Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Remembering Who We Are

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you.
Deuteronomy 15:15

Last week in her sermon, my priest mentioned that over and over in the Hebrew Bible, the people are reminded of their history. Why would anyone want to remember a time of being enslaved? Remembering their distress, as well as their triumphs, was designed to remind the people of Israel who they were and how God delivered them.
After treatment or surgery, cancer patients sometimes want to forget everything about their experience. Put it all back the way it was! we may cry, not knowing how impossible that really is. Yet probably you know, as I do, people who return to smoking after successful treatment, people who never find a support group because they don’t need one. And maybe they don’t—how can I know or prescribe what’s best for everyone?
             As a member of Survivors Teaching Students, I am privileged along with a few other women in this area to remember and share my story. Some of the survivors who’ve been invited to join us have not been able to do so. “It brings it all back,” one said, after listening to one of our sessions. Yes, it does. While we don’t dwell on the wretchedness of hair loss, nausea, or fatigue, these realities do come up. Our audience is comprised of future doctors—almost always young people in good health—and we don’t want to minimize the trauma or suffering of cancer treatment.
            We bring it all back to remind ourselves of who we are. We are survivors, an overused word. The support group I’m part of refers to us instead as thrivers, going beyond mere dreary survival. Whatever term we choose, we are people whose lives will never be the same, affected not only by the disease but also by all the people we meet in Cancerland—doctors, nurses, and other patients all have something to share.
            The support group for women cancer survivors that I joined is organized into smaller groups. Mine met for lunch at a chain restaurant recently. At the end of the meal, each of us shared where we were now in our cancer experience, rejoicing with all those still healthy, commiting to pray (or visualize or send energy or whatever it is we do) for the women who are facing increasing numbers. The woman next to me leaned over at one point and said quietly, “The women at the next table are getting an earful!” It was true—names of cancer drugs and tumor marker numbers rolled easily off our tongues, and we spoke loudly to be heard over the restaurant’s din.
We laugh and we hug, glad for a reason to be glad for the people we’ve met because of cancer, if not the disease itself. We remind ourselves of who we are and where we’ve been and are strengthened in that remembering.

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