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Creating Havens in a World Marked by Cancer

by JoAnn Semones, PhD

Wellness image At a time when you are feeling unsafe and vulnerable, it is important to find and create havens. When my partner, Julie Barrow, was diagnosed with cancer, we needed people, places, and things around us to rekindle our spirit and restore our sense of balance. We stumbled upon six concepts that provided us with a sense of refuge, helped us cope, and saw us through treatment.

1. Let People Help You
In fact, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. You deserve it. Let someone hold you, cook for you, drive you to appointments. Make up a schedule for visits with family and friends. Let them come to you. If there is anything special you need, ask them to bring it or ask them to do it. They will.

2. Keep Your Sense Of Humor
A little tumor humor can help get you through the day. Wear hats, pins, Winnie the Pooh shoes, stickers on your bald head. Carry stuffed animals. Let the world know what is happening. You will be surprised at the gifts you receive, not the least of which is a smile or a hug.

3. Go Coastal
Visit a lighthouse, tide pool, or seabird refuge. It will take you outside of yourself. Consider becoming a volunteer to help protect these vital cultural and natural resources. They are important symbols of life, and most of us need to be part of something greater than ourselves.

4. Cry, Grieve
Sometimes, it is okay to be a wimp. You don’t always have to be Wonder Woman. This is a hard time. Let your feelings out. Don’t hold them inside. It is part of the healing process, renewal, and moving on. You will find letting go will let in more courage.

Author of Article photo

Dr. JoAnn Semones

7. Regenerate, Revitalize
Do something just for yourself. Write, paint, read, create mandalas, play music, go out to dinner, see a movie. Set time aside each week for your own special spa day. You will feel refreshed and ready to face whatever comes next.

6. Always Carry Your Pocket Angel
It will help you remember that you are never alone. It is like carrying a prayer in your pocket and knowing that we are all making this journey together. Julie carries an extra one to share with anyone in need. Even when you need so much yourself, it is a good feeling to help others.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. JoAnn Semones is an author, historian, and caregiver. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including Surviving magazine, Healing Environments, the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, and Stanford University’s anthology Learning to Live Again. To find out more about JoAnn and her writings, visit

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2008.