"Pamela has composed one of the loveliest writing-to-heal books for people living with cancer that could be imagined."
-John Fox, CPT;
for Poetic Medicine
Marie Pechet reviewed my book Writing & Healing: A Mindful Guide for Cancer Survivors on WBUR’s CommonHealth Blog a few years ago. In the review she mentioned her blog which was helping with her own cancer. There was a link; I clicked and have been following her ever since. As I am blogging for a time for breastcancer.org it seemed a great time to showcase Marie with a piece about connections.
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Many years ago, I had a late miscarriage and during my depressed state afterwards, I joined a mind-body group designed for women who were trying to get pregnant. These groups were initially formed to help reduce the stress of patients diagnosed with cancer, but then expanded to other stressful health situations.
So I joined a group focused on fertility. The program met once a week for six weeks, and I started with about as much enthusiasm as I brush my teeth. Actually, less; it was a last-ditch effort to get out of my “funk.” Our group shared our stories and we practiced meditation, yoga, journaling and other ways to reduce our stress levels.
Once the six-week program finished, I found myself emotionally connected to the group, and many of us decided to continue meeting to support each other’s efforts to build a family.
We called ourselves the Treasurehunters and we created rules around communication. For example:
- When sending an email that might announce either a pregnancy or a failed attempt, use the subject line “I have results.” Then each person could decide when and if to read it.
- There was no pressure or expectation to respond to any email or verbal comment. Respond if you are so moved. But know that you are being heard.
- Listen with open hearts and without judgment, helping us to speak honestly and from our own hearts.
At first, we met every week in one of our homes. In between meetings, we stayed in touch by email. Though we were from all walks of life and had varied interests, our almost-constant contact deepened our ties. As time went on, our meetings became less frequent, moving to every month, then once a year, but our emotional ties remained strong.
We became a group of women who could support each other with unconditional, non-judgmental love. We had been through the wringer and in our group, we could drop any façade of bravery or perfection and could air even our ugliest, most embarrassing feelings. We knew that each of us was more than any bad experience, and that the ugly feelings were not who we were, just a by-product of working through a difficult time.
We initially connected around our desire to have children, but soon we connected over normal life changes. We found ourselves supporting each other in decisions like whether to live child-free, struggles with marriages, deciding to get a divorce.
So when I got a cancer diagnosis, I turned to them. I could share my myriad of emotions, and knew that I would feel heard and supported.
Subject: I have results
The doctor told me to call today to get the results, so I called but couldn’t reach him.
I didn’t worry about it. I have enough experience to know that, if the doctors have news for you, they will track you down.
But THEN…the doctor called me. At 8:30 p.m. on a Friday – that can’t mean good news. Maybe it was professional courtesy, since my husband is a doctor. Nope.
The polyp was, indeed, cancerous. He feels like they got it all, but it was really close to the colon wall and he recommends surgery to removed that part of my colon, just to be sure. He will coordinate with my primary care physician and we’ll see what the next steps are.
It is nice to have an answer, so at least I know where to go from here.
When I got the phone call, I had just finished watching a lecture that left me feeling pretty upbeat. I was riding on the good feelings from that, which softened the blow a bit. Instead of being stunned, I actually felt fortunate that they found this and that it is a curable disease. So, a reminder to live while we are living!
That’s it for now,
Sounds upbeat, right? But they knew me, and they knew I was still scared at some level. Not everyone answered my email messages, but I didn’t need that. I just needed a place to air my feelings and, during a time when one can feel incredibly alone, I knew that I wasn’t. One or two responses felt like support from the whole group.
Writing to these dear friends helped me through the scary initial diagnosis. A few weeks later, when I wrote about my dilemma around where to get treatment, they could decipher, through my writing, which way I was leaning, and they helped me to see what I couldn’t. During a period where I didn’t write, they showed up AT MY DOOR with food and healing objects and conducted a healing circle for me in my livingroom, and the memory of that gesture that still brings me to tears.
As much as I wanted to be strong and self-sufficient, I learned that I cannot walk this path alone. Our interconnectedness carries me like a net.
Many of the tools we learned as a group have become a way of life for us. For some, physical movement like dancing or other exercise is critical. For others like me, writing became a way to understand myself and manage stress.
As more friends learned about my diagnosis, I started to include them in my email updates (which have now become a blog). I appreciate those who read it, and those who respond, and my writing truly helps me to make sense of my life situation and to heal. And each time I begin to write, I connect to the Treasurehunters with my heart, and speak directly to these women with whom I feel blessed to walk this earth.