THE SACRED PATH THROUGH THE SCARY CANCER WOODS © Copyright 2020 Naomi Mitchum
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The wolf in the woods is out to get you. His name is cancer, but there is a sacred way to run from him.
Go with the God of WITH. THE ONE WHO IS ALWAYS WITH YOU. He has invited you to his very own party, and it is already under way.
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THE ONLY MANDATORY READING IS CHAPTER TWO THAT SETS THE SCENE FOR THE REST OF THE BOOK. A STAR INDICATES CHAPTERS STILL UNDER EDIT BUT POSTED AND READABLE.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Meet the Wolf in the Woods and Find Out What He Can’t Steal and What He Tries to Steal
Chapter 2:The Sacred Walk: What Is It, and Who’s the Companion
Chapter 3: Nurturing the Inner Life to Stay on the Path *
Chapter 4: Creativity as Part of the Healing Walk
Chapter 5: Fear with Feathers: Being Chicken in the Scary Cancer Woods
Chapter 6: Family and Friends Walk, Talk and Act Cancer *
Chapter 7: Fellow Walkers on the Cancer Path *
Chapter 8: Ditches, Potholes, Cliffs and Trails Without Maps and Sudden Drop Offs *
Chapter 9: Meditation: Words of the Day While Walking the Cancer PathIndex
Bible Index Footnotes and Notes
People tell me their stories. I hold these stories sacred as they were shared in private. Yet the stories meant different things to different people, and as I put them together, common needs were addressed. In the stories, the need and the sacred met, and I felt that with Gods help a book about the sacred path of cancer should be born. But the half-finished book was put away while life happened and I started other projects. It seemed there wasn’t time to write.
Then one day I had colon cancer and the surgeon’s report came back, “Stage 3, High Risk.” Could it be true? A second opinion from the MD Anderson complex in Houston confirmed the diagnosis and treatment. Bob and I talked it over with the same thought in mind: “We are about to find out if what you are saying in that book is true.” So we have been living the book without thinking much about it until five years later we waited for the reassuring words, “Home free,” meaning we see no new cancers even though one of 43 lymph nodes showed cancer. We don’t pretend that God waved a magic wand or that all outcomes are this good, but we can say that we felt God’s presence in the cancer struggle. Maybe we should more fully explore the sacred path and its relationship to cancer. Other writers and doctors have written on this subject. You will find some of them quoted in this book, and I have explored others who helped me “do no harm”, as doctors affirm.
Maybe I should finish the book with what turned out to be my personal exploration of the spiritual side of walking the cancer path. However, along the way, my vision and memory deteriorated, and my hands tremble over the wrong computer keys. I hope the essence of the spirit of the sacred path remains.
My goal is to help you do more than just ‘get through’ cancer by introducing you to sacred, creative and factual supported ways of thinking about cancer. You will be shown how to walk a protected path through the scary cancer woods in the company of a GOD who never leaves you, and you willl have a chance to get acquainted with the companion on the path.
I cling to your comfort like clutching a life raft. I thank you for finding within me the wisdom to hope for positive outcomes and the courage and determination to help me make them come true. Help me take a deep breath and exhale as I discover inner strength only you know I possess.
Meet the Wolf in the Woods and Find Out What He Steals and What He Can’t Steal
Believe it: “God with us” is sprinkled throughout this book like rain on a thirsty garden.
Take heart! When you get the cancer diagnosis, there is a sacred path that can keep you from drowning in panic and make you aware that the God of WITH is present. The Sacred Path will help you do more than just “get through” the cancer experience. There’s the amazing possibility of a sacred path with a companion walker.
Believe it: “God with us” is sprinkled throughout this book like rain on a thirsty garden.
You may have gone for a stroll through the sunny green forest of life, just enjoying yourself when the cancer wolf jumped out of the bushes with a howl that scared you nearly to death. With the diagnosis said out loud, suddenly the green forest became a dark, scary place. You caught your breath, afraid to exhale. You hold your breath because the diagnosis has a rippling effect on your life and the lives of those around you as you see the ripple grow wider and wider and continue over horizons where the motion can’t be seen. Where does it go? How will it affect the future you cannot see? Gradually, like water spilled on a carpet, the news begins to seep into reality. In the new cancer re-ality, life, the way you see yourself, and, often the way you see God may spin out of balance, and the future becomes an oblong blur as you look for comfort and hope.
Oh, no! I don’t believe it.
The cancer diagnosis, said out loud may make the blood drain from your head into your feet so fast that they grow heavy and literally cannot walk. Or it might make you grab your cell phone to share the news with a loved one, thus splitting the weight up so someone can help you carry it. The diagnosis might make you run and hide in a closet seek- ing silence and the time to invent your next step or dream up an explanation for your family. You might even laugh and say, “There must be some mistake.” The truth is that you may have known all along, just for once in your life hope- ing you weren’t right. Each is a legitimate reaction, and you are entitled to react any way you want, but you can’t just sit there on a rock thinking, you have to take a first step on the cancer path, and it might as well be towards a spiritual path. This is where Googlitis becomes a second disease, when you rush to the computer during every waking hour for more and more information. It’s a healthy reaction, and experts in body image tell us that this first step of information gathering is important even when it is confusing. The discovery that we can know something, even do something, right or wrong, can help us make plans. Information can help us make better treatment decisions, but beware of Acute Information Symptom- itus that may make your brain feel like it is in the kitchen blender. Sit back and simplify, skinny down the information. There is power in this in-formed information.
You need to know a simple definition of cancer and what the critter is doing to your life. You have to take another step on the cancer path.
Defining the snarly “Up-In-Your-Face, I Won’t Leave You Alone” Cancer Wolf
“Cancer occurs when changes in a cell’s genome, or DNA instruction manual, trigger uncontrolled growth… different cancers have different patterns of genomic changes – and patterns differ even among those with the same type of cancer.”¹ In simpler terms, we know for a fact that “Cancer is a condition in which an abnormal body cell mu- tates and multiplies uncontrollably.”² Aside from an abnormal body cell run amuck, who is this cancer wolf, and what does he want to do to us on a personal level? Does cancer own me or do I own it? Does the wolf give us anything? Does he take anything? What does he steal from us? The answers to these questions can help us maintain some control over our lives.
Cancer. What is, is.
What will you do about what is?
You have no choice. Cancer is. The diagnosis has been made. You can own it, but you also have the choice to say you will stay the same person you were coming into this event. There will be a new normal, but the choice to find a sacred path and remain yourself is entirely up to you. Change will happen. It is a powerful decision, and it helps you maintain control over your life and/or death. Later in this chapter, you will explore three life forces where you can maintain important control:
Maintaining awareness of their importance helps them become part of the sacred path. But there are other areas where the cancer burglar just steals and steals, and sometimes we don’t even notice.
Cancer isn’t like a human burglar who breaks into your home to steal your jewelry or the new television. In it, you call the police to report a robbery. Suddenly you feel betrayed and angry because your personal space has been violated, and you’re afraid the thief will return. You make a careful inventory of what is missing to help the police search for your stolen property.
The Cancer Police
In cancer, there are no police, and cancer steals a piece here and a piece there so gradually you may not realize what is missing. You will have a greater sense of control over your life if you understand what cancer can make you lose and what can be guarded, retained or recovered.
Peace of mind
In the beginning, with the announcement of your diagnosis, cancer steals the balance out of your life by stealing your peace of mind. Disquiet sets in, and you are always waiting for the mysterious next step.
The cancer wolf steals the money you had saved for your child’s education or a new car or house. The money hole gets deeper and deeper as you try to understand explanations from your insurance company. Add in lost wages, parking fees, consultations, etc., etc.. etc.
Cancer also steals independence. Help is needed whether it’s the need of a walking aid or being too unwell to drive or stay alone or go to work. Independence may seem to be lost when a loved one seems to hover, ready to help at any moment even if help isn’t needed. We see the independence line get blurred as we investigate what we can or cannot do. The fight for independence may also be accompanied by the guilt of even declaring independence. But independence is something to fight for even when you don’t feel like it, and the struggle to maintain it may actually be good for you.
The cancer wolf tries to steal your identity as he calls attention away from the “you” to the “him” until you feel that you have become cancer. Self image and body image may change, and you may feel that beauty, muscles, sexual prowess and life enthusiasm for family are waning. The time stolen from normal life by tests and treatments can make it seem that the cancer label is correct, that you do, in fact, often feel like you are cancer.
But you are not!
Remember the cartoon character Popeye the sailor, champion of Olive Oyl and foe of her boyfriend, Bluto? While popping open a can of spinach that he inhaled through his mouth, Popeye said, “I yam who I am. I yam who I yam.” A search on the Internet for Popeye and Olive Oyl will lead you to U- tube replays of the 1933 cartoon series where Popeye exclaims, “I yam who I yam,” or to the movie with Robin Williams singing the same mantra. Laughing at the “I yam who I yam” songs can help you laugh and say, “I yam who I yam” and mean it.
Cancer patient Paul G. repeated a Popeye-type reminder (a mantra) using his sense of humor, “ I yam who it says I yam on my driver’s license.”
Edna said, “I promise that when I look in the mirror each morning, I will be Edna, and, Edna, you are a child of God.”
Your identity is your name and who you really are, and you ARE the child of a loving God.
The cancer wolf tries to steal joy from your being. Without joy life is like a soggy sandwich, wet and chilly with the wrapping paper all stuck. Joy and humor are stirred by the same stick, but they are different, each pleasurable to the body and spirit. Think of joy as happiness or delight even bliss triggered by events or mental images.
Joy may come from seeing a beautiful flower or sunset or watching a baby play with her toes or from looking at a symbol in a stained glass window. Sitting on the steps outside your house with your face tilted to the sun might give you a sense of satisfaction with the beautiful world so large that joy breaks inside your heart. Sports fans scream, dance and shout for joy when their team wins. If your team won, and you aren’t feeling joy, if the touch of someone you love doesn’t deliver bliss, or if sunshine only makes you feel hot, do not despair. Joy has only gone into hiding. No one is happy all the time, so know that joy waxes and wanes with circumstances, and that it is necessary to work at keeping good humor and to look for pleasures. Name them when possible, and remain open to notice something of joy that you can celebrate.
Humor is a necessity-balance ingredient in life to be guarded, so if you suddenly realize that cancer has robbed you of your sense of humor, make a conscious effort to place a light touch blanket to events when possible. More than just joke telling, humor calls upon you to seriously look for the absurd things happening to you and try to reframe them into something funny.
Cancer patient Dr. Judith Bronner-Huszar writing in THE VIBRANT LIFE1gives steps for maintaining a quality of life during cancer. She stresses the importance of therapeutic laughter, saying, “A good giggle makes patients feel better, not only emotionally but also physically. It temporarily makes their pains, even severe cancer pains, disappear. From a purely physiological standpoint, laughter creates increased relaxation and oxygenation. Endorphins are the body’s homegrown “narcotics”. The body’s immune system is stimulated as well. Laughter brings about well being by combating destructive stress, depression, rage, and insomnia. It provides an overall liberating effect. Distraction from oneself, from one’s physical and other concerns, plays a beneficial role, too.”
In your most pessimistic moments, the cancer wolf can also steal your dreams of how you would spend your life. In optimistic moments, we clutch our dreams tightly until our fingers turn white. You can still hang on to your reputation of stubbornness, but loosen your tight fingers and reframe old dreams and ambitions. Dashed dreams can become a stepping-stone to new goals as you seek to reinvent yourself and make new plans. The God power is with you to suffer and grieve lost dreams, and also with you to help create new ones.
Radical patience is necessary because new dreams take time, and they must be built within new situations that constantly change. Old and new dreams become intertwined like ivy growing on a wood fence with growth spurts and drought periods. Remember the persistence of ivy and the little tenacious tentacles growing into the fence? Ivy is hard to pull off the fence, and amazingly hard to steal. If we pay attention, we can grow tenacious tentacles of old and new dreams that hang on and on and on.
Wilton, athletic and intellectual, spent the first twenty years of his professional life traveling to third world countries where he taught mathematics to young inquiring students. When the subject of marriage came up, his lifestyle reminded him he had no time for a family, and that his students would always be his world family. His retirement vision included a farm he bought in Africa situated on a beautiful hillside near a village where he could teach. At the age of 48, the wolf stole his dream when lung cancer grounded him from flying to Africa and his savings went for hospital bills. Situational grief overtook Wilton as his life became a balancing act between accepting the truth of his situation and daring to hope that his health would improve enough to realize his dream. As he remembered the large family of children he had taught in Africa, Wilton thanked God for the teaching and friendship opportunities. During his recovery time he asked himself how he could dream a new and more practical dream for his future, a worthy task undertaken with grief rather than joy. He realized that the wolf can also steal joy. As time passed, his willingness to dream for the future, however, brought unexpected pleasure that worked into satisfaction. During periods of wellness, Wilton studied for his state’s teaching certificate exam, passed it, and was immediately employed to teach math in a nearby school for at-risk students. Thankful that things are going so well, he has retained his farm in Africa with hopes of returning there.
Wilton is an example of ivy hanging on to the wooden fence with green tenacity even during drought. Although cancer temporarily stole his health, dreams, joy and money, Wilton was able to see himself as a person rather than cancer, he altered his dreams, and, most importantly, he kept to hope at each step of the way and stubbornly held hope for his future in Africa.
Rebuilding Dreams Is Biblical
Early Judeans, very comfortably worshipping God in their beautiful temple, were suddenly captured and carried into captivity by the Babylonians. (586 B. C.E.) Their dreams turned to rubble – family lives turned upside down, their dreams of contentment with their God, their worship of him in the temple that is now in rubble, and their dreams of the future out of gone. How had God let this happen? Exposed to a strange, new culture, their dreams seemed to vanish until they made a startling discovery – God had gone with them into captivity. They reframed their lives, and with a new spirit they worshipped and adapted to a new culture where they enjoyed a future. They rediscovered God.
The cancer wolf also tries to steal your positive attitude, snipping a bit here and a bit there until your wholesome, I-have-a- healthy-outlook-on-life shifts positions. When attitudes shift, we may become snippy-snappy, selfish and cynical. At a time when all your energy must go into a health struggle, self absorption may make people around you feel nonessential including the health care workers who are trying to help. Do an awareness one-day test when you are mindful of every negative word you say and act you do. Ask yourself how cancer has changed your attitude, then try to discover how a positive attitude would have changed the day. No one is attitude-perfect, so when you slip, just say the magic words, “I’ll work on it.” Then do it.
Every day and every night, cancer steals your time. It’s the time you had planned to use to fish or hunt, play tennis or golf, bake Christmas cookies or barbecue some pork for a family get-together. This is one theft that cannot be avoided; illness and regaining health take time, so set your watch on slow, and accept some offers of help that will save you time. Remind yourself to procrastinate. In fact, this would be a good time to develop procrastination to an art form.
The cancer wolf may steal and challenge the comfort blanket of your theology. Persons already on a sacred path with God will have benefitted from their faith, but for many there can be a falling out with God. When there is no cure after authentic believing and prayer, a tragedy may occur if God is discarded. Or faith may be put on vacation or dragged into the bushes for re-thinking.
Romero A. trusted God to take care of him, and it had happened throughout his life. No serious problems had occurred. Until now. Romero cried out to God when his cancer was diagnosed, “How could you let this happen to me? I trusted you!” In his so-called alienation from God, he went to the Bible for answers where he discovered a new viewpoint of God. No answer came to his despairing question, “How could you let this happen to me?” but when he shifted his focus to how much God loved him. Not magic, not instant, he had the sensation that he was carried through treatments by the love of God. Sometimes he felt a physical presence of Jesus walking beside him.
Pain, mind fog and fatigue might make it difficult to sort religious beliefs at this time, so it is important to remember that St. Augustine said you are, and God is, and where the two meet is holy ground. The act of accepting that there is a connection, and that God walks with you during a difficult time is heartening. Cancer can only steal the comfort of God if you are unaware of what is happening. Now may be the exact moment when you concentrate on how much God loves you, and Chapter 2 gives a description of the sacred path. Read chapter 3 to find out how your picture of God relates to everyday life and see Chapter 9: Thoughts While Walking that has daily meditations to help you focus on God in daily life.
Summing up the burglary
It’s time to play cowboy. In the old west, cowboys in off-season rode horses or walked fences to find holes where cattle could escape. Today ranch hands ride jeeps and fly helicopters tending the fences, but cancer patients can sit in a chair while mindfully checking losses. It might be sitting alone or with a prayer warrior, maybe even a ritual time or place when you try to become aware of what is being stolen, and, better yet, try to discover a positive reaction to the theft. Ask yourself, “What is the wolf stealing without my noticing, and how can I fend him off or make the thefts temporary?” Now relax with awareness.
TELL ME SOME GOOD NEWS:
THE BIG THREE
.Awareness may have become your watchword, so you can probably add to the list of things and events that have been stolen from your life. There are, however, at least three things that can’t be stolen or can be recovered by you when you serve as your own cancer police.
- At the top of the list put hope.
- Add to the list a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.
- Add a sense of stubborn determination,
- It’s a spiritual struggle where you can choose to put a safety lock on these things and clutch them tightly. Finally, your stubbornness can pay off!
Guard Hope Like A Watchdog
Kick the cancer wolf back into the bushes out of sight to make place for hope, a treasured ingredient for life. It’s a must keep, must be retrieved, must be polished. Without it, life loses color. While the cancer wolf can’t steal hope, it can scare it into the bushes, so we have to pay attention, and make the big, important choice of hope. Understanding the definition and process of it may help you get a better picture of how to choose to hold on to it.
WHAT IS HOPE?
What is hope, what can it do for you, and how do you get it? Experts differ in their definitions of hope, but most agree that it is more than optimism that says, “Every thing is going to be all right.” It can be more than a positive attitude that tries to look at a situation and choose a cheerful right-of-way on the path to overcoming the situation. That’s okay, too, but it is more than a cheerful attitude, and, much as we would like it to be, hope is not like a prayerful magic wand.
Hope: state of mind, cognitive
Hope: feeling, intuitive
Hope has two components: the cognitive and the emotional, each playing important roles. Hope is a state of mind(the cognitive component) that one chooses when one recognizes that there is information to be gathered, there are obstacles to overcome, there are options even if they are limited, there are choices and you have the power to choose. The cognitive process is reasonable, logical and very powerful because it is linked to the struggle for control over life events.
Hope is also a feeling, (the emotional or intuitive component) that elevates and projects your mind toward a positive outcome from an event, and the feeling moves you beyond the feelings you now hold. Boldness and daring are required for the act of projecting your mind toward an unlikely outcome, especially in the face of facts stacked up against you. The spiritual component, so often found in hope, propels a person toward prayer and a picture of the scene or thing hoped for, one carefully and persistently longed for. Although you may acknowledge that your belief is unrealistic, you can hang on to your hope like glue bonding you to the impossible, and even if emotional stubbornness doesn’t always get what you want, the hope trip has its own rewards. The trip lives out expectations and goals, and, when taken with the company of a loving God, the trip enables a different focus on life. God is always there, and God is an active God alive in the joys and sorrows that accompany any life. Within cancer, the joys and sorrows feel like fast-forward under a focused microscope. Unfortunately, there is no way to explain how the absolutely impossible and hoped and prayed for thing can happen or even how it sometimes does not happen.
While a discussion of the two hope components helps you understand the process, some research mentions how the two work together. Professor Richard Davidson, an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s experts on the biology of positive emotions, has devoted his career to studying the biology of joy, resilience, and motivation. ”The aim of his work is to understand how the brain generates enabling emotions and how we tackle life’s challenges.”2 His findings show that “The two components (of hope), cognition and feeling, are not separate in the brain but interweave and modify each other,”3 and he says that emotions can have a powerful and deliberate influence on the circuits that are used to take in and process data and make decisions.
WHAT CAN HOPE DO FOR YOU?
Hope seems to be a gift exchange. When you invest your emotion and cognition in the mental and physical act, in exchange you get your health bolstered in several ways.
Dr. Jerome Groopman, oncologist, researcher on blood disease and author of Anatomy of Hope conducted research on the effect of hope to cancer patients. He says “belief and expectation – the key elements of hope – can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins and encephalin, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation, and motor function.”4 He says, “True hope has no room for delusion…hope gives us the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. For all my patients, hope, true hope, has proved as important as any medication I might prescribe or any procedure I might perform.”5
While not catching like measles or mumps, being with someone who models positive hope, someone who has prevailed against odds not necessarily cancer, helps reinforce expectations of positive outcome.
This is true for policeman Emilio who was put on desk duty because of bone cancer in his leg. He hated being chained to a desk, hated using crutches, detested the outlook of possibly losing his leg. He mired deeper into self-pity until he met Liz at a bar where she was throwing a game of darts with her one arm. She was happy even when she lost, and wandered to Emilio’s dark booth. First she turned on the tiny lamp on her side of the booth, stuck out her hand and introduced herself. Emilio said, “How can you be happy when you lost, and besides you only have one arm?”
“You noticed?” she said. “I’m not happy over losing, and I’ll get better.”
“How do you know?” Emilio asked.
“I hope. I have a bucket list, and I hope.”
Emilio looked her in the eyes for the first time, and said, “Tell me about losing the arm.”
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “But first I have to tell you to turn on your lamp and hope.”
We have to dare to hope, and we have to define what we hope for and protect that hope. Because hope is more than optimism, it requires the work of goal setting and prioritizing. With cancer and its unforeseen detours, these processes often take a zig-zag course, but even in that undulation there is value in goal setting and defining what you hope for. Since we almost always jump to dire conclusions at the diagnosis, almost everyone’s first thought is to hope that they live. Other persons may hope to get better, concentrating all energy and emotions on the goal of bettering their health. Others may hope and set their goals to retain good family relationships during the event. Others may hope that God will guide them in wise ways to explain their illness to their children. Persons with relationships gone bad may hope for reconciliation. Still others may hope that they will die comfortably. In the example above, Liz hoped to save her arm but didn’t, and she hoped to recover to a full life. In each category it is good to remember the two components of hope, emotion and cognition, or as Dr. Groopman says the other components are belief and expectation.
HOW DO YOU GET HOPE?
How do you get hope? The answer seems too simple. People hope naturally. Choose to hope. The act of choosing to hope signals control of something, or just anything at a time when disease makes you feel like you are riding the waves off Maui. Not only can a person choose to hope, but also the person gets to choose what they hope for. Some people report that they bolstered hope through the structure of ritual with a designated time, place, object, or repeated familiar scripture.
“Therapist Halina Irving, who survived the Holocaust and the death of her mother, sister, father, and son, has never given up hope. She believes that regardless of what doctors say people always find something to hope for, like feeling at peace, a better world, or death without pain. How can hope be false, when it is as much a part of the human experience as birth or death?”6
You get hope by staring in the face of what is happening, accepting it for what it is, no more, no less, and committing your situation to hope scrutiny. Along the way, talk it over with God and sit in silence to hear, understand and refine your hope. Color your hope red, brilliant and blazing, with no pink tinges, as you forge ahead.
SHOUT THANKS FROM A GRATEFUL HEART
The second great, good thing that cannot be stolen from a cancer patient is a spirit of thankfulness. When we choose to look at giving thanks for things and situations around us, life becomes a celebration with a new color, so hang on
Being thankful is not always easy in the face of difficult decisions or unwanted events. Our minds cry out against the injustice of disease and the frustration of pain, and we struggle to gain balance in daily life. But the struggle levels somewhat when we dare to look for the positive, and for the God things in action, for the moments, even fleeting, when we see something from a gratitude perspective.
Gratitude is noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary. And then taking the nanosecond to feel it. 7
Start flexing your gratitude muscles by naming somethings ordinary and tangible. Consider the resultant nanosecond of good feelings. This action may become a stepping stone to feeling good about an intangible such as you are struggling to read a Bible verse, something not in your usual habit, when suddenly one word gets your attention. It focuses and helps you understand the verse. Don’t hesitate. Accept it as a gift worthy of an, “Oh, yeah.”
Searching for those moments, whether they are ordinary or whether they are hidden, is a sacred choice, and whether said, thought or written down, the added further step of identifying what you are feeling about them becomes true thanksgiving. Declare the thankful moments, and the new lens will change the color of life.
There are up and down sides to this nanosecond thankfulness that I think relate to Einstein’s theory of relativity in the field of physics, but is a Christian theory in the field of relativity. My formula for it is simple:
What is, is.
AND God is with me.
Most things are relative, that is, they have a negative side. But a positive (thankful) side can be found.
- Your home is destroyed by fire. HOWEVER, you and your family are safe. (Give thanks!)
- A gang shoots up your car. The shotgun blast rips a hole in front of the gas tank and slams through your seat missing you by less than an inch. The car’s a mess, you have $500.00 deductible, your bank account has $399.00 and you are shaking. HOWEVER, after seeing the hole, you give thanks that you are alive.
- Plagued by nightmare-memories of war in which in real life you are the only survivor, after many years you are finally able to share the burden with another veteran. The nightmares decrease, but the memories are still there. You begin the process of healing that allows you to celebrate your life and you give thanks for possibilities for the future.
These big as life examples of switching from a negative life influence to a positive one may be easier to spot than those little everyday but just as important examples. Things like the cup of coffee handed you at just the right moment, your dog recovers from a limp of unknown origin, the reference book you need for an important class is available, while you are praying, a feeling of special comfort washes over you, the mechanic has an unexpected opening to fix the brakes on your car – as you can see there is no limit on how you can turn a bummer into a thankfulness event. So write them down or clap or sing. Just deliberately choose to say thanks.
The Bible gives us nuggets of thankfulness wisdom we can apply as a lens for looking at everyday life, in good times as well as bad times. We just have to learn to use the lens.
From Old Testament Psalms: One important theme of the Psalms is the giving of thanks. Psalm 105 may have been a call to grateful praise. Probably accompanied by the lyre or harp, you can imagine the joyous sound, and you can insert the name of something for which you are thankful as you sing or listen to music. Thanksgiving is jubilant whether you are writing a list or whispering thanks to God for a moment in your life.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
Make known among the nations what he has done
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
Tell of all his wonderful acts. Psalm 105: 1-2 NIV (Zondervan) 1986
From the New Testament: Paul writes this in a letter to the church he had started in Thessolonica to teach them about Christianity:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this (thanksgiving) is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ. Thessalonians 5:16 NIV
The Psalmists and writers of the New Testament were not only theologically correct, they were on to something medical and psychological. Scientists have begun studying the effects of gratitude on psychological as well as physical well-being. They have found that grateful persons live with more optimism, life satisfaction, vitality and self-assurance. Why is this?
Researchers say that when we are truly thankful for something and appreciate it, the parasympathetic – calming branch of the autonomic – nervous system is triggered. “This pattern when repeated bestows a protective effect on the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activate feelings of appreciation.”8 It is speculated that the heart rate changes that come from positive emotions can relieve hypertension and reduce the risk of sudden death from coronary artery disease. Wow! Thankfulness gives us something spectacular to be thankful for!
Persons who kept on-going gratitude lists reported higher levels of energy, enthusiasm, determination, less depression, better sleep quality and a higher comfort level when connected to other people. 9
It seems that being thankful smothes our psyches like touching fine silk, however this cannot be the whole reason we establish gratitude as a way of life. It is more than someone handing you a cup of coffee; it goes to the spiritual side of our beings. The awareness that God is alive in the world and saying thank you for that loving God is a spiritual exercise that benefits everyone. It’s a realization that in the midst of events not of our own choosing, we can find beauty and love in action in the world, and they become reflected in us. An example of this process is Al.
Finding something to be thankful for wasn’t easy for Al.
The long drive to the next town for cancer treatment gave Al opportunity for venting his anger at the situation. Swearing relieved the tension, so, alone in the car, he shouted swear words to an art form. After the third hour-long trip, he had exhausted his list of vulgar language and realized that the consequence of his profanity created more fatigue. By November and thanksgiving holiday, Al was too tired to swear, and at the suggestion of his pastor tried to find something for which he could say he was thankful. At first, looking at the dismal winter landscape, it was a failure. Determined, he said, “I am thankful, God, for a car that works and a heater to keep me warm.” There was no instant satisfaction, so with great determination and his eyes on the road, he muttered, “Thank you, God, for lights on at the hospital and for the nurses who helped me.” For a moment he relaxed, picturing Julie in her white uniform and blue hospital badge. He pictured Jess at home doing his homework. “I am thankful for a son to go home to,” he said. He made a mental note to speak gratitude to his son. “This is work,” he said to the steering wheel, “But I may get the hang of it.”
You can get the hang of it with help. Pray each morning for gratitude-insight, and expect that throughout the day you will not only notice each small gift given you in nature, from people, and from God, but that you will literally think, speak or act out the feeling.
KEEP STUBBORN DETERMINATION
The third great, good thing that cannot be stolen from any cancer patient is stubborn determination. If you feel it slipping away, tie a knot in the rope and hang on. At last, what might have been considered a character flaw years ago can be turned into a bonus. Did you inherit stubborn determination from Grandma Scott or your father? Some people say stubborn determination is genetic, and if you are a child, your mother will say it is from your father’s side of the family, and your father will say it is from your mother’s side. They are indicating to you, as a misbehaving child, that stubborn determination is NOT a good trait. However, if you are learning to ride a bike, play football, start a business, try out for a Broadway play, or fight cancer, stubborn determination is a gold mine. It is a character trait that pushes you to try harder, to kick back opponents of all kinds, to get up and try again and again, a trait or coping skill we can call a fighting spirit. Research by “Greer and Morris found that individuals who showed fighting spirit (determination) were more likely to be alive after five years compared with patients who displayed helplessness/hopelessness or stoic acceptance. These differences remained significant after 10 and 15 years.“8 It is not a guarantee, but a worthy trait to develop.
Symbols of stubborn determination are around us. Think of them as courage symbols:
***Picture a boxer with the bloody face who will not fall over but keeps hitting and pounding his opponent.
***And remember Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, who during World War II was long on courage and tenacity, during the darkest hours of the blitz bombing of England never gave up but inspired citizens to live with his same determination.
***Men and women of the armed forces, against all odds, landed on Normandy Beach during World War II, watching their comrades fall all around them, yet with true grit moved one foot in front of the other.
***Also recall Christopher Reeves, American actor who played superman but was later confined to a mammoth wheelchair, stubbornly raised money for spinal cord research.
***American celebrated author of science fiction and fantasy, Stephen King, severely injured by an out of control van, had to slowly relearn how to sit up and how to write as if he were a beginner. In the postscript of his book On Writing he describes the difficulty of starting over: “That first writing session lasted an hour and forty minutes, by far the longest period I’d spent sitting upright since being struck by Smith’s van. When it was over, I was dripping with sweat and almost too exhausted to sit up straight in my wheelchair. The pain in my hip was just short of apocalyptic. And the first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying-it was as if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me. I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zigzag line of wet stones. There was no inspiration that first afternoon, only a kind of stubborn determination and the hope that things would get better if I kept at it.”9
The eventual successes of Stephen King and other super heroes are legendary in war and peace, and without stubborn determination the world would be a different place. Unnoticed but just as important is the multitude of persons sweating, moaning, despairing, and persevering and with stubborn determination just hanging on or muddling through.
***Unnamed super-heroes are everywhere, and you may be one of them.
Cancer patients who have a firmness of purpose (stubborn determination and a fighting spirit) are likely to hang on despite good reasons to give up.
Anne was not ready for the late-stage breast cancer report that came as she and Julie were planning Julie’s wedding. They both wallowed in fear. But single-minded Anne had a picture in her head of Julie’s wedding in which she, the mother of the bride looking beautiful and happy, was escorted down the aisle on the arm of her handsome son. The picture became her purpose throughout treatment as she was determined to make the picture a reality, and she hoped that things would get better along the way. Much later, with great satisfaction, she was able to look at pictures taken the day of the wedding, and happily smiling, there she stood in her fancy dress surrounded by the rest of her family.
Determination is a positive attitude that often requires courage, especially if you are not by nature a stubborn person possessing tenacity. Courage calls for the stubbornness to not give in, and it calls for reaching way down deep inside when we think there is nothing left to reach. On any given day it may be there or not be there, or perhaps we are so busy using it that we haven’t named it. Sometimes it calls for conversation with ourselves when we say over and over, “You can do this. You can do this.” Some people “do this” with style making it look easy, and others do it with grumbling, moaning and groaning, but they do it.
Princess Diana spoke at a fund-raiser for the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research. The center was named for Nina Hyde, fashion editor for The Washington Post who died of breast cancer in 1990. In her speech, Princess Diana quoted lines from a poem, “Ye Weary Wayfarer,” written in 1867 by the Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. The lines were meant to inspire persons working on fund-raising, but they also speak to cancer patients about courage:
Life is mostly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.10
Courage does stand like stone, but not alone. It is the hard fact that is immovable; it is the strong personal characteristic that we guard so no one can steal it. The wolf can’t have our courage.
Both determination and courage are a quest to live, the quest to be well enough to take the long planned for trip, the quest to be well enough to sing again, the quest to just be able to cut your own grass or climb the stairs –all can be the objects of whatever energy you possess. That energy translates into determination, and it certainly helps if you are stubborn, so if your spouse or friends call you stubborn, take it as a compliment.
Hardly anyone prays, “Please God make me stubborn,” but this might be the time to do it because God, the sustainer and transformer, makes all things possible.
BELIEF COLORS WHAT CAN’T BE STOLEN
God helps us see the cancer wolf for the thief he tries to be and helps us lock up our treasures making it possible to maintain hope, become more aware of our blessings and develop a wholesome attitude of determination. We can with confidence simply trust God to be with us and help us reframe and retain parts of our lives during the cancer experience.
Nurture the ideas in this chapter by reading the following
words for the day in Chapter 10:
# 8 Midst
1 Vibrant Life, March-April, 2005, Judith Bronner-Huszar.
from internet “Health Publications”, The joy of cancer; a physician discovers firsthand how happiness helps fight a deadly disease.
2 The Anatomy of Hope, Jerome Groopman, M.D., The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY, 2004, p.192.
3 Groopman, p. 193.
4 Help Me Live, 20 things people with cancer want to know, Lori Hope, Celestial Arts, Bos 7123, Berkley, California 94707, 2005, p. 101.
5 Hope, p. 101
6 Hope, p 103-104.
7 Karen Krakower Kaplan, 7 Ways to Finding Joy Even in Gridlock Traffic, http://www.123people/com/s/Karen+krakower
8 The Psycho Immunology of Cancer, Second Edition, Edited by C. E. Lewis, R.M. O’Brien, J. Barraclough, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 242.
9 Dr. William B Steward, Health Leader, University of Texas Health
Science Center at Houston, DailyGood. org.
10 “Gratitude leads to psychological and physical well-being.” Meaning and Happiness.com
Persons in Dr. Groopman’s book The Anatomy of Hope developed and used faith as a basis of hope that varied from sustaining calm and balance to the realization that they were not alone in their struggles. For some hope was bolstered through the structure of ritual, meaning holding a reminder in the hand perhaps while repeating a word or phrase, having a sit down place where you go every day at a certain time, making a thinking with God place or time to consider focused hope or responding to hope thoughts with body motion or musical expression.
To gain power over the wolf, you have to stare him in the face and find out his intentions. It’s not a polite introduction where you shake hands, get acquainted and find out what you have in common.
Stay tuned for Naomi’s next book, The Sacred Journey Through Cancer. She will share a chapter at a time, free of charge.
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