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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: 29th January, 2024
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 mortality head on

They used it as a motivator to live every moment with intention. If they didn’t have forever on this planet (and none of us do), they weren’t going to waste any of what they had! They jettisoned toxic people from their lives and pulled their special people in close. They savored delicious food, breathed in the country air, dug in the dirt and talked to birds. They practiced their creative crafts, from rock painting to sewing, and they told everyone that they loved them. Yet, despite the remarkable ways that they grabbed the joys of life, they weren’t trapped by toxic positivity. They cried and screamed and had dark days; they didn’t lock the dark feelings in the basement. They allowed the darkness to come, say its piece and then move along. They didn’t expect themselves to be relentlessly happy or positive; they just accepted themselves for who they were.

This is what I learned from Rachel and Lisa

  • They wrestled bravely and honestly with the complexities of life and cancer and mortality.
  • They made meaning out of whatever came their way and they bravely readjusted their expectations as their situations evolved.
  • They treated the experience of living with cancer with a lightness that I found remarkable.
  • All the feelings were allowed, even welcomed, and they focused on the present moment as much as they could.
  • They used their cancer experience, as much as they didn’t want to be experiencing it, as an opportunity for personal growth.
  • They worked hard on letting go of past hurts, making amends and soothing their own personal crazy with love and humor.
  • They learned new skills, met new people and tried new things.
  • And they laughed. They laughed at the absurdity of it all. They laughed until they peed their pants and then they laughed about peeing their pants. 
Wise Women I Have Met And What I Learned From Them

Rachel and Lisa used their cancer experience to open their hearts

They opened their hearts to their partners, to their friends and they opened their hearts to me. Most importantly, they opened their hearts to themselves. They looked inside and accepted what they found. They loved and grew and felt and squeezed all the delicious juice out of life that they could. They didn’t have all the answers and their process was gloriously messy. They were simply real and human. I am so much better for knowing them.

They were the wisest of women.

Wise women quotes

When a wise woman speaks, smart people listen and learn from her.

Gift Gugu MonaAuthor: Woman of Virtue: Power-Filled Quotes for a Powerful Woman

If our path calls for turbulence and hardships, know you will never be untouched by miracles. Only warriors can handle war, everyone can garden.

Nikki Rowe

Aging is not 'lost youth' but a new stage of opportunity and strength

Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique

If you want the rainbow, you've got to put up with the rain.

Dolly Parton

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