with the same fate, they will see that there’s more to death than just dying. You have to have lived in order to die.

I share my life to bring light to these topics that we see as dark. I share as a reminder to take notice of all the beautiful moments and let it inspire you. The way I hopefully inspired you.

Like everything in life there are stages, palliative care is full of people who are very much alive. like me.

You may be wondering why I’m talking about this. Well because I have this unique lens to offer my point of view. By no means do we have to be happy about dying, but we CAN be at peace with it.

Happiness and sadness have to coexist, happiness is a comparative emotion. Once you feel some level of pain and sadness, you can feel happiness and gratitude. Otherwise you’d not know when happiness is, we wouldn’t feel joy. We would feel… neutral, we wouldn’t feel the euphoria of relief and the multitude of emotions.

Light can’t exist without dark, happiness can’t exist without sadness, just like life and death. We can’t live unless we die. We can’t die unless we’ve lived.

THAT is what I mean when I say I’m terminal and thriving, staying fabulous, or fighting pretty. I am able to live through pain because it’s what has led me to my happiness. Living in peace with my body, illness, even death, has given me this gift to live with the purpose we ALL deserve.

I never ever want anyone to pity me, I want you to feel so empowered and fearless to apply this point of view to all aspects of your life. I have chosen to share my unique lens to comfort, to change, to challenge, to connect.

Even if you feel you can’t relate to what I share, we all have life in common. Know that you don’t have to face death in order to start truly living. We all have fears, we all want happiness, we all live and die.

Being given this gift is a rare insight not many get to have, until it’s too late to apply it. I have the pleasure of giving a glimpse to all of you now.

I can’t control how others view the world, happiness, death, or even how you view me. I do however hope that you feel the love in my intention.

In the blink of an eye, my life has changed so many times, for better and for worse. What I’ve shared with you today is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn. Yet it’s my most profound lesson, and I’m honoured to be here alive to share it with you.

I hope a little piece of what I put into the world finds it’s way to you. A mindset tip, a makeup hack, a cute outfit for a hospital day, ways to cope, a tip to advocate, a goofy video, how to fight pretty, or a super profound shift in spiritual awareness.

Whatever it may be, these are all the pieces that make us who we are, I hope it leads you to your own ‘fabulous’.

“Fabulous is your light, your smile, your energy, your positivity, your willfulness, your vitality, passion, excitement, beauty, laugh, and how you share it!” – Pheo VS Fabulous

Miranda AKA #pheovsfabulous

Follow me on social channels at @ pheovsfabulous

10 ways to calm your stress response

I’ve been living with a body that’s stuck in fight or flight since my teens. Of course for the longest time I didn’t know how to control or manage it.

Then once I knew what I was dealing with, I was conditioned to believe that it’s the nature of the disease. Basically take the medication and suck it up. In a way, this is true. Biochemically we will always be stuck in fight or flight, with the constant stream of adrenaline overflowing in our bloodstream.

But what about what we can control? Why doesn’t anyone tell us about that? I’ve accepted I can’t control all the elements of this disease, but let’s talk about what we can impact. All the ways we can help to calm our systems down, slowly reconditioning our body’s stress response. Which by the way helps with many different aspects of life, not just the grenades inside of us.

Learning more about the nervous system I believe has unknowingly kept me alive. It’s what has allowed me to combat the constant stream of stress with a balance of calm through my own daily practices. These practices I believe we should all be doing more of, with or without pheo para!

I know I will always need medication to manage the dangerous adrenaline levels that the tumors produce. I’m okay with that, but it doesn’t take your body out of fight or flight. It doesn’t calm the system’s stress response, because as humans we all experience stress. If you add in the residual impact of the adrenaline + Trauma + biochemical levels and you think – I’m doomed!

Luckily I’m a unicorn and we believe in endless hope, magic, and sparkly miracles.

You don’t have to have a crazy rare cancer to experience a fight or flight response. It can be triggered for so many reasons, the trick is being able to calm it down.

This isn’t something we learn at the doctor unfortunately, so take notes my friends!

  1. Guided meditation. I wouldn’t make it through my most painful procedures. Fact: meditation/hypnosis used to be used as anaesthesia! Search on YouTube for free meditations specific to your mood and schedule. The mindful movement and Michael sealy are some of my personal favourites.
  2. Deep breathing: too obvious? Most of us don’t mindfully breathe from the belly. Next time you’re feeling stressed, pause, take 3 deep breaths by inhaling through the nose expanding the belly and then exhaling by the mouth.
  3. Noise + Light: if you’re feeling reactive or triggered, dim the lights, ask those around you to speak quietly or leave the room and go to a safe place. This is especially important in hospitals since health care workers are trained to speak loudly, and the lights are very harsh.
  4. CBD: always check with your doctor first. I’ve had amazing success as of recent with CBD oils. I have tried both THC therapy and pure CBD, the THC aggravates my tumours + symptoms. CBD on its own alleviates and calms my system during the day and helps me sleep at night. Do your research for quality & safety! Sleep has been my biggest struggle over the years with all the residual adrenaline. However it’s so essential for our healing, if you can find something that works for you it’s such a blessing.
  5. Zero gravity position: raising your legs above your heart. NASA puts astronauts in zero G before take-off to equalize their weight and ease the stress on their bodies as they are launched into space. Cool right?! They have special wedge pillows that offer this ability. Or you can prop your legs up against a wall, or build a pillow fort. Whatever works for you
  6. Gentle movement, walking, light stretching, anything you’re able to do. I really love Thai chi videos to move along to and you can bring your phone or laptop anywhere outside to enjoy it in nature. I just discovered physio that is yoga centred and that made me very curious. It’s to help the body with movement while healing certain injuries. I’ll keep you posted if we try!
  7. Red light therapy: only 10 mins to see incredible benefit for mood and anxiety. I recently invested in a home setup because I needed the access safely and consistently for what I’m looking for. Laying in the warm red light is calming in itself, but it’s proven to have benefit for depression, anxiety, stress, and a whole lot of other things! There’s plenty of clinics, spas, and salons that have red light therapy. There is also a wide range of options + sizes for home. This is the company I used.
  8. Vagus nerve toning: a new device I’ve been trying/enjoying is called ‘sensate’. A necklace that uses is infrasonic technology to stimulate the vagus nerve. It vibrates against the sternum paired with calming sounds on an app through your phone. You choose how long you want your session to be and select the music and just enjoy. It’s scientifically proven to ‘tone’ the vagus nerve with continued use. I love when I find things like this and they actually work. Again, just the 5 mins of calm is beneficial BUT with built in deeper benefits. Absolutely phenomenal 👌🏼 @mysensate
  9. Nutrition plays a role in everything. I’ve talked about this before and if you have pheo or para you probably follow a low tyramine diet. If you’re wondering what that is – the MAIN no no’s would be fermented/pickled foods, processed foods, and soy. Having MCAS I can’t eat foods high in histamine either or else my system goes haywire. Being mindful + learning what triggers your body’s stress/anxiety helps a lot!
  10. H20, If you are dehydrated, your body is not functioning properly, and therefore may cause increased levels of stress. Ever notice your heart rate increases or feels like it’s skipping beats when you don’t have enough water? There are many many tricks to stay hydrated, this isn’t something to skip on.

Some added extras: different forms of healing therapy OR trauma coaching can be helpful with PTSD. Not everyone responds to talk therapy so this is an alternative approach. Post traumatic stress causes the body to be locked in fight or flight as well, so seeking the appropriate care for you can be helpful. I just began trauma coaching, using internal family systems or ‘parts work’ as the main healing modality. I’ll update more on that later when I’ve had more time to work on this.

Supplements: I won’t recommend anything specific but checking your full blood panel is so important. When you have a low nutrient level or something is off, it can cause you to feel run down which then makes your body stressed. Talk to your doctor about a FULL blood panel.

Self care practices you enjoy, Epsom salt baths, journaling, reading, etc. For me I’m writing this blog as we speak as a way to calm my own stress response.

These are my main healing practices at this moment, I use a combination of these to help normalize my baseline stress levels. I hope this helps you too. For my ‘attack survival guide’ and more resources click my drop down menu on the home page.

Remember, through channeling our energy into the things we can control – we live an empowered life. We live with intention, and remove the lens of fear.

You can follow along with my social channels @pheovsfabulous

I love hearing from you, leave a comment + share this with your community if you found this helpful 🤍🦓

CARE, period.

You may be surprised to hear me say this, but sometimes it’s not ‘self care’ that we require…

We just need CARE, period.

Let that sit for a second, how does it make you feel?

For me: it instantly took a weight off, I immediately had this pressure lift from my shoulders and chest. I allowed myself space to deserve something I didn’t feel worthy of, until now.

I hope as you’re reading this, you will find that same empowerment that you deserve.

I often talk about being in a state of overwhelm, and how to get out of it. We are led to believe we have no control over our bodies with this disease. In some ways that’s true, but sometimes the answer isn’t more doing. We are already SO reactive, we don’t always need to do more. We need to do less.

Let me explain

When you’ve been THROUGH IT, or are still in the thick of it, sometimes just barely keeping your head above water… the word ‘self care’ feels heavy. It’s one more thing we need to worry about when we have the weight of the world on our shoulders.

When you have been dismissed so many times, when you have to fight for every single answer you get, feeling like we’re doing all the work but still not getting anywhere. It’s exhausting. The last thing you want to hear is to do MORE work because you’re not caring for yourself properly.

I’m guilty of it, I say it all the time. There’s a time and place for self care but it’s not the only form of care needed. Which is why I want to reframe the conversation about what care looks like. Period.

We’re expected to do a lot as humans, as women, as chronically ill, as cancer thrivers, survivors, when we’re at our limits of overwhelm the answer cannot always be self care.

We get misdiagnosed, or are navigating a diagnosis, we are called ‘complex’, we sometimes feel unworthy of care at all. Like it’s too much to even consider asking for help because we won’t be believed anyway. This all weighs heavily on our hearts, and this is why self care isn’t always the answer. We don’t need more work to do, we have already become fiercely independent and keep ourselves alive – we just need some kindness. The type of care we’ve been looking for and not always receiving. That’s the only self care I want to discuss.

The actual definition of care is: “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something”

Care (no self implied) is just being kind, removing resistance, and allowing yourself to just listen to what your body is telling you. Care to me is learning to listen to my body’s needs without jumping to ‘fix it’ or adding any other form of duty.

Examples of care can be speaking kindly to yourself, having patient thoughts, listening inward. When your mind is racing, just noticing your thoughts instead of stop fighting them. Sitting with how you’re feeling but not jumping to a conclusion or solution right away.

Care can be shutting down the internal argument that comes from needing rest or not wanting to add ‘another thing’ to your plate. You can care for yourself by just letting it be. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – that story you create in your mind about needing rest or doing all the things you ‘need’ to do. You could have let yourself rest with all the time you spent arguing with no one but you.

If you’re reading this, does it feel good to just know that we can just BE? We can just feel or grieve or NOT feel at all…

We also have the option to not process anything, we can simply sit with whatever it is.

For me, knowing that’s an option made me feel less overwhelmed already

Giving yourself another ‘to do’ isn’t always helpful, listen to what YOUR needs are at this moment.

What is your heart saying?

Presence is powerful. Not planning on how to ‘fix’ what you’re feeling, just allowing it to be

Self care: the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.

Just knowing that NOT taking action is sometimes an option, made me feel more at ease. It also made it easier for me take action when needed. It cleared the path of resistance in order to tend to my needs in a different way.

When we give ourselves care with no strings attached, we are essentially just allowing ourselves to feel kindness. Giving ourselves grace, patience, and the attentiveness we would give a loved one.

No action necessary.

Follow along with my daily journey @pheovsfabulous