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Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor's Soul
Healing Stories of Courage and Inspiration
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery, Nancy Mitchell, Beverly Kirkhart
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell
All rights reserved.
Hoping means seeing that the outcome you want is possible, and then working for it.
Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.
What Cancer Cannot Do
Cancer is so limited—
It cannot cripple love
It cannot shatter hope
It cannot corrode faith
It cannot destroy peace
It cannot kill friendship
It cannot suppress memories
It cannot silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the spirit.
The Soul Menders
During the first months following my cancer diagnosis, I wouldn't acknowledge any kind of healing but physical healing. I wasn't interested in techniques that could help me cope better or extend my life expectancy by a few months; mere remission or "quality of life" didn't capture my attention either. Full recovery was the only option I would accept, and I was willing to do anything and go anywhere to achieve it.
When my surgeries and radiation treatments were over, I found myself in that frightening twilight zone of life after treatment. The doctors had done all they could and I was on my own to wonder if I'd be alive or dead by the following year. For the sake of my sanity, I tried hard to convince myself and anyone else who would listen that I was doing just fine and that cancer was no death sentence. My motto became, "I don't write off cancer patients." I was ferocious and flailing.
Only two weeks earlier, my lover and I had parted ways. I felt confused and frightened about the future. Alone in bed at night, I looked at the white walls and wondered who would want a 39-year-old cancer patient. Life in my apartment was dismally quiet. Then, Flora entered my life—a skinny feral kitten about four weeks old, full of ringworms, fleas and ear mites. Shivering and alone under the wheel well of my parked car, Flora looked desperately sick. I grabbed hold of her scraggly tail and tugged. Within seconds my hand was scratched to shreds, but I hung on and brought her hissing and complaining to my apartment. At that point, I realized that my lonely life welcomed the commotion of a tiny, angry kitten who would distract me from my own depressing thoughts.
With the arrival of the kitten, I pulled my energy away from myself and my fretful imaginings and concentrated on healing Flora. Along with ringworms and fleas, she had a terrible viral infection that had ulcerated her tongue, cheeks and throat. I knew all about ulcers in the mouth, so I sympathized wholeheartedly with this miserable condition. It took weeks, but slowly Flora healed, and along the way we bonded. Soon, she was a loving, trusting ball of black-and-white fuzz who met me at my door each evening when I returned from work. The loneliness of my apartment vanished, and I cherished the success of our health venture together. Although my own future looked uncertain, success with Flora was something I could achieve.
Only weeks after I'd finally nursed Flora back to some resemblance of healthy kittenhood, she was diagnosed with feline leukemia. Cancer. Her veterinarian gave her the same sorry prognosis my oncologist had given me: Flora would most likely die within a year or two. My response was instant and unconscious. As soon as Flora's vet handed down the diagnosis, I wrote her off as a lost cause. Quickly, my emotional attachment to her ceased as I began protecting myself from the pain of her death, which I knew would come. The veterinarian told me Flora would die and I simply accepted this. I stopped speaking and playing with Flora because when I did, I ended up sobbing hysterically for my kitten. I even found it difficult to look at her. But Flora simply wouldn't let me pull away. When I'd walk past her, she'd chase after me. Her paw touched my cheek hesitantly each night as she curled up next to me in bed, her purr resonant and strong. If my mood was chilly, she seemed not to notice. Flora did what cats do best: she waited and watched.
Her patience finally won out. One night I had an "AHA!" experience about my attitude toward Flora. How could I believe my own cancer wasn't a death sentence when I couldn't see the same hope for her? How could I dismiss any being without dismissing myself? Although I was busy blathering about hope and healing, I knew that I honestly saw myself in the grave.
That realization was a profound turning point for me. While slow in coming, it finally hit me like a downpour of hailstones. How often in my life had I turned away from pain and loss, and from honest feelings? Living at "half–life," I'd put away emotion at the first inkling of loss, and nearly lost myself in the process.
One night shortly after my awakening, I lit a candle for Flora and myself. We sat together looking at the flame, and I vowed to Flora that I would love her with wild abandon for as long as she was with me because loving her felt so good. In loving Flora, I knew I would find a way to love myself as well—poor diagnosis and all. For the both of us, each day of life would be a day we could celebrate together.
I began a quest to heal Flora that included many of the same gems of complementary medicine I attempted on myself. Flora got acupressure, vitamins, homeopathy, music and color therapy, detoxifying baths and unlimited quantities of hugs, love and affection. Her water bowl had tiny, colorful crystals in it. Her collar was a healing green.
Most important in this process, though, was the attitude change I experienced from this "mumbo jumbo," as some of my bewildered friends called it. Healing stopped being so painfully heavy. It became fun, even silly. When I told my friends I might have my house visited by dowsers to seek out and correct "bad energy vibrations," I damn well had to have a highly developed sense of humor!
Over the next few months, I slowly learned that healing is more than heroics over illness. Healing isn't simply an end result; it's a process. Flora helped me reclaim the joy that had died after my cancer treatment and my previous relationship ended. She brought me tremendous peace with her quiet, trusting presence. Finally, as I saw Flora healed, loved and cherished, I knew I honestly held the same hopeful vision for myself.
Flora is sleek, happy and seven years old today. Her last three tests for leukemia have been negative. At the time of my "AHA!" with Flora, I felt that she was an angel sent to teach me that turning away from love accomplishes nothing.
Susan Chernak McElroy
From on Chemo to on Camera
Faith, Hope, Love.
You need all of the above.
If you want to live, then you've got to be positive.
There's a rumor I got a tumor.
I used to be a dancer, but then I got cancer.
I used to have hair all down my back,
but now it's even shorter than Kojak.
But that is all right,
cuz I'm gonna win the fight.
These are some of the lyrics to my "cancer rap song." I wrote it when I found out in March 1989, at age 18, that I had bone cancer. After almost two years of chemotherapy and eight major operations, including an amputation of my left leg above the knee, six tumors later, I am thankful to say I am clean!
I don't wish cancer on anyone, but I don't ever want to forget what I went through. The physical and emotional pain taught me to really love life with a passion. Suffering produces perseverance, character and hope.
I had quite a bit of fun, too, at the hospital while on chemo. Other patients and I (those who were up to it) gathered for little daily parties while having our chemo or hydration. I remember walking around the hospital with no hair, chopsticks stuck up my nose and in my ears, just to get a reaction from unsuspecting people. Nothing felt better to me than making others laugh and forgetting the pain for a while. I feel that God has used my situation and experience to help others.
This passion to entertain also led me to a career. Before cancer, I was a dancer on Soul Train. When I was diagnosed, my doctors told me I would never dance again. I fooled them—I still dance, and with a lot of soul. Two years ago, I started taking acting classes. Southern California, where I live, is where most of the entertainment industry is located. I put off going on my first audition because I didn't want to mess up. Would you believe that when I finally went, I not only got the part, but a lead role on a big show? Northern Exposure! They were two of the best weeks of my life. I played a character, Kim Greer, who is training for a wheelchair race in Cicely, Alaska, and gets a sprained elbow. Maggie (Janine Turner) introduces me to Ed (Darren Burrows) so he can try to heal me with native shaman ways.
Here's what a day on the set was like. The night before, I studied my lines. I had to get up really early (sometimes at 3 A.M.) to meet the rest of the cast at 4:30 and travel from Seattle to locations. The interior scenes were shot in Redmond, Washington, and the location shots in the little town of Roslyn (population 850). Halfway through makeup I had to go "block" scenes (go through them for the first time with the other actors). Then it was back to finishing my makeup, followed by shooting the scenes. The latter takes a long time because they shoot scenes from different angles, a number of times, and then they have to "process" and "take." The director was really helpful and funny, and called me "the girl who acts without acting." After finishing in the early afternoon, I stuck around and watched other scenes being shot. It was very educational.
The cast and crew on that show were so special. I even adopted a "grandpa," the man who drove the makeup trailer.
Two weeks after I got back, the same director called me to audition for a small part on Beverly Hills 90210. Later I found out they decided to cast me for a big part instead: as a campus activist, opposite Brandon Walsh. I haven't met any of the 90210 actors yet. Most actors, I find, are very different from the characters they play.
Even though I lost a leg to cancer, I am doing more than I ever have. I learned to snow ski on one leg, and now I race and teach other people to ski. Hey, we don't cross our ski tips!
While I have goals in acting and writing, I have learned, after having cancer, not to take things too seriously. Life is temporary. So while I still have it, I'm going to have fun with it!
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
The mind, in addition to medicine, has powers to turn the immune systems around....
As a graduate of one of the top 10 medical schools, and after four years of residency at a New York teaching hospital, I was well trained in the science of medicine. I was kind and compassionate; most of my patients loved me, as I them. Yet I adhered to my training—if it "ain't" in the medical literature and if it hasn't undergone rigid double-blind crossover studies, it must be quackery. And so it went for 40 years.
Three months before my 69th birthday, my daughter in California sent me a copy of Quantum Healing by Deepak Chopra, M.D., which explores the field of mind-body medicine.
For my 69th birthday, even though I felt great, I had a complete medical checkup. I received a definite diagnosis of far advanced prostate cancer. The professor at the medical school again confirmed the diagnosis. He told me there's no cure, but he could slow down the progress of the disease with hormone therapy and I could live 18 to 24 months.
At the time of diagnosis, I went into shock and depression in spite of heroic support from my wife and children. My two daughters in California entered the picture. Immediately, I started reading books and listening to tapes on healing, started a macrobiotic diet, scheduled a course on meditation, had an appointment with a "cancer psychologist" and started visualizing my cancer's destruction. Not one of these modalities was accepted standard medical therapy, and although I performed them with a huge dose of skepticism, I couldn't stand up to my family's forceful persuasion. I was determined to be a good patient and did all of the above regularly and with an attempt at an open mind.
It is now 51 months later. I am well but not the same person. I have made a 180-degree change in my attitude toward the practice of medicine. From a narrow-minded, tunnel-visioned physician, I am now open to all possibilities. I run cancer support groups and espouse diet, meditation, visualization and psychological support. I receive several telephone calls from cancer patients each week who have heard my story and want to know what they can do to help themselves.
Prayer was added about one year ago. Although I had heard about the power of prayer and although my family had me on multiple prayer lines, I was skeptical until I heard Dr. Larry Dossey speak and read his book Healing Words. I now watch for numerous articles on prayer and stories on TV. In my own informal way, I speak to God daily.
My days start with 30 minutes of meditation, prayer and visualization. Shopping and cooking are part of my routine. I eliminated all animal products and fats from my diet and increased the amounts of grains, fresh vegetables and other foods consistent with a macrobiotic diet. I still see a macrobiotic counselor twice a year. Listening to tapes by Dr. Bernie Seigel, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay and others intimately involved in the mind-body connection are also part of my daily routine. In my reading, I found many "medical miracles" occurring because of "alternative therapies."
Many of my colleagues still look at me as a "nut case" who happened to be lucky and go into remission from my cancer. Why? They don't know. But I do—I had mountains of love and moral support and I chose to change. It saved my life!
Howard J. Fuerst, M.D.
The Boy and the Billionaire
There is no such thing as no chance.
His sense of humor set Craig Shergold off from the other children. A natural entertainer with an exuberant personality, he loved making people laugh. His greatest joy was putting on wigs and funny hats and staging comedy skits for family and friends at his home in the London suburb of Carshalton.
Craig brought the same buoyant energy to soccer. But in the fall of 1988, his coach noticed a change in the nine–year-old's normally aggressive play. "He seems to have slowed up," the coach told Craig's father, Ernie.
Craig complained of earaches, and his mother, Marion, noticed that his eyes blinked repeatedly when he watched television. He seemed listless, but the family doctor blamed that on Craig's grief over the recent death of a beloved grandmother. As the weeks passed, however, Craig became more and more subdued.
At Christmas, Craig did not even want to ride his new bicycle. This time the doctor blamed Craig's problems on an ear infection. Antibiotics did not help.
A couple weeks later, Craig suffered a bout of vomiting. Marion demanded an immediate hospital appointment, and a specialist put Craig through a series of tests. Then he ordered a brain scan.
Afterward, Marion and Ernie were ushered into a doctor's office. "I'm afraid I have bad news for you," the doctor said. "Craig has a brain tumor." Marion was speechless; Ernie bowed his head.
The tumor, the doctor continued, was lodged in a very dangerous spot: near the top of the brain stem, which controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.
An ambulance carried Craig to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in central London, and tumor surgery was soon scheduled. Marion didn't want to tell her son, fearing she'd crush that indomitable spirit. But she had always been truthful with him, and she didn't want to break that trust. She sat at her son's bedside and held his hand. "Craig, do you know what you have?"
"I think so, Mum." He mentioned a character from his favorite TV show who had a brain tumor. "I think I've got what she's got," Craig said.
Marion nodded. "I want you to be very brave," she murmured.
"I will be."
Holding his stuffed elephant for luck, Craig was wheeled toward the operating room on January 17. Marion and Ernie were at his side. Softly, Marion sang "I Just Called to Say I Love You," one of Craig's favorite songs.
Kneeling in the hospital chapel, Marion remembered when she and Ernie first learned that she was pregnant after 10 years of trying. They organized a big celebration at the restaurant where Marion worked as a waitress. Marion led everyone in the singing, dancing and laughing. When Craig was born on June 24, 1979, the joy continued.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery, Nancy Mitchell, Beverly Kirkhart. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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