Fear is a topic that comes up a lot with cancer survivors. I was just talking with a friend about it yesterday. Nothing rocks your world like the strong taste of mortality of a cancer diagnosis or when a fellow survivor tragically dies. A while back a good high school friend of mine connected me with her aunt, Judy Gattis, and we traded books. I invited Judy to talk about her book, and the process that led to it:
When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma I knew it would be a crisis experience in my life. I didn’t realize what a time of learning it would be for me.
As I went through endless hours of chemo and other treatments I kept at my side a large, orange book with blank pages that became a lifeline and prayer focus for me. My journey began here. First, I just recorded how I was feeling physically. As the months passed, the book became filled with inspirational quotes, pictures of family and friends, then crazy stickers and illustrations. For two years I wrote daily in that journal. Then I began to share my thoughts and experiences with other cancer survivors. I joined a small support group at my local cancer center.
As a writer, I began to wonder how I could create a book from all this. I wanted something different from the usual “My Cancer Story” that fills the shelves of book stores . I wanted to write for a new breed of cancer survivors who expect to survive abundantly (although not necessarily to live). I proposed to my editor the idea of an interactive book for cancer survivors. The format would suggest a peer-led group somewhat like the granddaddy of all support groupsAlcohol Anonymous: where persons with similar experiences meet and listen to each other without judgment. I wanted to explain how something very special happens when people facing cancer turn to one another for help. Though realistic, it would be an upbeat book.
This book would be for those hardy persons willing to learn about themselves through this experience. Hooray! My editor bought this idea. The result was a six- session, self-contained study book on the experience of cancer for survivors. Topics include:
Facing the Impact of Cancer
Your response to Pain,
Endurance, and Patience
Dealing with Bodily
Integrating Coping and Faith
The emphasis is on learning from your cancer. Since I was trained as an educator, I used a variety of teaching methods to help us understand ourselves: art, music,
imagery, movement, prayer. Also included in the book are examples and insights from other cancer survivors.
The next step was to broaden my audience. As the wife of a United Methodist minister, I realized that small support groups and spiritual growth groups were emphasized successfully in many churches. But I found nothing particularly geared to cancer survivors though many of the questions raised in support groups were faith questions. One woman spoke sadly of the lack of support from her local church. Another said she got too much support and felt smothered. A group such as I suggest in my book was neededa setting where we can be truly honest about our feelings and faith.
I realized that cancer survivors are learning to live with a “new normal” in our lives. Surprisingly this is a norm that strengthens our faith and quality of life. In my book we look clear-eyed at how each of us personally responds. We discover where we individually find inspiration (not where we OUGHT to). We look at what we can control and what we have no control over. Cancer survivors have no time for pious words or empty religious cliches. Yet, overwhelmingly the evaluations from such groups speak of an affirmed and stronger faith as a result of their cancer experiences. We can learn a great deal about ourselves and our relation to God through cancer. Our questions may not all be answered but we find strength and comfort in the asking.
So I focused the book for a small support group in a local church. I included ideas on how to develop such a group, where to get participants, and problems you might encounter. But the journey wasn’t over. I discovered persons were using my book as an individual self-study. As a result we did some rearranging in order that the book could be used individually OR with a group.
Now I am putting some excerpts from the book on a Blog, r , I am meeting wonderful new survivors, even worldwide cancer survivors and as the book continues to evolve, I am continuing to learn, learn, learn.
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