I met a woman today who gently coaxes cancer patients and their caregivers to express themselves.
An easy task, you might say? Not so fast. Not so easy.
One of the hardest parts of living with cancer is ‘being’ in cancer world. Your friends and family tend to forget that you’re still the person you were before you heard the words “You have cancer.” You haven’t forgotten how to live in the real world. You’re still skilled in whatever profession you had before that scan was read. You’re still interested in going to the movies or eating at your favorite restaurant or going to the gym. WRITE about who you are, who you’ve always been and will always be. Caregivers, the same assignment works miracles for you too.
You’re still YOU. But you’re forced to talk about cancer now and that somehow erases all the other parts of who you are. So this woman, this angel who understands that, gives you a journal and encourages you to write about YOU.
She also takes you out of cancer world by asking to describe a place that is anywhere but your hospital room, or waiting room or exam room. These were not normal places for you to visit until the diagnosis, so where would you rather be? The success of this exercise is to take cancer out of the room.
I think one of the hardest ‘asks’ is to express, in words, the “What I meant to tell you” exercise. Patients and caregivers forget how important it is to say “I love you” or “Thank you” or “I’m so glad your here.” It might be even harder to write it down. It is so important because the possibility of loss and never saying those things leaves holes that can never be filled. A little coaxing from some one who understands this (she lost her husband to cancer 30 years ago) is the gentle push at just the right time.
Her technical title is ‘writing clinician.’ Research, she told me, says these kind of expressions are a health benefit and I don’t doubt it for a minute.
I think I’d call her a clinician of the heart. She’s mending an organ that is hurting and can’t be fixed in an operating room. Words, expressions and feelings are the best ways to heal it.