April 07, 2010

Epiphany Moments During Illness?

When I was in isolation for radio-active iodine treatment, I was in so much pain from being off my thyroid meds for weeks that I actually wanted to die. This state of accepting and even wanting death was incredibly peaceful and blew the lid off of every idea I had ever had of death prior to that moment.

I’ve spoken with many other patients who have had deeply pivital moments during cancer care, some relating to death and some relating to other facets of life.  Here’s one such moment from Seth, a 30-something lymphoma patient in Everything Changes, who recalled being deathly ill in the hospital and how it changed his understanding of what compassion means:

“I had a constant flow of tears. That is where I connected into what God and spirituality are. It is the brokenheartedness of feeling complete desperation. My heart was cracked open, and there was this incredible tenderness inside. Everybody has this tenderness, we just don’t know how to get there. This fragile state is the closest to being at one with God or the universe. That vulnerable and raw reference point is the greatest teacher. That is where the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and the really compassionate people of the world are coming from. They have a constant access to this deep understanding of what it is to be human and what it is to experience pain.

“To me, this is the most real place, but it’s raw and uncomfortable, so why would you want to go there? We do everything we can in our power to run from that painful, ugly place. It is not necessarily what we would think of as positive. But it is real. We rush around our lives wanting happiness, but it evades us because we are not willing to touch what is real. We think, Oh, it is money or success or things being a certain way that will bring us happiness or satisfaction. But I think it actually comes from that brokenheartedness, which is our true humanity. It is the place where we are our weakest and our strongest. From that place, you can relate to anyone. If you find the ability to hold these paradoxes, you actually have more of a capacity to live fully and to cope with the fact that life is full of paradoxes like this.”

Have you had moments as a result of illness that you describe as epiphanies or profound realizations that you have carried out into your life beyond illness? Do you share this experience with other people or keep it private?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s for more of these big moments of private, profound thinking.

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November 12, 2009

What Quotes or Scriptures Help In Tough Times?


When  I was 27 years old, I sat on a pleather exam table and had a doctor two years older than me tell me I had cancer.  Everything in my life changed.  But, this is actually not why I called my book Everything Changes.

During cancer treatment, many patients rack up hours sitting on their toilets.  I kept a big stack of reading material next to mine.  I would open to random pages in the Tao de Ching, a Chinese philosophy book written in the 6th century BC.  One day in the midst of wishing my life were different, that my body aches would subside, that I would not be single on a Saturday night sitting on the toilet with cancer – I opened to a random page in the Tao de Ching and pointed to the words ‘Everything Changes’.  And it is true.  I’m now married. I still have cancer but I rarely have body aches.  And I spend much less time in the bathroom.

The mantra ‘Everything Changes’ gets me through the hardest moments of living with cancer.  No matter what any of us are experiencing right now, a basic truth is that everything changes.  It is great to know that I won’t stay stuck anywhere forever.

I’m not naive.  I know change could lead me down hill instead of up.  But that’s just reality.  I don’t need magical thinking to get me through tough times.  I just need a bit of truth that keeps me moving forward.  Everything changes.    That’s real.  That’s something I can count on.  And in desperate times, having something to count on is my definition of hope.

I loved talking to Tracy, a breast cancer patient in Alabama who I interviewed for my book.  Before each treatment, she sat in the parking lot and read Psalm 23.  Do you have a favorite quote, phrase, scripture, or mantra that gets you through hard cancer times?

Check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more about Tracy and how she coped with treatment related fear and depression.

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October 29, 2009

What’s Your Cancer and Religion Connection?


God talk is embedded in a lot of cancer conversations: “It is all a part of God’s plan.” “The universe is trying to tell me something.”  “God doesn’t give you something you cannot handle.” (Major puke on that one.) “I’ll say a prayer for you.”  These exchanges are so common we rarely think twice about them.  Unless you are someone like me who doesn’t believe in God or the Universe.

Many people say a benefit of cancer is connecting with amazing people you might not otherwise meet.  I agree.  And part of that is meeting people with different religious faiths and beliefs, including non-belief.  In Everything Changes, I met and wrote about an Evangelical Christian, conservative Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, atheist, and a follower of Amma.  I had with each of these young adult patients open conversations about faith and illness.  I miss these conversations.  Especially because in the greater cancer community, I often feel it is just assumed that I believe in God.

Last week, a super cute 8 year old girl was petting my dog Moses in the park.  Out of the blue she asked me if I believe in God.  When I told her I didn’t, she asked what I believe in.  I replied: “I believe in people, and that if people want to we can help each other out and make great things happen in the world.” She seemed cool with that.  We talked about her Baptist church and then she skipped away to the swings.  I adored this simple, respectful, uncomplicated conversation.

In the cancer community, my not believing in god doesn’t seem as simple.  A lot of patients and families relay on faith to get through illness.   And sometimes it feels a bit uncomfortable when I acknowledge that faith does not play any role in my healthcare.  I don’t judge anyone else who wants to use faith as a part of their healing.  It just isn’t my own cup of tea.

I was raised Jewish.  Judaism is a religion that does not proselytize, and a religion that is in the minority.  I grew up noticing differences in religions yet never assuming that anyone believed in what my family believed and I never wanted or needed them to.

What role does faith play in your health? Have you met people of different faiths in the cancer community? Do you talk openly about your beliefs?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s for some cool conversations about health care and faith.

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