HomeWriting LifeLinks between cancer, stress, and overwork: why I’m cutting my hours

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Links between cancer, stress, and overwork: why I’m cutting my hours — 66 Comments

  1. Holly, I’m extremely happy that your situation is fixable and recurrence is preventable.

    I’m so proud of you for making these decisions. Now I don’t have to try to keep up with you and kill myself in the process. Better yet, I don’t have to feel guilty because I’m not getting as much done.

    Sometime when you have half an hour of uncommitted time, give me a shout and I’ll relate my experience with stress and how I can’t seem to keep from repeating the trips into the danger zone. Standing at the edge of the grave and waiting for all in isn’t a good place to plant your toes.

    I look forward to seeing how you get along with your determined path. I’m routing for you. It’s a hard path for a workaholic. But you’re so very strong-willed, you have a better chance than many.

    Brava, my friend.

  2. My mother always said cancer was from frustration, and where it first showed up reflected where you were most frustrated. She had it three times, starting in her 30s, and still lived to be 90.

    She was from a generation that didn’t know “stress” as a concept like we do. You’re a communicator, constantly pushing your schedule to write, so it makes sense the problem shows up on your tongue.

    Your situation was also like a swat across the head to me to quit letting mine own workaholism take over. Maybe getting my hours available for writing cut back was a blessing in disguise.

    • As someone who decided I was going to start sleeping when I was tired and who is STILL sleeping twelve to fourteen hours a day catching up, I have to cheer the concept of losing the workaholism.

      My body was apparently pretty pissed of that I was ignoring it.

      Rule ONE: Don’t piss off your body. You have to live there.

  3. I will admit it. I’m selfish. I want your stories. I want your classes. And I know I can’t have those things if you are killing yourself by working too hard. So while I want all the cools stuff you produce for us, I want your continued good health even more, because without that there’s no more cool stuff.

    And, frankly, even if there was no more cool stuff, I’d want your good health. It’s the least you deserve for the cools stuff you’ve already created. Seriously. 🙂

  4. The tissues of the oral cavity are pretty sensitive to stress. My dentist told me that she can tell when a person is stressed when their level of gingivitis is in excess of what can be explained by the presence of plaque, dental calculus, or other identifiable cause of inflamed gums. Stress increases your cortisol levels, which in turn causes immunosuppression. The latest thinking on cancer (and I presume “pre-cancers”) is, I believe, that it is a failure of the immune system to effectively remove cells and tissues that are going bad on you.

    So, I applaud you for your response to this scare and your resolve to embark on a program of prudent self-care and life balance. Bravo!

  5. Holly, I’m sorry to hear you had such a health scare and relieved that you’re not dealing with oral cancer. As someone who’s also worked as a writer on contract, I endorse the six-hour-a-day rule. I found that if I consistently wrote more than 30 hours a week on a long-term assignment, I burned out.

    Please take extra-good care of yourself as you heal from the tongue trauma and years of stress. I’ve benefited so much from HTTS and all that you offer the writers in your community and hope you’ll direct some of your amazing generosity toward yourself. Making it to a healthy 103 is a worthy goal!

  6. Glad you’re not having cancer. I’ve heard that even the medical community acknowledges stress is responsible for 80% of all illness. Are you familiar with EFT, the emotional freedom technique? If not, it’s a simple process of tapping on specific meridian points while acknowledging and letting go of stress. For many it has proven incredibiely effective, and is used for PTSD. You can look it up. And/or go to mercola.com. You can find instructions there for how to do it. There’s videos on you tube, too. You might find it useful. Do whatever you feel you need to stay strong, healthy, and alert. You are an invaluable asset to the writing community. You’d be sorely missed.

  7. Hey! Don’t let researching cancer and stress replace all the other work you’ve been doing. Keep a timer running on that, too!

    I second Franciela. I’ve been following your work for years (but not quite as many), and you’ve created an amazing nonfiction library. To add to that: You have written so much helpful material for writers to not only follow, but expand on, that you’re helping train a new batch of potential teachers. You’ve taught us how to figure things out for ourselves–to Think Sideways–and have provided a resource for us to support each other in community.

    Because I got sidetracked, and because it’s so important, again, please! don’t let a new, shiny project eat up all your time and energy!

  8. I have read all the replies on all three of my medical updates posts. Thank you very much for coming in here and offering support.

    Where you’ve made recommendations on something that worked for you, I’ve written these down and will investigate them.

    Where you’ve offered good wishes, I’m offering my deepest gratitude now, both for the fact that you wish me well and for the fact that I matter to you. Thank you.

    I apologize for not being able to answer each of these personally.

    • Glad to hear you’re putting your health first! Sending good thoughts from the west coast, and hoping your stress level drops to negligible levels soon. (Unless you must bear the crazy stress of winning the lottery–then you may squee in happy eustress for a day or so.)

  9. I support your intelligent decision. Even working just six hours a day you can do a lot of good stuff in the next 50 years. Best wishes.

  10. Praying and sending energy your way for good health and a smooth change of lifestyle. Every time you’re tempted to work “a few minutes” past your 6 hour limit, say to yourself “Holly, you can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself.” Keep on being selfish. We want you to last until you’re 103 as well.

  11. Holly,

    I am so glad that you’re cutting your insanely inhumane hours and returning to living life and having more time to enjoy family.
    Also very glad that you don’t have cancer.
    Thanks for being a amazing inspiration in so many ways and for encouraging me and getting to know me personally.
    Love Eileen

  12. Hi Holly
    You’ve set up an empire to benefit others. Thank you for that and for wanting to maintain it, again for the benefit of others.

    Time for a team of VA’s to take over and do the maintenance while you go on creating happily and fruitfully. Put the cancer scare to good use!

    You’ve taught us all a lesson about prioritizing. And about who the most important person in life is – oneself.

    Thank you for that.

    Go well

    Marita Neethling

  13. Holly, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. I can only imagine how terrifying it was for you. You’re being a real trooper about it. I absolutely think you are doing the right thing by cutting down and given yourself a bit of a break. Hope you sail through the next surgery. Blessings to you.

  14. I completely agree with your plan! Cutting back now could probably save you in the future. Writing is important, yes, but living is even more crucial to, you know, living. I wish you the best of luck!

  15. BTW, for what it’s worth… thirty years ago I had a scare with “pre-cancerous cells” myself (cervical cancer). Being a big fan of natural healing I trundled down to the local health food store and asked a sweet little old lady what she recommended. She gave me Chaparral root capsules and recommended I take 3, 3x per day for 2 weeks. I did as instructed and have never had a bad PAP since then. I’m now 51. I also took the Chaparral root capsules when I developed painful lumps in my wrist, there’s a name for them but it’s eluding me at the moment. 3 capsules, 3x per day for two weeks. Lumps went away and have never come back. All the woman told me about them was that they fight abnormal cell growth. 😉

  16. Happy to hear it isn’t cancer! And supporting you 100% on your new schedule change! Simplifying and de-stressing your life is one of the best things you can do for yourself…in every way imaginable. Remember…work to live, don’t live to work. 😉

  17. BY GOD, I THINK SHE’S GOT IT!!
    Mind, body and spirit are all connected, we even learned it in nursing school years ago. We tried to teach it to our patients. Only problem was we seldom applied it to ourselves.

    So many don’t get it or like me finally figure it out late in life.
    I’ve had cancer twice, all my siblings and natural parents died of cancers. Life is precious and now I take of the this one I have been given. I won’t get it again because my mind and spirit will not allow my body to lower it’s defenses to the cancer cells to come back.
    I’ve taught my kids and grandkids this.

    Self-Care is the one of five nursing theories.
    The biggest self-care practice I have learned is to stop killing myself trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of others or myself.

    Secret of Life=Balance and find joy in what you do.
    2nd secret = Delegate, delegate, delegate.

    Take care of yourself, Holly, YOU are the only one who can and You are special to all of us.

  18. I too am delighted with you taking the time to care for yourself Ms. Holly. I agree with Misty and some of the others here who are flabbergasted by the schedules others keep. Your decision to slow down justifies my own ‘turtle-pace’.

    Self-imposed deadlines are the *worst*! I still totally stress myself out on occasion with all the things I ‘should’ be doing. Like others, I also started keeping a running list of what I was doing when. Turns out I wasn’t wasting time, I just wasn’t doing what I had planned per my unreasonable timeline.

  19. Hi Holly, If you are inclined, please check out Dr. Andrew Weil on the web. I would recommend his book ‘Eight Weeks to Optimal Health’. He is the founder of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona. One of the graduates of his program is Dr.Tierona Lowdog. She would be of value to you in healing as well. My best wishes to you in rediscovering your balance.

  20. Dear Holly: I don’t know if anybody else has said this, but I am a long time subscriber of yours and I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from everything you have ever done for writers. However, I think you should drop the non-fiction and writing courses and just concentrate on the fiction writing, your real true love. I’ve been visiting your site almost from the beginning (the 80’s, 90’s?) and you have TONS of useful information for writers. All any writer needs to do is go through any of your archives or writing shop to get what they need to write quality stories and novels. You have more than paid it forward. You need to work on you and only you for awhile; write all those novels you’ve been wanting to write. Use your six hours a day, five days a week for THAT! Your already completed writing courses are available and more than enough to get any writer on their fiction writing feet. Spend your precious available writing time, writing the stuff that really matters. Your wonderful, engaging and compelling novels. You deserve to have as many of your novels written, published and out there for the whole world to read. With the most sincere gratitude, Francelia

    • 😀 I’ve considered that. I have to finish How to Write A Series. That’s a must. Fortunately for me, I get to write three more stories while doing that course, and they’re cool stories. In between really long sleep sessions—I was asleep for the better part of fourteen hours yesterday—I thought of a way to give writing fiction a good balance with teaching writing fiction, because I love both.

      More on that when I’ve had the time to give it more thought.

  21. Sorry to hear of your health issue. I am rooting for you to stick to your promise of a maximum 6 hour workday. You might find it a promise you are tempted to fudge on as your tongue troubles fade into the past. If that happens, just remind yourself that there is no shame in taking time out to just sit and stare. I think workaholics forget that.

  22. Thank you for sharing your story and plans. It’s a great reminder of the consequences of unrelenting pushing. I hope the results of your new program are a long life of wellness

    What is OneStep? I didn’t find it with a Google search.

    • OneStep is software Dan is building for me so that I can write my fiction, excerpt portions of what I write as blogs, tweets, and newsletters, keep the whole project in one place, publish it in .mobi, .pdf, and .epub from the same software—essentially do all my writing just once from one piece of software. It’s a pretty complex piece of automation software on his end. On my end, it’ll be incredibly simple to use.

      Some folks here expressed interest in it, so now he’s planning on making it available to other folks once I have mine. 😀

  23. I very glad you got checked when you did. I wondered if you ever considered meditation. I believe it is supposed to help with stress. Check out YouTube videos.
    The other thing will sound like I’m trying to sell something, but it is so anti-inflammatory and it sounds like this is something that would benefit you. There is a workout, actually it is from Florida, called T-tapp. You should check out some stuff from their website or even call them. They are very helpful. The workout is very different, but very beneficial.

  24. Dear Holly – finally!! I’m so glad you cut down on your workload. Although I don’t know you personally and follow your website rather loosely, I somehow feel connected to you. When you asked for ideas how you could deal with all your work some months ago I was shocked about the shere number of tasks you wanted to accomplish. I’ve worked 90-hour-weeks some years ago and I know it just eats up body and soul. I hope you get healthy soon and start enjoying life besides work, too.

  25. Glad it’s not cancer. I heard cancer strikes at random. Does “not cancer” also strike at random? My guess is that if you do not go to a doctor, you won’t get “not cancer.” Twice, I found lumps. The first time, it was a rib. The second time, “normal tissue.” I got laughed at. So they berate me now for not checking?

    Honestly, I wish the insomnia I had wasn’t so bad. It makes daytime exhaustion so debilitating the past four years that I can’t get a darned thing done. I wish “cutting my work hours” meant something to me. I envy anyone capable of overworking. I would do anything to “overwork” again, or work at all.

    • I found a trick to my own insomnia—I don’t know if you’ve already found and tried it, but here it is.
      When you’re in bed and the lights are out, inhale while counting “one” in your mind. Exhale while counting “two.” Slow and deepen your breathing, and do not allow yourself to think of anything but the words “one” on inhalation, and “two” on exhalation.

      That’s it. On the nights when my mind is restless, I do that until I fall asleep. The only thing it won’t fix for me is hot flashes.

      • Have you tried a Chillow (found in As Seen on TV area of Bed Bath and Beyond or on Amazon)? I found it amazingly helpful for nighttime flashes.

        • We don’t actually have TV. We have a television set, and we have a CD/DVD player.

          So I had no idea such a thing existed in order to go looking for it.

          I’ll check it out on Amazon. Thank you. 😀

          • I didn’t see it on TV either, but I found it on Amazon and went searching locally when I also found a link on BBB. Looked all over the store and couldn’t find it until I happened upon a section of the store for “As Seen on TV” items.

            Walgreens has that section, too, so you can save the outrageous postage and handling of those magnificent offers you’re missing by only watching CD/DVDs.

  26. I’m glad you are going to dial back. Health comes first, always.

    My mom is having a hard time fighting off a virus, because she was in high stress mode for months, essentially taking care of two households (one of which consisted of her baby brother who died of cancer May 31, the other his wife who has disabilities and needed a lot of help, too.) She will get better – but it has already been a couple weeks.

    Precancerous stuff is not to be taken lightly.

    And thank you for sharing your story with others, including this nearly 54 yr old woman. Heal and feel well.

  27. I speak from personal experience when I say that stress does terrible things to your body. Coming from a toxic job, with a boss who would alternately sabotage or steal your work and 80-hour work weeks that were the norm and not the exception (and made you wish you were hourly so you’d be paid for them), I now find myself on private disability insurance. They’re much more strict and less prone to fraud than government disability, so if they approve you, you know there’s something wrong.

    We all saw your to-do list a few months ago, Holly, and it was insane! Absolutely step back to the things you enjoy doing and figure out a way to get someone else to do the rest for you. I’ll be sending healthy thoughts your way, especially during the second surgery. Oral surgery is no fun at all.

  28. Having just taken time out from MY overwhelmed day, week, month, year to read this post and the two before it, you’ve definitely got my attention. I can’t promise I won’t fall back into a lifetime of workaholic obsession, but I’ll work on it.

    Thank you for sharing, and blessings on your recovery and your plan.

  29. Honestly, even if there were no threat of cancer, there are a whole lot of other health risks associated to that kind of stress. I’m very glad you’re balancing your life. Don’t forget to enjoy those other aspects that might otherwise have gone unnoticed…

  30. WOW! Your great grandmother watched soap operas AND retained the will to live for that long? Fascinating! ;p

    Holly, I’m very happy that it isn’t cancer, and it’s great that you had it checked early on. I’m also glad that you’re cutting down your extreme work hours. The last few weeks were highly demanding of you and you deserve to rest. We want you healthy and happy (and occasionally ranty) creating your cool stuff.

    Lets face it, bodies have limitations that the creative urge, which is a pretty limitless thing, fails to recognize sometimes.

    I wish you at least 50 more years of health and personal fulfillment. 🙂

  31. Good plan. Actually, great plan!

    Not dying of overwork and/or cancer is a very, very good plan. 🙂

    Take care of yourself, and have some fun! 😉

  32. I’m one for locating breadcrumbs that have fallen in places that we don’t normally look and lead to whatever is going on now. As in… Holly started the work of shifting more stuff away from her before she found out her life depended on it. It’s what I call “listening to the Herald” or something like that. When we follow our hearts we often end up doing things that need to be done BEFORE we need them. It’s not a “have to” yet, but a “you know… it’s time for me to really…”

    It’s the necessary Right Brain component of Getting Things Done.
    Happy to have answered the call 🙂
    Well Done, Holly <3

    m

  33. Hi Holly,

    I’m so glad that everything will be all right. Please, for your child’s sake, follow your schedule. Also, when not working do fun stuff!!! It’s time you’ll both remember and appreciate.

  34. As a cancer survivor, I completely concur with your hypothesis and your plan. I have a friend who is a healer. She says cancer happens when we say, “Yes, I can, sir!” too many times.
    Be well, be happy.

  35. I feel for you, Holly. I’ve been wondering for some time what all the overwork to which you subject yourself was going to do to you. I’ve never been able to work the sort of hours you do. If I had we’d be living in squalor and we’d have starved to death long ago (nothing to do with poverty; just a case of take the cook out of the kitchen and no meals get prepared). I remember one stage when I was working on a particularly difficult scene (emotionally difficult) and I saw visitors pass my window. Oh, well, Roger is home, I told myself, so I can keep working. Not so. He threatened to physically drag me out if I didn’t come willingly.

  36. Wow, that’s pretty compelling as a hypothesis. 🙁

    This article has completely reframed this issue for me. I have to thank you for that. I can’t help but wonder how many people have overwork-related illnesses (whether physical or mental) and never figure out the cause because it just doesn’t occur to them to analyze the situation in any depth.

    I always track the amount of time I work, and I “only” manage to average about 35-45 hours of work per week (including both day job and writing activities). In my case, I have a tendency toward depression/anxiety that flares up any time my total starts creeping up over 45 hours in a week (something I only noticed because I independently came up with the idea to track my life and my symptoms and look for correlations… but that’s another story).

    Lately, I’ve been kind of feeling like a pansy because I keep seeing people talking about how many hours they work, and they blow me right out of the water. I thought maybe my brain is just defective or weak somehow.

    Maybe what my conscious perceives as depression/anxiety is just my little subconscious (or Muse, or whatever) speaking up to say, “Stop it, dummy, you’re making us sick!” 😛

    You must be one amazingly tough lady to have kept that schedule for that long. 🙂 I’m glad you’ve decided to take care of yourself.

  37. Thank you for sharing your story, Holly. I get your writing newsletter – I’ve read each post regarding your challenge. You have prodded me to make my own appointment with my new dentist. The old dentist brushed the lump in my cheek off as scar tissue, nothing to be alarmed about. It has since undergone changes in appearance. Crossing my fingers that my results will be as favorable as yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • Hugs. And you’ll be in my thoughts, Theresa. If you don’t mind, I would be very grateful to hear what you find out.

  38. Wishing you the very best. Glad it isn’t cancer, and I think your new hours are much more sensible. As I tell my husband, the work will always be there tomorrow. Hugs and looking for the best from you in the next 103 years! LOL.

  39. Not cancer. More rest. Sounds like a plan!

    Have you had a FULL thyroid workup? (NOT just the mostly-worthless TSH test. Don’t forget RT3.) Migraines and borderline hypothyroid go hand in hand, even if there are NO other symptoms. And it can cause misfires in protein building, too (what is a growth, eh?)

    I have Hashimoto’s. I’ve had to become a pocket expert in sheer self-defense, because 99% of thyroid research has not filtered down to general practice. (Many a long hour spent in the company of BMJ and JCEM… well, finally my college major [biochemistry] comes of some use.) And for 25 years I heard over and over, “You’re not overweight, so it can’t be your thyroid.” *BEEP* Wrong…

    Anyway, you take care of yourself first and foremost. We’ll wait.

  40. Nothing is important enough to put your life in jeopardy. Hoping for you that this concerning time becomes a wonderful shift for the better. All best to you and yours.

  41. First of all, I am so glad it’s not cancer!

    Secondly, I’m not at all surprised by the link between cancer and stress and the fact that you think stress is a strong contributing factor to the white spot. I can’t be the only one who has noticed over the years how your bursts of intense work–doing website design and maintenance, fiction deadlines, course material, etc. all at the same time–are usually interrupted by a bout of migraines.

    I applaud your new schedule and can only hope that you stay with it. You have already given us so much. Give the gift of health to yourself.

  42. Go Holly! I think you have an incredibly level headed attitude about this and are correct, it’s time to lower the stress of self imposed deadlines. 103 is a wonderful age! Lets see, if I stick around to watch … hmm, maybe I need some new goals as well … LOL

    Best wishes and good vibes headed in your direction to keep things going well.

  43. Taking care of yourself is so very important. I am glad that you have taken steps to ensure your continued health and well being. You should know by now that many of us out here care deeply for you, the fact that we’ve only “met” online notwithstanding. Set your timer. Beat your Grandmother’s record. We’re cheering you on! (waves pom-poms!)

  44. Thank you for sharing all of this. It is definitely a wake-up call for everyone. I will keep sending good thoughts your way, and will definitely take your advice to heart and adjust some things in my life as well. Hugs!

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