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Archive for the ‘Illness Narrative’ Category

We’re familiar with the pilgrims of the Middle Ages struggling to make it to the Holy Land. They overcame many obstacles, fought wars, and hopefully in the end found peace. There are many who make pilgrimages for personal reasons; physical challenges and healing of health issues, emotional freedom, or attaining spiritual enlightenment. The truth is that we walk this world as pilgrims because we’re all in search of something, even if you’re not aware of what it is in this moment.

Last night I facilitated a call for students working on their doctoral dissertations. I believe these students are on their own personal pilgrimage. They are expanding their personal and professional boundaries. They are taking on a pursuit that will change their lives forever. They are creating a soapbox on which they will stand for the rest of their lives. As someone who has completed this process I am honored and privileged to serve as their Sherpa, carrying the heavy load when necessary giving each pilgrim the space to move forward on their journey.

Richard R. Niebuhr, noted scholar from the Harvard Divinity School, stated “Pilgrims are person in motion, passing through territories not their own-seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do us well, a goal to which the spirit’s compass points the way.” When we set out on a pilgrimage we have a nagging question that keeps showing up in our lives and is demanding attention. Many believe that the “good” life is one where we have a sense of completion. We have tackled the challenges set forth by that whisper in our ear nudging us to take action in our lives.

Roger Housden in Sacred Journeys in a Modern World writes, “Whatever its destination, what sets a sacred journey apart from an every day walk, or a tourist trip, is the spirit in which it is undertaken. It is sacred if it sensitizes the individual to the deeper realities of his or her own being, and those of the world in which we live.” Our pilgrimages are sacred because it’s part of our narrative. It is a catalyst for change. As Pilgrims we are making conscious what has been seeking a voice, an answer, or possibly leading us to new questions.

I’ve sat in many counseling rooms with those facing life-threatening illness and each person’s pilgrimage had similarities, seeking hope, some sense of control over their lives, and empowerment. Since not everyone who is diagnosed with an illness recovers, some individual’s pilgrimage is seeking a good death and making sure they do not have an unlived life.

Whatever your pilgrimage I hope you make each step a conscious one. Your pilgrimage will keep you consciously engaged in your life opening your body, mind, and spirit to new heights. Set out on a pilgrimage and experience the wonder this journey to the depths of soul will reveal!

Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to take an Art and Healing pilgrimage?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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What happens if everyone including you believed that our life would take a specific direction and then a twist of fate changes that direction? What if everything you worked for crashes and burns and you have to reinvent yourself? Know anyone like this? Well if you follow football then you do know someone in this position, Tim Tebow.

Tebow, the young player with enormous promise had a difficult time in the NFL. As it turned out his professional career as a player was short lived, but he has reinvented himself. During his time in the NFL his fame, constant news coverage, and his faith led him to create a foundation helping children going through tough times. Proof of this “Phoenix rising from the ashes”, Tebow is now part of the team on ABC’s Good Morning America. His segment has been titled Motivate Me Monday!

The first down of Tebow’s segment was a hit. The story showed the resilience of ten-year-old Devon Jackson. Jackson was diagnosed with meningitis at age eight and had both feet amputated six inches below the knee. His passion for football was intercepted but not for long. The young athlete learned to walk on prosthetics, but he was still benched from playing because he couldn’t run until someone donated a pair of blades returning the young football player to the playing field.

Jackson shows amazing resilience. When asked about what he loves about being able to play he shared, “I love the way the wind feels in my face.” When I heard the young athletes experience I thought about what do I take for granted in my daily life. If something as simple as the wind in one’s face is a blessing then what else are we allowing passing us by without noticing the magic of the experience?

The segment showed that both young and a bit older can recreate a life of gratitude. Tebow and Jackson both took adverse situations and utilized their strength and resilience to achieve greater life experiences. Devon Jackson is Tebow’s starter and that makes Tebow a great coach, inspiration, and motivator. I hope I can take the lesson from Tebow’s playbook and utilize my own strengths motivating others to enhanced health and healing!

Facing adversity?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to play to your strengths creatively?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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So many times we find ourselves in places that make us uncomfortable or unhappy. There are those who grow up in small towns who find they need a way to get out. Others, who may live in neighborhoods with violence and drugs, look for a way to get out. If you watch the commercials for the Boys and Girls Clubs you see prominent people who got out. They found a supportive environment with mentors who encouraged them, nurtured them, and providing opportunities for them to make their move.

We look for ways to use our talents to give us a leg up and change our circumstances. Adversity can be a prison or a path to freedom. There are some who simply choose to succumb to the pressure of adversity and start to sink slowly as if they’re in quick sand. On the other hand, that pressure can be a catalyst for change. Think of some of our most prominent athletes. Many grew up in troubled areas and knew that sports were their ticket out. It was their lifeline to a better life.

How can adversity be a path to freedom? It’s when you take what’s challenging you and use it as the motivation you need to change your situation. This may be different when faced with a chronic or life-threatening illness. The reason is that you can’t escape illness. You can obtain treatment with the hope of getting better or well. Escaping isn’t about the physical illness once diagnosed; it’s about escaping the ties that bind on the emotional and spiritual planes.

Pain is a great motivator. Limited options are another motivator because we don’t like to feel closed in or surrounded. But motivated for what? Motivated to find freedom from the things that prior to your adverse situation kept you stuck. Motivated to stop fueling the oppressive thoughts and energy that prevent you from being the best you possible.

Illness is difficult enough without us working against ourselves. What will stop you from fueling the negative thoughts? How will you create a new pathway that promotes health and healing? Who are the people that inspire you? (Read the post “Who are the Legends in Your Life”).

I encourage you to read autobiographies, memoirs, and pathographies. Autobiographies/biographies are not written about people who fail. They are written about/by those who have overcome some type of challenge. They share their struggles and discuss the emotional and spiritual land mines they stepped on along the way. The reason these books are so important is they provide hope. They show that emergence is possible. These are opportunities to create a personal menu for health and healing.

Diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Looking for a way out?  How will Art help you Heal?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

 

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One of the key stories on my Internet homepage was about a young man named Stephen Sutton. Sutton died yesterday at the age of 19 after being diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 15. He personified determination, compassion, and strength. His mission was to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust (teenagecancertrust.org), an organization in London serving teenagers diagnosed with cancer. Their goal is to treat individuals as young people first and cancer patients second.

Why does this young man make headlines? There are lots of young people who are diagnosed with cancer around the world on a daily basis. This man stands out because of his authenticity, his dedication, and his lack of ego. He chose to use his diagnosis to change not only his life, but also the lives of teens throughout London. As Robin Roberts’ mother use to say, “Make your mess your message!”

Sutton wanted to raise approximately $16,000 (10,000 pounds) and as of the latest tally, the organization with his direction, has raised over 5.5 million dollars. His story and his cause caught the eye of some prominent English entertainers all helping to spread Sutton’s message. We are attracted to stories! When a story directs our attention to how we can make the world a little better, it becomes louder and larger.

Stephen Sutton shared his worldview, “I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time anymore, I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference.” We’re amazed when we hear these words from people like Bill and Melinda Gates as they fight the malaria epidemic, or Oprah creating the Leadership Academy in South Africa hoping that by educating girls you change the direction of an entire continent. Hearing these words come from a teenager should renew our faith in humanity. It should provide each of us who bear witness to Sutton’s story with a belief that what’s small can become large, and what may feel like a pet project can be adopted worldwide as a beacon of hope.

When you see someone use his/her life for the greater good, I urge you to use it as a lesson. Even though Stephen Sutton’s light has gone out, his energy, vision, and tenacious nature lights a torch that will burn bright in years to come. I encourage you, even if you don’t have a chronic or life-threatening illness, to stop thinking of life in terms of time and see how you can make a difference.

My hope is that every day that I sit down to write this post, I can make a difference by providing education, support, and inspiration for those facing a health challenge. I’ve been entrusted with the stories of those facing a health challenge for over twenty-five years. These heartfelt stories fuel my passion and determination to provide a safe environment for each of you facing a health challenge to have someone, a community who will listen and be able to hold the pain.

Looking for community when facing a health challenge? Visit www.survivingstrong.com.

Interested in Art and Healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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Yesterday I attended the memorial service for two people close to me who were brother and sister. The mass was held at the church where they grew up giving those who still live in the town the opportunity to attend. The mass was your typical mass, but an important ritual. The tribute to both of these magnificent souls would take place at the luncheon following the mass.

The eulogies were given at the luncheon. We celebrated the lives of these dynamic individuals and then I started thinking about how we celebrate lives once their gone. There is an irony to celebrating one’s life after it no longer exists, and yet we all have a birthday every year we’re alive.

This got me thinking about something I read by the Dalai Lama. At one of his many, highly attended, speaking engagements, someone asked the Dalai Lama his age. He was a bit perplexed because the person asking the question was used to numbers that are, in most cases, under a hundred. He made reference to the fact that he had over 21,000 birthdays. You may be asking, “How can this be?” It simple, the Dalai Lama shared that he has 365 birthdays a year. He celebrates not just his “life”, but live, being alive, every day he opens his eyes and breathes another breath.

Having spent the past twenty-five years working with individuals and families facing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve attended many funerals and read countless obituaries. Did you ever read an obituary and say to yourself, “I didn’t know that about them! I can’t believe how accomplished they were, and yet they never shared this part of themselves.” We often find out about individual’s greatest accomplishments after they’ve died. What if we transformed that and shared those parts of ourselves all along the journey?

Aside from your birthday, when was the last time you celebrated your life? How did you celebrate your life? What does it mean to celebrate your life? What is it that you’d like the world to know right now, before we read it in your obituary? How would this knowing change how you show up in the world?

Have you ever noticed that we’re more inclined to take someone’s advice after they’ve died than while they were living? What is it about their death that elevates their advice to “wisdom” status? It’s as if we have a knowing all along about the importance of the advice, but not ready to assimilate into our being. The death of the individual elevates the advice to being holy or prophetic.

Having time to sit with the memorial experience I want to encourage each of us to celebrate not just birthdays, but life! I want each of us to understand that not everyone gets to live to a ripe old age and if you’re waiting to celebrate life till the end, what have you missed along the way?

If you celebrated your life every day, would it mean more to you? Would you have a higher degree of appreciation for the gift of life? Would you utilize your day differently if you celebrated every day as a birthday?

I’d love to hear how you celebrate life so we can learn from each other. Feel free to share in the comments section below or you can email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

For education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness visit, www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in art and healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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We all attribute meaning to words based on the context in our lives. The word survivor has been bestowed upon those who live with a chronic or life-threatening illness. However, the word “survivor”, often, also describes those who have been the victim of traumatic events like violence and natural disasters.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the bombing at last year’s Boston Marathon. There have been lots of interviews, television programming, and of course tributes to those who died in this horrific event, and an opportunity to celebrate the way the amazing city of Boston banned together.

This is why I was surprised when I was listening to an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Gross was interviewing noted author Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book. At one point in the interview Gross asked Ehrenreich about her 2001 diagnosis with breast cancer. The dialogue took a surprise turn in comparison to many who have been diagnosed with an illness; she was a rebel.

Ehrenreich started by dismissing the “pink” movement as it relates to breast cancer. She’s determined not to die with a pink teddy bear in her arms. She didn’t want to be associated with a specific movement feeling that it’s an insult to the integrity of people facing illness. Whether or not you believe it’s a positive depends on your own identity issues, need to belong to something bigger than yourself, or the opportunity to support an organization that provides support, screening, and research in the breast cancer arena. This dialogue was not the surprise; it was her discussion about not wanting to be called a “survivor”.

Terry Gross dug deeper into the anti-survivor rhetoric by asking Ehrenreich to express her disapproval of being called a “survivor”. Ehrenreich shared that she believes the word “survivor” implies that someone was courageous, brave, and successful beat the disease. Her problem is that she feels that it’s dishonoring all those people who were equally courageous and brave, but whose bodies and treatment regimen didn’t match for the positive. She doesn’t want to diminish any of the positive qualities those who face an illness exhibit.

So is there a difference between surviving and being a “survivor”? What are your ideas on being a survivor? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

For more information on living with chronic and/or life-threatening illness visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

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It’s the beginning of the new television season and for the first time in years talk shows are filling every nook and cranny of the television schedule.  This year big names like, Katie Couric, Jeff Probst and Ricki Lake, have entered the race for ratings with some very interesting guests and well-seasoned interviewers.

As I mentioned yesterday, I just returned from California and have just conducted interviews for my dissertation.  I had the opportunity to interview artists in their homes/live-work spaces where there was an intimacy that’s hard to describe.  The experience of asking someone questions about their lives is a privilege that I will treasure forever.  Having the opportunity to explore the depths of artists’ stories was life changing.  When I got on the plane to come home I tried to think about what it would be like to be interviewed about my own life.

I’ve been pondering that thought for the past few days and now I’m asking you.  If you were being interviewed, what would you like to share with the interviewer?  As you move through life after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, what would you like to share that would be relevant and impactful for those watching the interview?

It’s imperative that you share the moment you were diagnosed, because that’s the starting point for your health and healing journey.  Beyond that moment, what has driven you forward as you strive to get better of get well?  What resources have you utilized to serve as a catalyst for health and healing?  What did you learn the hard way that you’d like to share to make the journey for others a bit easier?

These interview questions serve two purposes.  They allow you to tell your story, and when others bear witness to our journey it is healing.  The other benefit of an interview like this is that it serves as a teaching moment.  You are able to serve others by sharing what you’ve learned; you’ve become the expert.

What are some of the most important things you’d like to share?  Feel free to share them here so we can create our own community.

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