I have spent my entire career counseling people struggling with medical issues including cancer, cardiac disease, neurological disorders and chronic pain. Thus, I am very familiar with the challenges of life-threatening and chronic illness on the mind, the body and the spirit. I was quite inspired this week by Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, whom on the eve of undergoing a Bone Marrow Transplant uttered these words:
"...this journey is as much about the mind as the body...you have to change the way you think to change the way you feel".
Powerful words from someone fighting a life threatening disease, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), formerly known as preleukemia. As a therapist who firmly believes in the power of the mind to affect the body, I am excited to see her outlook publicized on national television. My hope is she will inspire others who are struggling with medical or mental concerns to redirect their thoughts in a more positive way.
For those unfamiliar with Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT), I will explain briefly the extremely rigorous demands it places on a person. Prior to undergoing BMT, 10 days of high dose chemotherapy is administered with the goal of destroying any cancer cells and the person's immune system which will later be replaced with an infusion of donor bone marrow cells. During this time, there is high risk of infection and the person undergoing the procedure is isolated from others, sometimes for several weeks or months.
As it was described to me by a friend and BMT survivor, she struggled to remember her life outside of the hospital room and relied on family photos to reorient herself. While the physical symptoms were very difficult to manage- nausea and overwhelming fatigue - the mental/emotional challenges were equally difficult. She became acutely aware of the need to remind herself it would pass and she would one day be reunited with her family.
A common thread between these two women and their shared journeys is their resiliency and post-traumatic growth. Robin has openly, publicly shared her journey with breast cancer and now MDS. Her choice to make a very personal life experience public has allowed her to receive more support than I suspect she could have ever imagined. Her final words expressed her thankfulness for this support:
"I feel the love...and I am so grateful."
My friend has also chosen a public path in sharing her story. She founded a program, Looking Forward to help support cancer survivors as they went through their own cancer journeys. She was the public face of Looking Forward until recently moving out of state and now celebrates 19 years of wellness! During the challenging times, the Serenity Prayer became her mantra:
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The Courage to change the things I can;
and the Wisdom to know the difference."
-- Reinhold Neibuhr
Wise words indeed.
Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information: www.anschealthandwellness.com