Sunday 12 June 2005

Adversity can bring out the very best! (Thoughts about dealing with cancer)

Last Sunday afternoon Sam Donaldson, the veteran newsman from ABC and a survivor of lymphoma, was here to help our health system colleagues, patients, and friends from the community celebrate with 155 cancer survivors (my own mother among them) all of whom have survived cancer for at least five years -- and all treated by our new Center for Cancer Care here in Goshen. The CCC program was established only approximately six years ago, but has already brought us national attention and, fortunately for us, attracted some "world class" cancer doctors, and some very special accreditation, as well. (See the news release summarizing these developments at: )

Mr. Donaldson predicted that what we have here in Goshen may very well become the next "Mayo Clinic" -- starting in a very small town but growing rapidly because of the quality of care and cutting edge approaches to treatment. I don't know about that -- time will tell. What I do know is that I feel privileged to work here in this capacity and to be a real part of what's happening. However, what stood out in my mind was something else Sam said that earlier today really "struck home."

Mr. Donaldson affirmed a fact -- that there has NEVER been a cancer that someone hasn't survived. This profound thought figured prominently in his own story and in the type of attitude and relationship he had with his own cancer doctor -- it is a message of hope, indeed.

Then a few days later I encountered the story that truly grabbed my attention -- an unfolding autobiographical account by 23 year-old Alicia Parlette in a 7-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle. When I came across it at first, midweek, I thought I was too busy to read it because of the length, but she drew me in after the first page. It's a story of her own fight with a very rare form of cancer, a certain type of sarcoma, which was discovered while she was working as a copy editor at the SFC. Her self-disclosure is a poignant witness to the importance that family, friends and faith have become -- especially when the news is bad.

I absorbed the first four installments right away, and have kept up daily ever since. Her journal surveys the emotional and spiritual map of a young cancer patient like nothing I've ever quite read before -- and is extremely relevant to my own work in spiritual care here with the Goshen Health System

Not only is it a powerful read, but what really was the kicker for me on Wednesday was to hear, in her own voice, her reflections and responses regarding the new directions her life has taken over the past three months -- during an interview with Alex Chadwick, which originally aired Tuesday on NPR's program "Day to Day." You can listen to her yourself at NPR's archive of programs online; they also have a link to Alicia's journal installments the SF Chronicle is publishing daily and which are stored on their own online archives. Find that link to the series in the upper left corner of NPR's website at:

or you can read them directly at . On Thursday, after being duly inspired by what I had just read in that day's installment, I sent Alicia an e-mail link to a special card I created for her to see --at least I hope she'll see it-- in response that emotionally and spiritually-charged section of her saga. Anyone reading as far as the end of installment #5 will understand this card's significance:

By the way, you can copy this link and send it along to anyone else you wish at any time, as a word of encouragement or reassurance, since I intentionally created the card for that purpose. I deliberately didn't personalize" the card itself with Alicia's name. I created it with my
personal subscription to the artist Jacquie Lawson's website, so it will last pretty much "in perpetuity" * housed indefinitely at a certain section of the internet, even if my subscription eventually runs out. In other words, this link will always "work" when clicked upon, and without ANY associated advertisements (unlike most cards you get or see nowadays...)

Today, Saturday, I see that ABC News has made Alicia Parlette the "Person of the Week!" Wow. Read their summary here:


- Clair

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