My Healing Sabbatical
I have been away from Wellspring for three seasons now; from spring, to summer and then our marvellous fall. As winter finally arrives, I am beginning to plan my return after my 7 month healing sabbatical. I have missed Wellspring and our community so much!
So, where have I been? In June, during routine screening, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I underwent a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and started chemotherapy in September. My last round was on New Year’s Eve, an auspicious date!
I have been asked by many people, health care professionals, colleagues, friends and family, what I have learned from my experiences. Having worked in psychooncology for 30 years this is an important question. As one physician said, I have been able to see the experience from both sides of the curtain – patient and professional. I know that I am still learning about what this experience means to me, and that this will be an ongoing process. However, I am very clear about several things that I have learned:
- The skills from the Healing Journey Program have been invaluable to me. I have been able to manage my thoughts, express my feelings, and work with imagery. Perhaps the most precious skill to me has been to stay in the moment and bridle my thoughts from galloping towards frightening places. These skills have even offered many moments of peace, even when the going has been difficult. The Healing Journey has been a rudder, helping to guide my small boat through this experience. And I am very grateful for it.
- On a very practical level, I have learned that my team is larger than my oncologist. I have been treated by a whole team of professionals; two surgeons, an oncologist, a radiation oncologist and their nurses. However, I have also benefitted from other less obvious people on the team. The pharmacists have been amazing in helping to manage side effects and to get the support drugs right. Their tips, suggestions and council have made the chemo much easier. There are angel wings under their white coats! The dietitians have also been helpful. Who knew that I needed over 80 grams of protein a day to recover from chemo? And how does a vegetarian manage that? The PICC line nurse, whom I saw each week, was kind, supportive and experienced. She helped navigate me through some difficult side effects and was very encouraging. There is psychosocial oncology and other support services available too. These resources are there for the asking, and they can make the experience of coping with cancer easier.
- Nature heals. Almost every day I took a walk amongst the trees in the park near my home. I watched how the path changed each day, how the seasons evolved and the plants responded. I took photographs to remind me of the little moments of beauty that I encountered on each walk. Sometimes I walked well and with strength, sometimes I was weak and breathless, but each walk expanded my horizons and reminded me that I was part of something greater. Even on difficult days, the path would call to me and I would find a place to sit and just breathe and rest and restore myself.
- Gratitude is available if we look for it. I have been overwhelmed by feelings of profound gratitude during this experience. I am grateful that the disease was found, that there are talented physicians who know how to treat it. I am profoundly grateful for my friends and family who stepped up to help in so many ways . . . words of encouragement, offers of food, companionship for my walks. I found gratitude in the smallest of things, like homemade apple sauce, the morning sun, and how my family was willing to find ways to improvise for various holidays. There is great kindness in the world, and my cancer experience seems to have ignited in me a deep sense of appreciation for acts of compassion, large and small, that are all around us.
- Love heals. Love, related to gratitude, has been a profound experience for me. It washes over me and softened the edges and expectations, it allows me to just be, rather than to do. Accepting the help of others became easier when I discovered that we are sharing love, and that the more we share it the more there is to share. My vulnerability opened up the vulnerabilities of others and we have found comfort with each other. This lesson is hard to explain with words, but it is a feeling of warmth, safety and spaciousness, and sometimes we find it in the least likely of places!
There were also moments when the demands were greater than my resources, moments that were hard and overwhelming. It was then that I could hear the voices of the many, many Wellspring groups I have been privileged to facilitate. I could recall members expressing their despair and fear. But I could also remember the resounding support and resilience as the group moved forward to support the members who felt vulnerable. These voices carried me, when I felt that I couldn’t carry myself.
I am sure that there are many more things for me to learn from my experience and for that I am again grateful. But in the meantime, in a month or so, I shall be back at Wellspring, finding my feet, gaining some energy and enjoying our community. I look forward to working with more Healing Journey groups and engaging in this wonderful work and exploration of wellness.
Claire Edmonds, PhD, RP