Cancer patient discovers she too knows something about healing
There I was, in the little cubicle, waiting for the doctor. I had hoped there would be time for my questions.
The door opened. My surgeon entered, scanning the updated notes in my file. Looking up, she made eye contact at last.
"Wow, you look great!" she smiled. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up!"
I grinned back. "Qi Gong and a lot of prayer," I replied.
My surgery a week ago, for breast cancer, was her domain. The healing—the seeking of wholeness that may or may not include curing—was mine. I wanted to share my ideas with her, but I only got that brief mention in before we moved on to clinical details.
Raised to be a very good girl, I was taught to obey authority. And that spills over into healthcare decisions, to do what the doctor says. Pills and procedures were what would cure me, I once believed, and prayer was separate. You didn't discuss prayer with the doctor.
But it was when I began searching the internet for information on cancer, that I first met St. Basil the Great (329-379). Having established what was probably the first hospital, this monk was once asked if it was not impertinent to use medicinal herbs along with prayer to ease the burdens that afflict us. Basil replied that both were a gift of divine providence.
As I read, I couldn't stop the giggles that arose within me. So 2,000 years ago, prayer worked, but we might also get good results with those herbs and potions. Somehow, I mused, we seem to have dropped the prayer part. I wanted it back.
My journey through cancer isn't the story. Yes, that was when I asked for the cocoon of caring love by requesting prayer from cloistered nuns, from a San Francisco Jewish Healing Center, from my own congregation.
But it wasn't until three years later that I heard of the work being done by Christina M. Puchalski, M.D., and the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health. Puchalski sees spirituality as "that which allows a person to experience transcendent meaning" and gives a person "purpose in life."
If only four years ago as I faced my cancer decisions, I had had a copy of the tiny card her institute gives to medical students and all healthcare providers. Its "Faith, Influence, Community, and Action" spiritual assessment tool sets the stage for patients and caregivers to learn how to discuss spirituality as part of the healing process.
As for me, I grow fresh basil in my garden, snip a few leaves for my pasta and talk to Basil. I begin every day with Qi Gong exercises, find prayer answers while watching a thunderstorm, or touch healing in a midnight moment graced by the presence of a friend.
Yes, I intend to tell my next healthcare provider I need all of this.
Doctor, I will listen to your proposed procedures. Will you listen to mine?
Sara Sanderson, a member of St. Luke's UCC in Speedway, Ind., is the community essayist for The Speedway Town Press.