The American Cancer Society projects nearly 1.5 million new cases of cancer in 2007, including more than 180,000 breast cancer cases. This means there is a good chance that someone close to you, family or friend, will be diagnosed. Being prepared to receive the news and support your loved one can make a significant difference in their healing journey and empower you as a member of their healing team. Let this meditation help prepare you to meet the challenge of a loved one diagnosed with breast cancer.
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How to Hone Your Spiritual Support Skills
The news that a loved one has cancer may arrive in many forms. It may come by phone, email, person-to-person, or directly from the doctor. It may come by total surprise or with signs and symptoms leading up to it. No matter the source or the events leading to the information, it will have a profound effect on both you and your loved one who receives the diagnosis. Here are five basic skills we are all capable of honing. These will prove to be invaluable as you join your loved one in facing their challenge.
- Consider Your Reaction: When possible, deal with your feelings first. Think of when the flight attendants prepare for take off and remind you that if the oxygen masks should appear fasten your’s first before that of a child or someone else. You need to be centered and breathing calmly before you can be available to others. In the same manner, confront your feelings and emotions first. After receiving the news, take some time for meditation and prayer. Face the natural feelings of hurt, pain, denial and fear and process them so that you can approach your loved one with clarity of purpose and their highest good your primary focus. If you are with your family member or friend when the diagnosis is received, quickly center your self and be emotionally available to them in that moment. When the opportunity presents itself later on, give yourself the time to process. Consult with clergy, counselors, physicians and others in your support network. Remember that you are not alone in this work.
- Gather Information: If your loved one asks, begin to gather information about resources that are available to help with the challenge. Doctors, social workers and clergy often have libraries of information and networks of service providers and agencies, experienced in the needs of cancer patients. Volunteer to help but never force information or your personal opinions on someone who is emotionally vulnerable. Avoid the tendency to use expressions that project an outcome you can’t guarantee. Telling someone that “everything will be fine” serves no purpose and ultimately may be emotionally harmful and break the bond of trust between you.
- Listen and Be Present: Perhaps the greatest gift we can give anyone with a health challenge is our loving presence and a non-judgmental ear. Give your loved one the room to express everything they are feeling and never deny them the ability to voice and release anger, pain, fears and tears. Remember that there is no right or wrong when it comes to processing the emotions of a health crisis. We each have our own coping mechanisms ranging from hysterical crying to hysterical laughter and every shade in between. While listening, create sacred space by opening your heart and surrounding your loved one with a “bubble of love” and always listen to what they are truly saying. Remember that listening in this way does not require a response, just a loving witness.
- Use Prayer, Meditation, and Spiritual Therapies: First let me say that etched indelibly into my code of ethics is a phrase I learned from one of my beloved teachers, Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, who founded the New Seminary of New York, “Never instead of; always in addition to.” I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of people in healing crisis seeking out and following the advice and protocols prescribed by their doctors and other traditional western healing professionals. That being said, prayer, meditation and complimentary spiritual therapies have become customary additions for those seeking spiritual enhancement to the traditional approach. Each of us has the ability to pray and meditate, and I believe that we all also have the ability to channel healing energy for ourselves and others. At a minimum, these practices are relaxing and stress reduction goes hand in hand with traditional medical practice. If you seek out a practitioner of these arts, apply the same criteria you would as a consumer seeking out a physician. Beware of incredible claims and run, do not walk, away from anyone telling you to abandon traditional western medicine.
- Return to the Familiar: One of the best ways to support your loved one in a healing mind set is to assist them in getting back to the routine of life. Several years ago, my sister-in-law was treated for breast cancer. My wife and I discussed what we could do to aid her in getting back into the flow of her life. My sister-in-law is a wonderful elementary school teacher and she always takes pride in having a beautiful and stimulating class room setting for her students. The school year was a few weeks away from starting and I suggested that we fly out to California and assist her in setting up her classroom. She welcomed the idea and the helping hands for this annual ritual that means so much to her.
Find a comfortable place where you can sit, relax and be alone for a few minutes. Slowly close your eyes and take a few deep breaths at your own pace and level of comfort.
As you relax, visualize your loved one who has been diagnosed with some form of cancer.
Begin to come in touch with your feelings. Acknowledge your reaction when you first found out about their illness. Know that anger, sadness, frustration and guilt…even questioning your faith, are all normal human responses to difficult news. Have compassion for yourself. Open your heart to your own humanity and promise to give yourself the same gifts of kindness and respect that you will be giving your loved one on this journey you are about to undertake together. Know that you also have resources and support to help you with your needs as you help your loved one.
Sense or visualize yourself gathering information and resources to assist your loved one. See yourself speaking with doctors, social workers, counselors and clergy, researching in libraries or on-line, and learning from others in support groups. Remember to only share with your loved one that which is asked for and appropriate.
In your mind’s eye, remember a time when you were sad or afraid and how good it felt when someone listened…really listened…as you expressed these feelings. Visualize yourself giving this very precious gift to your loved one. See yourself creating a safe, loving space for this purpose and quietly listening, listening with both mind and heart, as they express what are they are going through. Sense your strength and ability to refrain from the need to respond unless it is truly appropriate. Give the gift of the open and non-judgmental heart and mind.
As your loved one comes through treatment, see yourself encouraging them return to life’s routine and rituals. Whatever the norm may be for them, living life to the fullest is a wonderful natural therapy.
And finally, give your loved one the gift of spirit. Pray in whatever your way of praying may be and offer to pray with them. With their permission, submit a prayer or spiritual healing request to a local group or one of the many on-line volunteer organizations that perform this loving service. And know that you are never alone…that the spirit of divine love is always with you.
Begin to slowly return to the present, take three deep and comfortable breaths, and when you are ready, open your eyes.
May you be blessed on your path.