Cancer
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Finding the Can in Cancer

Affirmation: I find the can in cancer.

In 2007 Nancy Emerson, Susan Moonan, and Terri wrote, Finding the Can in Cancer. They were a group of women who were influential in the early stages of what was then called, The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Nancy Emerson was a woman with a mission. Her mission was not to let cancer become her identity. It was a part of her life’s quilt but not the primary thread. She and her co-authors shared a vision of hope and presented a message of living life to the fullest, not sitting back and waiting to die. They already knew what Jimmy Buffet sings about when he croons, “I want to die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

Recently cancer has been even more present in my life than usual. My hubby was diagnosed with an aggressive-rare form of neck cancer (two words no one wants to hear when cancer is being described.) My dear traveling buddy also is presently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my young, sweet neighbor is being treated for stage four lung cancer. Along with them my friend, Dr. Carmen Wagner is also being treated for lung cancer.

Carmen, is a brilliant business woman who has been involved with the health industry for most of her career. She has decided to use her organizational skills to create a cancer support group here in Cary, North Carolina. She too wants to focus on living life to the fullest and gathering and sharing information that will help people be the healthiest they can possible be. Her goal is to look at the whole person. One cannot heal the body without addressing the issues of the mind and the spirit. There’s a quote from the Mayo Clinic that says, “Three fourth of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and souls to their bodies.” How is that for a wake-up call?

How many of us have the power to control our minds to overcome disease? Even the holiest of holy die. Life has a way of bringing us to our knees and maybe that’s one of the most important “tools” we can sharpen; our ability to connect to the Divine, our ability and desire to find The Holy and to fully understand that we are, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” Perhaps, our greatest tool is to grow our faith in a power greater than ourselves, greater than anything we can even imagine. A power that can create a galaxy and a flower, a human and a microcosm.

After the initial diagnosis of cancer, what I found to be the second scariest event was the day I was released from treatment. I know I am not alone. I know too in many ways I was one of the lucky ones, to be released at all. However, a few years back, Duke changed the name of the DCPSP to the Duke Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic. They finally recognized the need for cancer patients to receive care that addressed all the issues they had gone through during their treatment and perhaps with which they would continue to deal. For example, people who had undergone the type of chemotherapy I had undergone, needed an Echocardiogram every five years. I had been out of treatment (yes, luckily) for over 15 years and had never had an Echo! There’s a thread of cancer that is always with you even after you’ve been told you are “cancer free.” Ask any cancer survivor what come first to their minds when they have a headache, a backache or a shoulder pain? These concerns and fears need to addressed and alleviated. Education and support are essential to continued healing and that’s exactly what Carmen is focusing on, as is the Survivorship Clinic at Duke.

The basic health care rules apply whether or not you’re in or out of cancer. Exercise, eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep and stay connected to friends and family. These are proven ways of maintaining optimal health. The way you approach them really depends on the individual. People go crazy trying to figure out the best approach to their diet. In today’s world there are so many options and every one of them is touted as the “best” diet.” You’ve seen them. You’ve read about them. I don’t have to list them. The only way to know if they’re for you is to try one for a time and see how you feel and how your body responds. It’s not an easy path. What is good for one, really is not good for all. But is there any one thing that’s good to help cure the sickness of our minds and souls?

It’s Lent, 2020 as I write this missive. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time to focus on prayer, fasting and alms giving according to the tradition of my Catholic faith. It’s forty days to broaden our perspectives, to learn more about ourselves, to grow closer to our God and perhaps change our relationship to ourselves, the world and Our Lord. It’s really all up to us and our intentions and that, I believe is the cure. Oh, you may not heal yourself of every ailment you have and yes, you will still die. Let’s face it, no one gets out of this life alive. We do, however, get to choose how we live. We get to choose how we perceive what we are experiencing. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us, this gift of freedom of will and thought. Dr. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen writes that sometimes in our pursuit of becoming whole, we still may not be cured but be assured, we will be healed.

What choices can one make to assure they will be healed? There are many just like a diet but two of the most important one can learn are to forgive and to love. Don’t hold onto that hot coal of resentment expecting it to harm anyone other than yourself. Do whatever it takes to heal your heart of hurt, anger and bitterness. Write about it, paint about it, meditate on it, pray. Don’t give up until you are whole once more, until that wound in your heart and soul has scared over. It’s hard work but it’s so worth it and don’t expect it to happen like a one and done. It may appear over and over. You may need to make a conscious decision maybe many times before you find peace. Forgiveness and love, the two cornerstones of a healthy, full, enriched life. Truly, if your life is full of peace and love what else could you possibly want or need to live it to the fullest?

Dr. Wagner, The Duke Survivorship Clinic, and the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat that I have been leading for the last fifteen years all focus on finding the positive outlook in life. We recognize the pain and challenge and then we choose to look for the, “can in cancer.” It’s there. It may take the help of others seen and unseen to discover it, but even in the most difficult of times, one can find a way to see the blessings. They are there in the faces of our loved ones, in the calls and cards from our friends and neighbors, in the prayers than encircle our whole being; mind, body and spirit. May your cancer journey help you to see the “can”, the blessings and may they lift you up to a place of gratitude and possibility.