Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lessons From Living With Cancer

Life isn't fair. Some random difficult experiences happen to good people,and one of those is cancer.It can challenge both the person who gets diagnosed with it,and their close family and friends.Some people live through it,and have their life forever changed by it.Others are told that they are not likely to outlive the cancer, and have to decide how much and what kind of treatments to undergo.

I got introduced to cancer in the late 1980's,when I worked for an Orange County hospital.I worked with inpatient and outpatient cancer patients and their families.I also did hospice counseling in patients' homes and bedsides when they had accepted a terminal diagnosis and had days, weeks, or a few months left. I witnessed such grace and depth in my patients as I had the privilege to walk beside them and do life review,help them complete their relationships,and say goodbye. I will never forget the sacredness of those afternoons spent listening,supporting, and helping some wonderful people in finding closure and making their transition.Later,I felt grateful to help the families with bereavement counseling,having known their loved one during hospice care.

I took lots of lessons with me from those experiences with cancer patients and their families. Treasure every day. Tomorrow isn't promised to any of us. Let the people you love know how you feel about them. Don't get caught up wasting time focusing on the stupid stuff in life. Ask for support. Don't be afraid to talk with people about their illness,their fears,their life reflections,or their feelings about dying. Many times family members shy away from talking about such things,so the terminal cancer patient is more alone.Scared feelings are reduced by being shared.Cancer can actually bring people closer,although we would wish for noone to ever experience it.

Living with cancer can be scary. Many people who live through a scare with cancer reflect that the experience was a watershed moment in their life that reordered what came after.If you know that you escaped a premature death, it often changes a person for the better.Having a cancer diagnosis can cause lots of emotional repercussions as you deal with high tech treatments that make you feel weak,tired,nauseated,and otherwise sick.There can be a huge toll on ones' sense of self as you deal with hair loss,effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and treatment routines that take over your life for some period of time. Cancer can test your courage, your faith,and your strength of character.

For the past five years,my mom has been battling a rare type of terminal blood cancer most often found in black men. Go figure. She is neither.The treatment is horrible.The disease is painful.We are grateful,however,for this extra time we have had with such a wonderful lady.There are powerful lessons for all of us who are privileged to know her about grace, humor, spirituality ,and love that will stay with us always.Living with cancer?It's a profound and meaningful but uninvited experience that changes everyone it touches.It guides us to greater levels of wisdom about what is the important stuff,and what we can let go of.There is the potential for growth for people who are living with cancer,and the people who love them.

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