Cancer Survivors Find Their Voices

Posted: April 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

I remember teaching Qigong to breast cancer survivors in my little office on Broadway inVancouver in the 1990s. They were very good students and showed up faithfully to the class, always ready to do the healing work. Nonetheless, this  group of women solidified my direction as a strategic  communication specialist once and for all. 

I was studying  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at the time and was surprised to learn that breast cancer is, in TCM, connected to the liver meridian. That startled me – the harmful emotion for the liver, I know, is anger. I thought about that nugget of information and wanted to bring the discussion to the class.

Gently, I broached the subject with the group. Their response is something I will never forget: it was  swift  and filled with rage – not at me – but at the simple fact that they all had been angry for quite some time and it seemed that nobody had noticed. I asked them why they felt this way. Without fail, they told me that they felt they had never been heard. Moreover, they all said that they had never been able to really express what they thought and felt. They had never taken the courage to speak-up. And now life was dealing them a potentially fatal blow and no one knew who these brave cancer warriors really were –  in their heart of hearts.

 These students were all baby-boomers; women caught between the remaining social expectations of girls being nice and good and polite and that world of new feminism where women had shouted cries of feminist freedom from the top of their lungs. Although most of them had been part of the feminist movement and had heralded its cries, not one  had ever expressed herself.  None had ever told her own story.

I will never forgot  one woman who ripped off her wig to show a bald scalp and tore open her blouse to expose the violent scars of a double masectomy: “If my husband tells me one more time that I am beautiful just the way I am, I’m going to go crazy”, she  wailed . “I do not feel beautiful! I don’t know how to be beautiful anymore. Why can’t he just listen to me?”

 I remembered reading Karl Jung in college, “The personality is deranged until the story is told”. I  realized that teaching meditation was well and good – very helpful actually. But, it was only opening doors to deeper issues at the heart of the matter for these cancer survivors. These survivors and many more to come, I was to discover.

When I moved to upstate New York (Putnam County) in 2000, I began working again with people with chronic and terminal illness. Again without fail, as the meditations delved deeper and deeper into the un/sub-conscious mind of cancer survivors, an almost desperate desire to express themselves, to tell their stories emerged. More like erupted! 

I became aware that  many people on the journey to life’s approaching end were most frightened of leaving this world without ever having been heard. Afraid they would be left to suffer in silence. That they would die and no one would ever know who they really were. Years later, the majority of those with chronic pain expressed the same outrage as the breast cancer women in Vancouver. No one, including many doctors, wanted to hear their story, their pain and disabilities. How they struggled – just to be heard, to be taken seriously!

My storytelling show, “Stories That Heal” was being well received in New York and area at the time. It wasn’t a quantum leap to recognize that I needed to create a system for people to help to heal themselves through the rendering of their life stories.

Yes, teaching meditation is a wonderful job; helping people clarify their paths as they face the almost always inevitable end, or to just get through another day, is very meaningful and special to me. But, I began to feel that I was arriving too late. The damage was done! People need to know they have the right to Speak-Up! Then, they need to know how.

 I was already a professional speaker, had been a free-lance radio news broadcaster, the president of a Toastmasters club, an editor and writer. It was time, I realized, to use my voice differently. It was time to teach people to find their voices, to speak to be heard. To stand up and to  speak up. Hence, the birth of my Speak-Up Performance Classes.

 Communicating is at the heart of our experiences as humans. In the words of American poet, Muriel Rukeyser, “The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” Stories are what bind us together as human beings. Communicating our story well allows us to connect with each other on very deep and healing levels. It serves to rearrange our personalities in a much more wholistic manner.

For more information on Speak-Up Classes, please contact me.

Go well and speak from your heart.

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