Mapping the Cancer Journey: Cancer as a Turning Point
Cancer is unavoidably a turning point in your life. The difficulty will be for you to understand this turning point. Predictably, there will be a “before” and “after” cancer diagnosis. In that moment of cancer diagnosis and on, you become a patient who is treated for her illness. You are no longer the distinct person you were before you walked into your oncologist’s office. When you heard, “you have cancer” you joined 5000 cancer survivors who heard the same words on that day (Gordon & Edwards, 2005; Mailman, 2014).
You are now a Cancer Survivor
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship ([NCCS], 1996) was the first organization to pioneer the term cancer survivor. According to the NCCS definition of the term, you are now a cancer survivor, a label stuck with you from the time of cancer diagnosis through the rest of your life. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention interprets cancer survivorship as a dynamic process of living with, through, and beyond a diagnosis of cancer (2004).
The National Cancer Institute’s (2004) Office of Cancer Survivorship added family members, friends, and caregivers (as secondary survivors) in this definition.
During the treatment, which may include chemotherapy, radiation or both, and after medical care you may start to look and feel different. Emotionally, your self-image as a healthy person may have vanished. Physically, you may have had to endure major surgeries.
Current literature indicates that survivors might deal with a multitude of acute, chronic, and late effects of cancer and treatment. Survivors face a host of physical, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual, and economic effects.
Given the circumstances, it is not at all unusual for you to have trepidations about your health and how to move forward during and after treatment. Despite the other 12 million cancer survivors living in the United States, your survivorship experience is unique to you, just as defining your wellness in survivorship should be (Ness et al., 2013).
Curing ≠ Healing: Embracing the Two Faces of Medicine
Yes, curing does not equal healing. Curing is an action carried out to eradicate the disease or correct a problem. Healing however leads to a greater awareness of integrity and wholeness in response to disease that occurs within you (Hutchinson, Hutchinson, & Arnaert, 2009)
For example, if you are in the “curing mode” the only goal is survival. Not just physical survival, the curing mode extends to survival of all that you have learned to identify as yourself. You are trying to keep up things as they are, physical appearance, lifestyle, relationships and everything else that makes up your life. Put differently, when you are in curing mode, the goal is to avoid change at all cost (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
On the contrary, when you are in “healing mode,” healing comes from the acceptance of change. This acceptance of change allows you to grow to a new sense of self as a person (perhaps with cancer). Thus, a new understanding of integrity and being whole that is distinctive from the old status quo emerges (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
As you can imagine, there is a stark contrast in your primary health care provider’s role in curing and healing. In the curing mode, your primary care provider, through her expertise and proficiency regarding disease, undoubtedly has more power. That is the main reason you consulted her (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
However, in the healing mode this control transfers to you. It is within you that healing will occur, and it is you who will make the healing journey. Your primary health care provider’s role in you healing journey is accompaniment (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
Given the juxtaposition between curing and healing, you may find it not at all surprising that doctors and other health care providers have a hard time wearing both heads in their practice. Because of the highly specialized skill and expertise, care is often restricted to one of the two faces of medicine, curing OR healing, but not both (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
Integrating Mind-Body Modalities in Cancer Care
It is important to bring lucidity and commitment to curing and healing, two differing aspects of medicine. Once you do, whole person care is entirely revived in the context of high-tech 21st century biomedicine (Hutchinson et al., 2009).
When you are in curing mode, you need to work as closely as possibly with your oncologist and primary health care provider. You need to realize that your oncologist and primary care physician have the proper training and expertise to meet cancer head on.
However, the earlier you start to integrate the healing process, the better you are equipped to traverse between the two faces of medicine: curing and healing.
Becoming an Active Participant in Your Own Survivorship Care
Spurred by patients themselves, increasing numbers of cancer survivors have become active contributors in their survivorship care. This increase both arises from and continues to foster, the flourishing awareness and use of treatments that heal the Mind-Body and Spirit. Several national surveys show that the majority of cancer survivors pursue integrative practitioners. That might be because survivors find integrative approaches (such as mind-body medicine modalities) compatible with their values, beliefs, and philosophical orientation toward health and life (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
Dealing with Information Overload
A diagnosis of cancer can perhaps lead to information overload. As you approach the end of regular treatment, you might feel yourself abandoned by your health care team. Even though you are yearning for more information on how to approach and care for yourself in cancer survivorship. There is a growing body of research for integrating mind-body medicine into the survivorship experience. It is vital for you and your family to discriminate between modalities or suggestions based on evidence from research and those that are not wholly studied (Mailman, 2014).
Navigating the survivorship journey can be helped by good information and teaching you effective self-care skills. We have the ability to play a central, supportive role at every stage of your survivorship journey. The Absenger Cancer Education Foundation is West Michigan’s only organization dedicated to integrating evidence-based mind-body medicine interventions designed and tailored to guide and support you and your family’s survivorship needs.
While we are confident that you find our mission compatible with your cancer survivorship needs and plans, what does this mean for you?
Let’s break The Art of Living in Cancer Survivorship down a bit further into a philosophical framework that will guide us as we offer evidence-based mind-body modalities to discuss your unique survivorship needs.
The Art of Living in Cancer Survivorship Membership: A Six-Pronged Approach
We will empower and improve the quality of life of West Michigan’s cancer survivors and their loved ones and caretakers, through research, education, and integration of evidence-based nutrition and mind-body modalities.
Below are six guiding principles that serve as our waymarkers as we see our mission come to fruition. This approach probably aligns quite nicely and is most likely compatible with your values, beliefs, and philosophical orientation toward health and life.
Integrative medicine is a philosophy of care, a model of understanding human health and a therapeutic method. Integrative medicine appreciates that we are all biochemically, psychologically, and spiritually distinctive. It recognizes that survivorship care must be personalized to fit these differences and requirements (Gordon & Edwards, 2005). Many mind-body medicine modalities lend themselves quite nicely to discuss your survivorship needs.
The holistic approach appreciates that our body, mind, emotions, and spirit are all interlocked and indivisible constituents of the whole person. Survivorship care is broad in scope, individualized, and encompasses various disciplines. Thought is constantly given to nutrition, exercise, emotional and physical well-being. It is essential to find unique stressors to you and pick out effective stress management techniques. Taken in consideration are the effects of work, and the environment that surrounds you (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
3. Healing Partnerships
Each survivor needs to be an active partner in his or her care with health professionals committed to your full participation in self-awareness and self-care. “Respectful collaboration, not compliance is the watchword” (Gordon & Edwards, 2005, p. 155).
4. Self Care
Making self care a central aspect of survivorship care will be essential. The mind-body medicine modalities we are offering focus on increasing self-awareness, relaxation, meditation, imagery, exercise, nutrition, and spirituality. These modalities can be instruments for health maintenance and symptom management. Once mastered, these modalities can potentially increase your sense of autonomy and control and enhance feelings of well-being (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
5. Group Support
Any sickness can be draining. Due to fatigue, which limits your activity, and because of your modern lifestyle, chronic illness can often lead to isolation. A support group that includes others who might be comparably challenged offers an exceptional opportunity to feel a sense of “community” with and acceptance from your peers (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
A support group’s skillful facilitator can inspire strategies to deal effectively with the challenges that are part of the cancer survivorship journey. The evidence on support groups is comparable to that for many mainstream interventions. The availability of groups specifically designed for survivors to share their experience and learn self-care has dramatically grown over the past decades (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
6. Your Illness as a Journey
Your cancer journey can be regarded as an existential crisis as well as a turning point. It can test your beliefs about life, death, meaning, and your sense of place in the world. In short, the very foundation upon which you built your entire life is challenged and crumbling at your feet. How you meet this challenge primarily shapes the course of your survivorship journey. It will influence your treatment choices, your treatment outcomes, and your future life (Gordon & Edwards, 2005; Mailman, 2014).
Mapping the Cancer Journey Can Help You Make Sense of Emerging New Self
In the best situations, health care providers are both guides and collaborators on your survivorship journey. As a guide and collaborator, the Absenger Cancer Education Foundation, offers evidence-based mind-body medicine modalities. These modalities can help you chart your course and allow you to navigate the sometimes rough waters and harsh landscape of your survivorship journey.
The Art of Living in Cancer Survivorship taught by mind-body modalities can jump start your healing journey to help you not only live and thrive in cancer survivorship but also address the existential crisis you are dealing with.
The evidence-based mind-body medicine modalities we are offering can help you smooth this profound and powerful transition as you try to make sense of the new self that unfolds due diagnosis, treatment and living with cancer.
Here is what we have for you (click on the links for more information of each program):
The Art of Living in Cancer Survivorship: Two membership categories (individual and patient/caregiver) that enable you to receive all of our services at a 50% discount
Music Therapy Programs like a Drumming Circle, Music Therapy for Children and Young Adult Cancer Survivors, Music Assisted Guided Imagery
Yoga Therapy (individual and small groups)
Hatha Yoga Program (description coming soon)
Medical Hypnosis as a non-drug approach for pain
A One Session Smoking Cessation Program (description coming soon)
An 8-Week Stress Management and Mind-body Skill Building Program (description coming soon)
An 8-Week Sexual Wellness Enhancement and Enrichment Training Program (SWEET) (We wrote a manual on that. Yes, really…)
A 6-Week Mindful Eating Program (description coming soon)
A Meditation Program (FREE to members, description coming soon)
A Sunday Afternoon Qiqong Class (description coming soon)
On our website, we have a growing library of useful articles on evidence-based mind-body medicine modalities in cancer survivorship
Monthly educational events and speaker series
Moreover, we are tirelessly evaluating other programs
Works Consulted for this Article
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). A national action plan for cancer survivorship: Advancing public health strategies. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivorship/pdf/ plan.pdf
Gordon, J. S., & Edwards, D. M. (2005). MindBodySpirit Medicine. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, 21(3), 154–158. doi:10.1016/j.soncn.2005.04.002
Hutchinson, T. A., Hutchinson, N., & Arnaert, A. (2009). Whole person care: Encompassing the two faces of medicine. CMAJ, 180(8), 845–846.
Mailman, J. (2014). A patients’ perspective on integrative oncology: Getting past the “War,” living with and beyond cancer. JNCI Monographs, 2014(50), 291–291. doi:10.1093/jncimonographs/lgu035
National Cancer Institute. (2004). About survivorship research: Survivorship definitions. Retrieved from http://1.usa.gov/UtjPcD
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. (1996). Imperatives for quality cancer care: Access, advocacy, action, and accountability. Silver Spring, MD
Ness, S., Kokal, J., Fee-Schroeder, K., Novotny, P., Satele, D., & Barton, D. (2013). Concerns across the survivorship trajectory: Results from a survey of cancer survivors. Oncology Nursing Forum, 40(1), 35–42. doi:10.1188/13.ONF.35-42