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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Wise Women I Have Met And What I Learned From Them

Written by Dr Delia Chiaramonte on 
15th March, 2022
Updated: 15th March, 2022
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Rachel and Lisa didn’t know each other

..but they both touched my heart, made me laugh and made me a better person and a better doctor.

They were both women in their 60s with quirky short haircuts and a unique sense of style. They had so many friends who loved them. And they were both blessed with a beloved partner who adored them, teased them and helped them to grow. They were different women with discrete life paths, but I think of them together because they shared a deep wisdom that enriched my life.

Rachel and Lisa shared many years of their lives with cancer. They spent hours in chemo chairs, shaved their heads to stave off their hair loss and swallowed so very many pills. They rested during the bad weeks and had lunch with friends during the better weeks. They rejoiced when the news was good and reached out to their people to hold them up when the news was not so good. They surfed the ups and downs and ups and downs and ups and downs of scans and tumor markers with grace and grit and jokes and tears. They journaled and meditated and drank herbal tea under cozy covers. They shared their true selves with the many openhearted people that flocked to them.

They shared their true selves with me.

I practice integrative palliative medicine

This is mind-body-spirit care for people with serious illness, and their families.

Almost all of my patients have cancer. We work together to manage their nausea, fatigue, pain, insomnia and neuropathy. We explore treatments, both medical and psychological, to manage anxiety, low mood and stress. We talk about values and what makes life meaningful. We use diverse tools, from massage to morphine, to manage the symptoms of cancer and its treatments. Rachel and Lisa used acupuncture, mind-body therapies, energy medicine and creative arts to ease their symptoms and their worries. Sometimes they wouldn’t take their medicines even though they were bothered by symptoms, and they delighted in trying to figure themselves out. They would share their “aha!” moments and brag when they got control of their minds and finally treated their constipation, pain or anxiety.

Newer Targeted Cancer Therapies And Immunotherapies Are Allowing People To Live For Many Years Without Cancer Progression But Also, Sometimes, Without A Cure

Newer targeted cancer therapies and immunotherapies are allowing people to live for many years without cancer progression but also, sometimes, without a cure. This in between situation can create a challenging psychological experience. Fighting for a cure is clear. It is active and powerful and hopeful and focused. It is the answer that everyone with cancer wants to hear. I am so happy for those who get that answer. However, that is not the answer that Rachel and Lisa received. They couldn’t be cured, but they certainly could be treated. For many years they were neither cured nor dying. This state of limbo challenged them both but they wrestled with it and they both grew from the experience. This is a new reality for many people and we need guides like Rachel and Lisa to show us how to be real and brave and honest and joyful in the space in between. 

Rachel and Lisa both decided to face their mortalit