Today I spoke on a panel before pastoral care students at Overlook Medical Center with The Connection’s Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project. The purpose of the Teaching Project is to bring the stories and faces of women’s cancer survivors before the health care community. It is our hope that by hearing our stories and asking us questions, health care professionals will see cancer patients as whole beings with multi-faceted concerns. We are not walking medical files – we are human beings who happen to have cancer.
It is extremely emotional to retell your story. I am always surprised how easy it would be to lose it in front of everyone. The pay-off for me is making real, eye-to- eye connections with professionals who really want to do their job better. I really love to see how much they care. It is a true testament to the future of health care that they take the time during their busy schedules to listen – really listen- to our stories
The best moment today occurred when a participant asked me how I told my children, then ages 15 and 12, that I had cancer. I told her that my husband and I agreed to tell them nothing until my diagnosis and treatment were certain. For six and a half months I had doctors’ appointments and two biopsies and they never knew a thing. It was a true act of maternal protectiveness – I don’t know how I managed to hide my anxiety and worry from them.
When I finally told them, I said first and foremost that I was not going to die. I told them that I would need surgery, but would not need chemotherapy and not lose my hair. Despite my assurances that everything was going to be okay eventually, they were still freaked out and quite upset. It was then that I realized how glad I was that I had hid those first months of uncertainty from them.
When I finished my answer, the participant shared that she asked because her husband had died from prostate cancer. She had also waited to tell her children until a later time and had always wondered if she had done the right thing. She told me that hearing my story helped her know that she had made the right decision. Hearing her say that made me feel honored to be able to support her.
I joined the Teaching Project because I wanted to give back for all of the support I received during my cancer experience. But once again, I received the gift of truly making a difference for someone in a way I didn’t expect.
Survival > Existence,
Image courtesy of JULIE