Signposts of the Cancer Journey
by Alan S. Wolkenstein, MSW, LCSW, and M. Evan Wolkenstein, MA
The term survivor is used to describe a person who has lived through a brush with death. “Cancer survivors are those individuals with cancer of any type, current or past, who are still living. From the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life, a person diagnosed with cancer is a survivor,” according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
Survivor comes from the French word “vive,” meaning long live. However, the term is insufficient because it does not explain the permanent imprint and resulting transformation of the individual and family it touches. The term survivor is too much about being unfairly owned by the disease. The term can limit the definitions of who we are, where we have been, and what will become of us. One does not live through any tragedy without transformation, and all transformation requires loss.
In light of this, survivors need balance, focus, and meaning:
We may be stronger than we believe, but it takes time to bring our world back into balance. Give us the time and support our efforts.
Help us be mindful of our task to attempt to focus our energies on what is most important to us.
Combine with us the efforts to make sense and meaning of our experiences. Seek to join our worldview as we attempt the process of coping and adapting.
M. Evan Wolkenstein
We live with impermanence and in a constant state of impermanence. Impermanence is part of life. Nevertheless, knowing about impermanence is not the same as understanding and finding some grace and ease with it. For some, the signposts of their journey are those of hopelessness and helplessness. The path of others is focused on signposts of appreciation for the brightness of life itself.
What causes some of us to walk a path of suffering while others walk a path of enlightenment? Signposts are there for us to follow and are determined mostly by our ability to accept impermanence as a central feature of life.
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Alan Wolkenstein, a cancer survivor, is clinical professor and coordinator of the Behavioral Sciences at Aurora University of Wisconsin Medical Education Group. Evan Wolkenstein, his son, is director of Experiential Education at Jewish Community Hospital of the Bay, San Francisco.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2009.