Cancer can be an adventure into the soul

Storytelling is as old as humanity. In telling our stories, we share, learn, and ideally pass along wisdom. As Isak Dinesen once wrote, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.”

This story starts with PW’s cancer diagnosis in 2009. Nodal marginal zone lymphoma: not curable, hopefully manageable.

For some, cancer invites a retreat within. For others, it can be a call to action. For me, it was a bit of both.

In 2017, I sold my house to travel. At the time, I was quite ill; I was afraid that my cancer was back, and I simply couldn’t face yet another round of medical intervention.

So I decided to hit the road. At least for a bit. And the blog CancerRoadTrip was born.

The metaphor of the road trip is an old one, embedded in our verbal discourse. Fork in the road; bump in the road; twists and turns. All are metaphors so appropriate to life with cancer.

I traveled by boat, plane, railway, foot, car, and bus, embracing the novelty of the unfolding road. Time and travel gave me a chance for reflection. Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me: “If I could have a CancerRoadTrip to heal, why can’t others?”

From this thought, a new program has emerged to look at life after cancer.

Each quarter, CancerRoadTrip gives seven individuals impacted by cancer (we call them “Travelers”) a bucket-list trip to an amazing location. Each film generates a documentary with an award-winning filmmaker. Over time, as we travel the world with our seven Travelers, we explore health, happiness, and healing from different cultural perspectives.

Each Traveler is post-treatment and dealing with the social, psychological, physical, and spiritual issues associated with life after cancer treatment. Their trip — the excitement of travel and their personal reflections on life after cancer — is captured on film, for inspiration and education for the entire cancer community. Using film and the power of story, we share our insights with others facing similar issues.

Part of the CancerRoadTrip proceeds will go to cancer research. For many years, cancer research seemed to overlook some areas of the aftermath of treatment. Thankfully, various research initiatives are now exploring this aspect of the cancer experience, although the recognition that cancer impacts one’s quality of life has long been salient to those of us who walk this path. Social dislocation and isolation, considerations of mortality and spirituality, physical changes and challenges, psychological fear of recurrence, missing body parts, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and loss of livelihood are all part of the path for many of us. Many patients are on their own to find answers to complex emotional, psychological, and practical issues, the resolution of which can take many years.

I put out an inquiry on Twitter.

Question:

What is the hardest thing you have faced post cancer treatment? Fatigue? PTSD? Fear of recurrence? Being alone? What would you most like to heal??

Select answers:

For me, it’s not even about cancer or living with it. The hardest thing will be the amount of cash needed to monitor the progression. The cost of this disease is way too high for the average person to afford.

Relive my wife’s PTSD. Way worse than anything I deal with.

Fatigue, steroid-induced sleep disruption, and occasional cognitive problems. Almost certainly linked.

I didn’t fear reoccurrence until I had it. Now I fear it reoccurring again. Day to day, fatigue is the worst plus that sense of impending doom. It makes each day one to be treasured.

Not being able to trust my own body. Every ache or pain.

All of the above. Tired, traumatized, afraid lonely, a body that still needs healing. I’m a year out. This is a long haul, that’s for sure. Never underestimate the effects physically, mentally, and spiritually that #Cancer leaves in its wake.

Post-treatment healing is essential, and in my opinion, partially falls outside of the medical realm. Medicine is good at intervention. In its current form, it’s not as good at the whole-person healing side of the equation.

Healing is a journey, unique to each individual, that takes time and commitment to finding a resolution. There’s not a pill, procedure, or program that can address the long-term, multi-faceted social, spiritual, and psychological issues that result from cancer treatment.

Many cultures turn to stories to pass along guidance and wisdom. And that is what CancerRoadTrip is all about. It’s about the power of story to engage, inspire, and transform. Stories are so important — they transcend time, religion, and race. They touch us in a deep, indefinable manner because they offer experiential engagement. And heartfelt engagement is where healing lies.

One of the taglines for CancerRoadTrip is “Life is an adventure. Live it!”

What is a life well lived?

With nearly 40 percent of us receiving a cancer diagnosis (American Cancer Society), what if even just a portion of us could find deeper meaning and personal transformation through this experience? Can cancer also be an adventure into the soul? Could the twists and turns and bumps in the road of the experience lead to a better place, at least for some of us?

It’s all in how we tell the story.

Pat Wetzel is founder, Cancer Road TripSherry-Ann Brown is a cardiologist. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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