Monthly Archives: June 2019

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 5: A Secular Mindset

I composed the post below before reading Diamante Lavendar’s powerful paean to spirituality on this site. The benefits of spirituality that she describes are undeniable, but I believe they are also available through other means and without reliance on a supreme being. Here’s my take on one such alternative pathway.

In previous posts, I described some strategies that sustained me during my prolonged treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. Here, I add one more item to that list. While many people rely on religious faith in a medical crisis and while I respect such beliefs, I followed a different road.

It didn’t start that way. My parents were nominal Catholics and I was raised in that tradition. I was baptized, took first Communion, was confirmed, and attended Sunday Mass with my family into my early teens. With the onset of puberty and a teenager’s classic sense of immortality, however, Catholicism lost its relevance for me. I fell away from a religion I had never fully embraced.

After drifting through my teenage years, I enrolled in college and became enamored with philosophy and sociology. I found their emphasis on scientific observation, logical reasoning, and rational explanation to be much more compelling. I became a “child” of the Enlightenment, a practicing sociologist, and a secular humanist.

One benefit of this world-view is described in Philip Zuckerman’s Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions. He notes that secular-minded people may actually weather challenges such as a life-threatening illness more readily than someone who is religious. For the latter, such an event may precipitate a crisis of faith and a quest to restore that faith while also dealing with their illness. For the secular-minded, there is no crisis because there was no ultimate faith to be shaken in the first place.

This could allow secular-minded folks to more readily adopt a pragmatic, problem-solving attitude toward life’s misfortunes. This attitude was certainly reflected in the pro-active stance that I brought to my treatment. Whenever possible, I sought to act and solve problems in ways that would foster my recovery. When that wasn’t possible, I learned new levels of patience and non-judgmental acceptance from my practice of mindfulness. And finally, I also accepted that there was an irreducible element of luck or random variation that would determine the outcome of my treatment.

My beliefs allowed me to arrive at a good place during a bad time. The secular world view I had nurtured my entire adult life was like a comforting companion on the roller coaster ride that was my diagnosis, treatment, and eventual recovery.  Standard disclaimer: I have no idea if my secular practicality had any direct bearing on my successful outcome, but it certainly sustained my sense of self over the long haul.

 

steve bSteve Buechler is a recently retired sociology professor and cancer survivor.  In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. He has since become a big advocate of writing stories as a survival strategy in the face of life-threatening illness.  His own story is available in “How Steve Became Ralph: A Cancer/Stem Cell Odyssey (with Jokes),” his memoir from Written Dream Publishing. To learn more visit Steve’s website.

The Effects of Spirituality on Health

For years I have been seeking Spirit to help me through life hardship.  I have also been seeking a relationship with Spirit to help me achieve the things I believe that my destiny holds for me.  There was a time when I was an atheist.  But that has drastically changed.   I have experienced both sides of the story.  And I can truthfully tell you that I am much happier now that I have a relationship with God.

It was strange how I came to know my Father in heaven.  It was something I had experienced in brief “bursts” as a child.  I called it the “Christmas feeling”.  A deep sense of peace and wellbeing would come over me during tough moments in my childhood.  I didn’t know how to explain it but it was truly beautiful.  The moment that really changed the course of my life was when I buried my first child.  Losing her catapulted me into a relationship with God because I was so deeply devastated.  Since then I’ve been on a spiritual journey of learning and growing.  It has truly changed me over the years.

One way that it has changed me has been that my relationship with Spirit has made me more positive and hopeful.  There have been so many studies regarding the effects of positive thinking on health and overall wellbeing.  All of them support the fact that positive people are happier and healthier.

First of all, positive thinking is key to effective stress management.  Effective stress management directly impacts your health in a positive way.  It increases your lifespan, lowers depression and distress,  increases your resistance to diseases and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.  (mayoclinic.org, “Stress Management”)

Spiritual beliefs take it one step farther.  Having a deep sense of God, or Spirit, helps to give you purpose and meaning in life.  You don’t feel like you’re some random “accident”.  You feel that you are alive because of a loving force who needs you and wants you.  You come to know that you have a destiny to fulfill, a reason for being alive.   It also prevents isolation and depression.  When you are part of a group of like minded people, you have the support of a community.  You are not an island onto yourself.  You realize that there are others who believe the same things that you do.   (everydayhealth.com, “6 Ways Spirituality Can Make You Healthier”)

Spirituality also decreases stress because you feel that you have a destiny, and a powerful support system through a heavenly perspective.  It isn’t just “you against the world”.  It is you, your angels, guides, your Father who loves you and relatives on the other side interceding for you, visiting you and helping you.  You have a huge extended family!  In fact, depending on your spiritual perspective, you may even believe that we are all a part of a huge, loving family comprised of those on earth as well as those in heaven!  With a support system like that, it helps you maintain the perspective that no matter what happens, you will get through it.  It might be really tough at times, but you’re definitely not alone!

Spirituality also makes people more resilient, more faithful in relationships, have happier children and creates a deeper sense of satisfaction with your family life.  (psychologytoday.com, “The Surprising Health Benefits Of Spirituality”).  When we concentrate on love, lending a helping hand, and raising our children with a sense of caring and compassion, we promote wellbeing not only in our families but in the world around us.  We leave a positive mark on those who we interact with.

There are so many reasons that make spirituality a helpful component of health and wellbeing.  If only for the effect it has on us to be more loving, kind and empathetic, it is a fountain of good for ourselves and the world around us.  What a wonderful way to stay positive, motivated and driven to make a change in ourselves, those we love and our surroundings!

If you’d like to read more about my work, you can visit me at www.diamantelavendar.com.  I’m also an artist and my art can be found at www.diamante-lavendar.pixels.com

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 4: Humor

My previous posts have described how mindfulness, physical activity, and a pro-active stance sustained me during my treatment for acute myeloid leukemia.  Alongside these strategies – and not to be underestimated – was maintaining my sense of humor.

To be sure, cancer is no laughing matter. Nothing about it is easy, and it’s certainly not funny. That is precisely why I found it essential to retain my sense of humor upon my diagnosis and throughout my treatment.

Doing so became an antidote to the somber reality of what I was facing. It was a quiet form of resistance that kept the cancer at arm’s length. In my mind, humor was a way of saying you may make me sick and may eventually kill me, but I’m still going to enjoy a good (or bad) joke along the way.

In my interactions with doctors, nurses and staff, I routinely used humor to break the ice and lighten the mood.  It was not a denial of my situation as much as a way of transcending it, and they seemed to appreciate the respite it provided from the gravity of my condition and the details of my treatment.

In my periodic, written reports to family and friends, I concluded each message with a joke. They weren’t necessarily great jokes. They weren’t necessarily new jokes. Some might even say that I favored quantity over quality. But the process of finding and composing them was a welcome diversion that elevated my spirits even on dark days.

For my readers, I suspect they lightened the impact of my often-dire news and let people know I was not losing hope.  And it let them know they could connect with me as the person I’ve always been and not just as a cancer patient.

The standard disclaimer in this series of posts still applies. I have no idea if my reliance on humor had any direct bearing on my successful outcome, but it certainly sustained my spirit over the long haul.

And so, in closing, I would just like to say:

An agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac walks into a bar.

The bartender serves him a drink and says, “Hey pal, you look really tired.”

The guy says, “Tell me about it. I lay awake every night wondering if there really is a Dog.”

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 1: Mindfulness

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 2: Physical Activity

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 3: Being Proactive

steve bSteve Buechler is a recently retired sociology professor and cancer survivor.  In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. He has since become a big advocate of writing stories as a survival strategy in the face of life-threatening illness.  His own story is available in “How Steve Became Ralph: A Cancer/Stem Cell Odyssey (with Jokes),” his memoir from Written Dream Publishing. To learn more visit Steve’s website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 3: Being Proactive

My treatment for acute myeloid leukemia required four separate hospital stays.  They began with a 37-day stint for initial treatment and concluded with a 25-day stay for my actual transplant, with two, one-week stints in between to keep my disease under control until my transplant.

From my first days in the hospital, it was evident that there was very little I could control in my new circumstances. Rather than indulging in despair or frustration, I resolved to focus on my immediate environment and be as pro-active as possible in that small world.

Toward that end, I took charge of my room by making my bed every morning and fastidiously keeping everything neat and tidy throughout the day. I began the exercise routines and mindfulness practices described in previous posts.  I wrote regular reports to keep people informed about my status. It wasn’t much, but it still provided some sense of agency and control within my new “home.”

I also brought a pro-active attitude to my medical care. I looked forward to my daily consultations with the doctors whenever they happened to drop in.  I always had questions ready about my treatment, medications, and progress. Their willingness to entertain my questions and concerns felt very supportive, and our consultations came to feel like a synergistic collaboration.

For example, there were at least two occasions when I experienced unwelcome side effects from my medications. As they speculated on the causes, I would add my own observations about the dosing, timing and effects of various drugs.  Through these collaborative discussions, we successfully resolved some problems that had perplexed each of us individually.

My most frequent and prolonged interactions, however, were with my nurses. From the start, I sought to create some rapport as they tended to my needs.  This began as a conscious strategy on my part, but quickly evolved into a genuine appreciation for all they did and a grateful acknowledgement of their challenges throughout the day.

When time permitted, we would chat about relatives, crack some jokes, commiserate about politics, or share life stories. Each of these conversations reframed their clinical care-giving into a more human and personal interaction. The small efforts I made to establish rapport were repaid many times over in the care I received.

In all these ways, I sought to be an active subject in my care rather than a passive object receiving medical ministrations. Now for the standard disclaimer. I have no idea if my proactive stance had any direct bearing on my successful outcome, but it gave me a significant role in my medical drama that was rewarding in itself.

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 1: Mindfulness

Surviving Cancer/Sustaining Self 2: Physical Activity

steve bSteve Buechler is a recently retired sociology professor and cancer survivor.  In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. He has since become a big advocate of writing stories as a survival strategy in the face of life-threatening illness.  His own story is available in “How Steve Became Ralph: A Cancer/Stem Cell Odyssey (with Jokes),” his memoir from Written Dream Publishing. To learn more visit Steve’s website.