A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. – John Lennon
I have always said that my patients are my teachers. In my book, Faith, Hope, & Healing, one of my patients shares the advice she got from a friend about the difference between being strong and being a survivor. Upon hearing of my patient’s diagnosis, her friend said, “…don’t do cancer the way I did.” This wise friend went on to say that she could not over-emphasize the importance of reaching out for help during the healing journey. My patient and her friend were self-described “strong women,” not necessarily a bad thing unless it means a self-image and image among family and friends that restricts you to always being totally self-reliant and “there for everyone else” to the exclusion of expressing your own needs. I’ve worked with patients who have spent their lives up to the point of facing a life-threatening illness so embedded in this mindset of “being strong” that they actually had trouble defining their own needs for a successful healing journey. Most had no experience at all in asking anyone for help.
It takes courage to ask for help when you never have, and when people around you keep reinforcing your image as “strong.” But people are not meant to go it alone in life. To be authentically human, we need to be vulnerable, showing our emotional range to others and benefiting from letting go of unrealistic expectations. In going deep within to discover our unique selves, we can also discover self-love. When we love and respect ourselves, it becomes natural to share our experiences. Through that sharing we can meet our need to both give and receive caring, loving support.
One truth I’ve learned is that people can be many things to others—we can be the strong, reliant person if called for, but we can also be the willing recipient of another’s strength when we need it. The power of developing survivor skills emerges from sharing experiences and strategies. Some of the approaches that I have seen work so well with individuals and groups include guided imagery, self-hypnosis, interpreting dreams and symbols, and mindfulness meditation. All can help with staying present in the moment as you boost and maintain your immune system with the energy you need for the healing journey. A constant theme for my patients is choosing strategies that create a peaceful, loving and supportive environment in which illness and treatment can be absorbed into everyday life.
The healing journey does not end with cure or remission—it is about much more than just disease and medical treatment. It is about being a survivor who is fully engaged in life, loving every moment as your unique self. By learning how to let others help, you will be giving them a great gift. The chance to express love and caring to another validates our humanness and releases just that much more love into the Universe!
The giving of love is an education in itself. –Eleanor Roosevelt