The Survivors Teaching Students program described below was designed by Betty Reiser, an ovarian cancer survivor and advocate. She's being inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame (her alma mater) for her work.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Psalm 107: 6, 13, 19, 28
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21, 31
This pair of repeated refrains is one of several poetic devices used in Psalm 107. Four different desperate occasions are presented using the same formula: the problem, the cry of distress, God’s answer, and the gratitude given. It’s a beautiful psalm, one of the first I knew. A portion of it was included in my seventh grade language arts textbook, with an illustration of a boat tossed high on the waves, portraying the final frightening scenario of this section of the psalm.
I don’t know how many urgent occasions cancer will offer you or someone dear to you. For me, the onset and diagnosis was one and chemo another; finding a second cancer was a third and the ongoing fear of recurrences a fourth. I also have a low-grade desperation over my finances (a freelancer’s always-present concern exacerbated by the costs of cancer treatment), and mild anxiety that besets me a month to six weeks before my next checkup. The concern for my sisters and brothers with cancer constitutes another set of desperate, recurring occasions.
From each of these, God delivers again and again. This morning, I woke up happy,
for no real reason. (I don’t wake up miserable on most days, but happy is a rarity—I’m usually
still too sleepy to register happiness.) I’ve tried to assign cause—perhaps I’m happy because
I am part of the Survivors Teaching Students team at Miami Valley Hospital, where third-year
students from Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine will listen to some of us
tell our stories and answer questions for an hour.
The program is designed to give future doctors, in whatever specialty they choose to enter,
more awareness of the subtle symptoms of our cancer. The sessions offer the students insight into
ovarian cancer, one that’s often paired with the word “deadly,” and a chance to see women who
are—at the moment—beating it. For me, it’s a chance to be with some of my favorite women in
the world, whom I would not have known but for the link of our cancers.
Participating also offers some meaning to my cancer. Emily Dickinson wrote that if she
could “help one fainting robin Unto his nest again,” she would not “have lived in vain.”
Women participating in the program feel that if we can spare one woman what we’ve gone
through, our experiences will not have been in vain. It is a mercy of God that we live;
Survivors Teaching Students is one way to give thanks for that mercy and the daily wonders
we receive, whether in treatment or in remission.