Ever wonder how many lives you touch? Many believe that only those of a certain status can influence the life another. This past Friday, Professor Randy Pausch lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. His “Last Lecture” became an Internet phenomenon. Then we had the opportunity to see him on Oprah. If that weren’t enough his “Last Lecture” became a NY Times Bestseller. He inspired many people both sick and healthy to live life differently.
If you’re facing a health challenge your circle of influence is greater than you realize. You may not have a television special done about your life, but is that how we measure the influence or the mark we’ve made on the world. Every day we have contact with people and it’s our inner nature that leaves an indelible mark on the lives we touch.
So maybe you’re not a TV personality, so let’s focus on who you are. Think about who you have contact with on a regular basis and what part you play in their life. It could be as simple as helping a child who has fallen at the playground get back up. Perhaps you decided after you’ve retired to join the Peace Corps or Americorps or began volunteering in your community. Perhaps in a year like we’re in now you’ve decided to put on your political hat and become part of a campaign. You may have chosen to save the lives of animals who without adoption would be euthanized.
It’s not about your degree of fame that determines your level of influence; it’s the conviction in your heart that is the beacon of hope. If nothing else, when you are facing a health challenge, hope is the key. When you’ve been diagnosed with an illness you do have a choice about how you will live your life. You can live life isolated and as a victim or you can see what being a part of a community and striving to make the most of each day can do for your health and the health of others.
You have more influence on the world than you can imagine. You share your values with those at the grocery store, coffee shop and daycare. By sharing who you are and living life in partnership with others you rub off on people. We all want to make sure we leave a mark on the world. If you don’t listen to Randy Pausch’s lecture or read the book or watch the You Tube of his talk, think about the change you want to see and be in the world. Don’t wait till you’re better, doing something incredible will improve your health. It doesn’t have to be a world wide web sensation…keep it simple and the impact will be huge.
Life is made up of give and take moments. When we are out of balance on either side many facing life-altering diagnoses fall prey to symptoms and diminished health. I read lots of books, magazines and blogs about facing life with illness. Some of it mirrors my own experience with health issues and sometimes my situation seems unique.
What I’ve learned is that it’s okay to ask for what you need. If you need advice, resources, tools for coping then ask for it. My assumption is that you are creating opportunities to share your story because you’re looking for others to bear witness to your life and sometimes even offer solutions to challenges. Asking is a strength not a weakness. We gain knowledge and empower our bodies and our soul’s when we ask for help.
On the other hand it’s important to offer what you can. That’s why I’m intent on responding to the blogs that I read. If someone is willing to share their deepest concerns and challenges I feel as part of the community the need to honor that sharing. If you stand at the edge of a canyon and yell you can hear the echo go on forever. I believe what we’re really doing at that point is hoping somene will yell back and answer our echo.
Dr. Larry Dossey has been writing about the impact of prayer on our health for many years. He’s conducted studies and interviewed thousands of people in his travels looking for how prayer and medicine can survive and thrive hand-in-hand. I believe one of the most recently publicized events showing how the two reinforce the benefits of each practice is the story of football player Kevin Everett.
Kevin Everett was playing the game he loves most when during one game he collided with a player from the opposing team. In interviews he shares his experience laying on the ground, unable to move and hearing his teammates telling him to get up. In what may have been a precedent setting moment of television coverage, the network showed all the players from both teams surrounding Everett, all kneeling or heads bowed praying for his safety and health. There was division between rivals, just everyone on the field, in the stands and at home watching television pulling for Everett’s recovery.
The story doesn’t end there because we’re looking at the intersection between medicine and prayer and that’s where the medical team takes the ball and continue running down the field. The surgeons recommended that they immediately lower Everett’s body temperature in hopes of limiting or reducing the swelling that could possibly leave his at best paralyzed and worst case scenario, dead.
Today due to modern medical technology, research on spinal injury and the presence of prayer Kevin Everett is walking without any apparatus. He’s not back to his pre-injury state, but his gratitude is evident. He knows that it wasn’t one thing that brought him from the brink of death or permanent disability back to an impressive state of health, but the synergy that takes place when body, mind and spirit are all working on the same team. He knows that his recovery is not because of a few, but because of many.
Who do you have on your team? Who is sending you those good vibes from in the medical community and from your personal circle of support? How will you engage Spirit to step in and take its rightful place as part of your treatment team? Give yourself every possible advantage and engage all the possibilities.
When confronted with a life-altering illness we depend on our doctors to provide the best treatment for our condition. As you begin treatment the hope is that your doctor discusses both the positives and negatives of any treatment so you’re decision is based on informed consent. The pharmaceutical companies job is to bring new products to market to improve our health, but unfortunately many don’t know what the long term impact of their inventions will be.
If you have seen one of the many medication commercials on television you’ll notice that at some point in the commercial a voice will come on giving you the potential side effects. The difficult part is that this may only be a short list of the possible side effects. There are two parts to this dilemma, the lack of long term data and the lack of reporting by us the consumer.
Studies show that doctors and patients seldom report adverse reactions (side effects) to the drug manufacturer. As pilgrims on the journey to health it’s important that your voice be heard. Remember in school when the teacher would “ask your question because others have the same question”? The same is true with medication side effects, if you’re having them the odds are good someone else is having them. If we don’t come forth this doesn’t get documented and accurate and informed decisions about treatment options don’t get made.
Stepping out of the patients place of anonymity you do two things; you allow you doctor to help with the side effects either by altering the dose, changing the medication or in all likelihood giving you one prescription to handle the side effects. Second is that you are speaking for many people who are taking the same medication. You have the opportunity to become a partner with your physician and the pharmaceutical company in creating medications that retain their efficacy while diminishing side effects.
The other important factor is that when doctors or patients inform the pharmaceutical company about the side effect, they are required to include that information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This allows the FDA to make better decisions about the safety of a medication. Do your part, don’t stay quiet! If you have side effects, report them and become part of the solution.
Day in and day out we hear about the big name illnesses. Those are the life-altering illnesses that receive celebrity endorsements, create foundations, have huge money for research and a community so people don’t feel alone. What about those illnesses that don’t fall in that category. This week I watched “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” featuring a young girl who has an illness that only 25 people in the world have…can you imagine.
During the show, they brought in another child who had the same diagnosis and the bond was immediate. The relief each of these children felt was palpable. Feeling like you come from another planet does not aid in creating the fighting attitude to conquer the challenges of a life-altering diagnosis. It’s when we can say to someone, “This is how I’m feeling” and they can respond honestly “I know how you feel” that we feel understood.
Maybe one of the best things we can do it when we encounter someone with someone with an orphan illness, simply give them the space to share their experience. This isn’t about solving anything, but giving them the platform to be seen and heard. It’s a great time to give these individuals and families the opportunity to step out of the shadows.
Illness is lonely enough, and as a pilgrim walking this path can be daunting. Fortunately, many people with these diagnoses have doctors that can be their Sherpa on this path. These doctors are often doing research to gain information and in turn create treatment strategies. We all can use a Sherpa to help us on what is often a long and arduous journey. Who’s your Sherpa?
Have you ever wondered how far removed we are from the animal kingdom? I have this discussion with my vet every so often in regard to my cats. We discuss the fact that cats have not been domesticated as long as dogs and every so often their natural instincts play out. I began thinking about we as humans and our nature connection.
This afternoon I went to speak with the Rabbi at one of the local synagogues. Having been raised Jewish I had some questions about where I feel I fit in the religious community. As I move forward in my Doctor of Ministry degree I am exposed to many religions, faiths and spiritual concepts. Having practiced only one faith I’m more inclined to be intrigued by others…it’s not like I’m looking to convert; I’m just looking for answers to those “what is the meaning of life” questions.
I’m currently reading the translation of Teresa of Avila’s “The Inner Castle”, a great woman, but obviously not Jewish. The Rabbi commented that as a faith Jews are community based. The Jewish faith is not a monastic tradition. It was one of those Aha moments. I’ve read lots about monastic traditions and although appealing, especially when things get crazy, I’m a community based person.
So what am I trying to say? I want you to consider how you practice your religion or spirituality best. Do you feel more in line with a solitary tradition or do are you more suited to a community/group based practice. I find comfort in praying with others. I feel energetic when I’m surrounded by the energy of others. I feel part of something larger than myself when I am in the company of like -minded others.
This is important for our lives and pilgrims because it will impact your healing process. If sitting alone and meditating works for you then that’s you’re chosen healing process. If sitting on a pew in a church, praying the rosary, then that’s how you’ll heal best. We all have a primary mode of connection both with people and with our God or whatever your spiritual source.
Know thyself and aid in your own healing process.
I was surprised to read that Dorothy Hamill, the famous ice skater, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wasn’t any more surprised than hearing that one of my neighbors was diagnosed, the difference is the world wide notification of the event. It’s easy to believe that if we’re not a celebrity that we can keep our health secrets to ourselves, but that’s an illusion.
There are obvious things that would tip off our friends and family that something health related was happening. Someone may notice pill bottles in a cabinet. Some treatments will leave the person without hair. Some people may have to use some sort of a device to help with mobility, other signs are a bit more subtle.
What’s not subtle is showing up in your doctor’s office only to find someone in your circle already sitting in the waiting room. That’s exactly what happened to me one afternoon and after the initial sense of awkwardness passed we could both release a sigh of relief because we didn’t have to pretend to each other.
The world is a much smaller place than you can imagine, especially with technology keep us linked together. You don’t have to share your health concerns with anyone, but be aware that you can’t crawl in a hole and be anonymous forever. Most of us don’t have the option of staying in our homes with health professionals coming to us until our health issue is resolved or markedly improved. We will be out in the world and you’ll find others are having similar struggles. Know you’re not alone, and that may be enough to provide a small nudge of support. It will at minimum reduce your feelings of isolation.