Living with Cancer – Relationships and Support Groups

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Age to Age: Living with Cancer – Relationships and Support Groups




Guest:  Anonymous – Cancer Survivor

Host:  Sally Smith – Author of The Circle


Sally Smith:  Welcome to Age to Age.  I’m Sally Smith.  Let’s talk.  We have with us today my friend, who wishes to be called my friend.  She has built up several years of fighting colon cancer and liver cancer and has, as she puts it, received a gift in doing this.  And it’s a gift that she’s giving us today by talking about how she’s arrived at this spectacular attitude.


One thing that we’ve talked about, just you and I, has been this feeling that you do have a gift.  I’ll never forget the first time you said that to me.  In a way, are you saying new eyes of awareness from looking through the lens of having cancer, is that sort of what you mean by the gift?


Guest:  Very definitely.  I think that I have been handed the incredible possibility of managing the end of my life, and I think that’s extremely important.  It’s not given to everybody.  It gives me permission to talk about the things I want to talk about without the fear of treading on anybody’s toes. 


Sally Smith:  Wow.  That is a power I hadn’t really thought of.  I’ve heard you say that there’s a curiosity and a seeking as you open your eyes to the fact that you may be able to manage these last years with an awareness and a knowledge of how they might unfold and have some input.  You’ve always been a spiritual person, I know as your dear friend, but this part of you has strengthened also.  Is this right? 


Guest:  Absolutely, absolutely.  It’s become more private in a way because I do more reading.  I do more introspection, less, perhaps, going to Mass, but more thinking about what they mean when they expostulate in saying a psalm, different things, I’m looking for the meaning.  I find that that’s extremely important to me.  It’s like going back to school, actually.  That’s what it is.


Sally Smith:  How exciting.  What a wonderful potentiality there.  I’m thinking, too, that, I know a friend who was once quite ill and as she got further into her spirituality, in a way, she had a hard time stepping back into the daily life that was also part of her last years.  Is that an issue?


Guest:  Absolutely.  I think so.  I think that you sometimes dread to go to the place, I have a special place where I sit and I write and I read, and sometimes the bell rings or the phone rings and you say, oh, I really wanted to continue.  I find that I’ve been lucky enough to be creative.  I like to paint.  I like to sew.  I find that stabilizing.  It’s a way of meditating.   And I think meditation is very important when you’re ill.  I highly recommend, even if it’s just playing solitaire, doing something that can occupy your hands and having quiet moments that you look forward to.  So, meditation doesn’t have to just be the Eastern way of meditating.  It can also transfer into needlepoint or water colors, or whatever else I like to do.


Sally Smith:  Do you have a special place where you do that?


Guest:  Yes.  I think that’s important. 


Sally Smith:  That’s your sort of sacred place and everybody recognizes when you’re there that it’s your time?


Guest:  Absolutely.  That’s very true.  I’m glad you brought that up because I think to have a place to go is essential. 


Sally Smith:  I remember my sister had a very potentially scary thing happen and she had small children and a husband.  She used to say the only place she could cry was in the closet because everybody else needed to see her up and happy.  She said, also, that a place ended up being important, where she could just be totally, 100 percent, her own self. 


Guest:  Very much so, yes, yes.


Sally Smith:  Well, one thing, I love this idea that you mention about the curiosity and opening your mind to what’s being said in a spiritual way.  You mentioned a sort of freedom to talk about things, because it’s your life.  Is that hard to do?


Guest:  Not for me.  I’ve wanted to be frank all my life and sometimes I’ve really had to be careful.  You can give yourself permission because people make allowances.  I know that my friends are close enough to me to let me know if I’m exaggerating in one way or another.  But I don’t feel that it’s necessary because if it’s done with love, there’s no reason to feel shy about it. 


Sally Smith:  I know you have a group, several groups, that you gather with that talk about interesting issues.  One of them is a spiritual group, as I understand.


Guest:  Yes.  We meet with a sister, a nun.  She’s highly educated, like a lot of nuns.  They further their education more so than the priests, poor things, they’re very often put out in the streets, very quickly, to go and tend to the people.  Nuns have an enormous potential and they don’t often get to air their views.  So, we’re having an excellent time with this nun who is sharing her life with us, as we share our life with her.  We’re all growing.  And the fact that she’s there seems to heighten the value of what we say and do.


Sally Smith:  One thing, too, is that, although there are many support groups, as in other people that have the shared illness or diagnosis or some such unifying factor, in your group, you just happen to be someone who’s living with cancer.


Guest:  And nobody needs to know it.  That’s another thing we stay away from.  There are two of us who have cancer in the group and we don’t talk about it; we sort of laugh about it.  We’ve become like sisters, if you like.  But she’s braver than I am, she’s younger.


Sally Smith:  Wow.  Well, you’ve certainly had a magnificent life and will hopefully have many more years.  We can keep our fingers crossed on that.  Is it hard to be in a support group?  You’re not in a separate medical support group?


Guest:  No, no.  But it has happened that, if I’m alone in the therapy room with another person, it happened the other day, the nurse came up to me and said, “You were having a conversation with this lady and she would really like to be able to talk.

She doesn’t seem to have anybody to talk to.  Can I give her your address?”  I gave her my phone number.  She still hasn’t called.  She probably feels shy.  I felt so badly for her.  I felt, how sad, she’s probably a widow, just the conversation we had for an hour in the chemo room seems to have helped her in some way.  I’d be happy to do that more often, if it were useful.


Sally Smith:  I think about your rich family life and your involvement, such a close involvement, with your children and grandchildren.  This must be a time when the fruits of that seem particularly wonderful.


Guest:  You really have to sew way in advance to be able to get the treasures that I get from my family now.


Sally Smith:  What do you mean by that, sew way in advance? 


Guest:  I must have done something right.  You don’t always know as a parent.  I don’t think I was that good of a daughter.  But it’s magic, the affection that surrounds me.  I don’t like to talk about it too much because it doesn’t happen that often.  Very often, the family sort of likes to forget about Mom being sick.  They don’t turn their backs.  They just do the duty, not the extra little cup of tea, not the extra five minutes, not the caring.  I’ve started to look into people’s eyes.


Sally Smith:  Really?


Guest:  You detect a lot when you’re sensitized, which, obviously, we all are.  Something like this, it really makes you look into people’s expressions and try and understand them more, and, therefore, you get on better with them.


Sally Smith:  I also heard someone say that sometimes they did look at some of their close friendships and saw these people in a different way, sometimes better, but sometimes, not better.  And sometimes they needed to sort of disassociate from a few people who were pulling them down.


Guest:  Interfering.


Sally Smith:  Or there for reasons other than affection.  Does it give you a sixth sense, this looking in the eyes?


Guest:  I don’t know.  I think it may have a good result because, in that case, people look back at you.  What you need is the strength of your friends around you and if you show you care about them, it’s very easily reciprocated.


Sally Smith:  I love what you say about sewing what you get.  Having known you a long time, here you have this family and I know the way you have been with your grandchildren who, some, live here, some don’t live here.  It’s not like you turn a switch when they become college aged and they suddenly want to love grandmother.  It’s all those times that you were painting with them and all the times they slept upstairs, in France, and all the places, memories you have helped build over those years, and now the fruit is born.  It’s kind of like that.  There have been many songs, The Cat and the Cradle, and different ones that say, hey, you know…


Guest:  Yeah.  Where were you? 


Sally Smith:  Where were you, and now you want me and I wasn’t ever trained to love you.  You know, I was never given that opening.


Guest:  Yeah.  Training is a good word.  You would use the word, inspired.  But, it is a training.  It is a show of love.  You’ve done the same thing with your family. 


Sally Smith:  I’ve tried.  I’ve had people like you to watch, and that’s been important.  When we were talking, earlier, about relationships, a beautiful moment I recently shared with you popped into my mind, a poem that you shared, touching on this new way of seeing some of the relationships through the eyes of having to deal with your cancer.  I wondered if you would mind sharing the poem with us.


Guest:  This poem was written just after I had been told that I had this illness, this cancer.  I wrote about acceptance.


I need ask no more questions.  I’m no longer in charge.  The comforting sprinkles of gifts pour on me daily.  Where do they come from?  Where was I, these gestures, these acts of kindness?  Where have I been?  They were there all the time.  Why was I not listening?  This new awareness surrounds me with a wonderful circle of love.  I now walk hand in hand with God.


Sally Smith:  I thank you so much for sharing that with us today and all our listeners, too, for joining us.  We welcome your suggestions and comments on our website.  This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying goodbye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey.  We are all connected.


If you enjoy listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle.  It’s the story of how she personally responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with a parent who has dementia.  Just click on ‘Sally Smith’ under the health professional’s tab on the podcasts homepage.  All profits support research at the Center on Aging. 

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