When Cancer Comes

There is a poem by Mary Oliver, When Death Comes that has called to me for the vivid picture it paints of facing into death; of embracing the hardest thing we will face. When anything difficult arises in life we tend to feel victimized, afraid and withdraw as the first response without having a fuller picture of our capacity to respond and adapt. This poem gives us a map. The first few stanzas are:

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox

 when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

 As an oncology nurse, I’ve seen many folks face a cancer diagnosis with the intensity, shock and disbelief that Mary Oliver describes in the first 2 stanzas of the poem. Like a hungry bear stealing bright coins from your purse to buy you. Snapping the coin purse shut. Trapped with a monster.

 Like a measle-pox. Oh, the scare of disfiguration in all its forms.

 Like an iceberg between the shoulder blades. The news of a cancer diagnosis, any type of cancer diagnosis, literally takes your breath away. And you are knocked to your knees no matter what age. It’s humbling and vulnerable news. It’s actually terrifying.

I don’t see folks move into that open wonder that Mary Oliver describes in the next line of the poem after receiving news of cancer. Curiosity and wonder are not the next step as people contemplate their future life. A cancer diagnosis takes time to sink in and process. There needs to be space and time for processing and lots of support. And this can occur even in the midst of the initial confusion. The coming to terms and grappling with the searing questions and oppressive anxiety can begin right when the initial shock just starts to lessen. Working with a cancer coach at this juncture can help make room for all of it. The questions. The fear. The unknown. The worry. The action and commitment. Tapping into the current of survival and the reaching for life.

I have met patients right at this moment and helped them through the challenges of oncology treatments and the coming to terms with the diagnosis and what lies ahead. Along the way, a routine begins to form, there are things you can count on, a bit of normalcy returns, and you glimpse the fragile and beautiful thread of life. There may come a time when the spark of laughter is more intense than you remember. A well of courage arises and you advocate for caring and competent treatment. Or that urge to linger in a warm embrace permeates the moment. Maybe you give into the fear of showing yourself more fully and words of love and appreciation fall out of your mouth.

Working as a cancer coach when the surprising and fearful news of a cancer diagnosis comes is a calling a step into day after day. Compassionate presence forms the basis of trust and skillful questions offer support for what comes next.  A background as an oncology nurse can bring comfort through the process.

I am passionate about the work I do as a health and wellness coach helping those with a diagnosis of cancer. I empower people to overcome their fear of being themselves and embrace their life in the midst of illness.

 No matter where you find yourself on the cancer journey, and yes, I will call it a journey because you are going somewhere different than before; having the support of an experienced cancer coach can help hold the possibility open for the curiosity and wonder that Mary Oliver writes about in her poem. Gain confidence sharing what is most meaningful and live life from a place of wholeness.

 Perhaps in time, you will be able to see everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, or your life as a flower that is both ordinary and extraordinary. Maybe words will come more easily and sound more beautiful as you share what is most true about you. Then maybe you will even grow to love the silence that exists in the midst of all that is.

Here is a link to Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem for contemplation. http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_whendeathcomes.html

 If you would like to experience a little more freedom in the midst of cancer diagnosis, opening to and untangling the fearful thoughts, contact me for a complimentary conversation. Life is short, there is no time to delay.