Cancer is one of those diseases that has the tendency to touch all of us at some point in our lives. The word itself has the power to evoke a significant amount of distress in many of us as it often leads to fear of declining health, intense treatment, side effects and the potential for death. It also often brings back reminders of those in our lives who have been affected.
Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, is a great fundraising initiative that allows us to take a moment to consider those in our lives who have been touched by cancer and to support the need for ongoing research for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Details of our event are detailed below and we would love to invite you to attend, but first I would like to share a couple of personal stories and insights that have led to my decision to hold this event.
At a personal level, this is an area that is close to my heart, as it is for many people. I was first confronted with cancer at the age of 20 when my Nanna was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately we discovered this abruptly when she was rushed to hospital with anemia. We discovered that her fear of hospitals after a traumatic birth and her fear of burdening her family meant that she had hidden a breast cancer tumour to all close to her, including my grandfather.
At the time the Royal Adelaide Hospital had not seen anything like this size of a tumour untreated. They were stunned. The tumour was so large, bigger than an orange and must have caused great discomfort when she was hugged by those close to her. She had experienced bleeding for some time but no one knew. I would often contemplate what it must have felt like for her to be hugged by us and how much pain she must have been containing throughout that time. She was clearly determined to have no one know what was happening to her body and she was frightened of what was happening to her and what it would mean for her life.
She told my father when she was in hospital that she had hoped that she would just die in her sleep. She was frightened to go to hospital and she was concerned that the family would worry too much about her. She died a number of months later. Unfortunately her fear prevented her from accessing treatment early enough for her to survive. This fear of hospitals after a traumatic birth-(the impact of a natural birth of my mother who was a very heavy baby coming from a very small body) and the physical and psychological damage of this birth process also prevented her from having further children. I tell this story as it is an incredible example of the psychological impact of trauma and the degree to which we can use avoidance to cope. In her era, patients were not encouraged to access counselling after a traumatic birth or at other turning points where life presented significant challenges. It was certainly not the done thing. You just did what many women did in that era – get on with it.
I often wonder how things may have been different if she had received counselling at this point – would her recognition that something was wrong have led her to seek a Doctor’s opinion and examination faster? Would she have been so frightened of cancer treatment and hospitals if she had got assistance when she was a young mother to discuss the birth? We can only wonder, but what it reminds me of is the value of psychological therapy for the patient and families of those diagnosed with cancer, the need for education regarding cancer and its treatment in the community and the need for research to ensure we have access to the best medical intervention.
At the age of 30 I was again touched by cancer as I was confronted with the diagnosis of my father with bowel cancer when an MRI revealed a tumour on his spine and secondary cancers in other parts of his body. This was a very different experience. I was present at the time of diagnosis along with other family members, I was actively involved in my father’s care and treatment and was at his side for months to ensure I was able to provide practical and emotional support and love. It was an incredible learning experience and an opportunity to be a witness to a very personal journey of a man who had shaped my life and was at the end of his. It was life changing in what it taught me about the value of relationships, the physical and psychological challenges of having an illness or disease, the added difficulty of facing a disability in addition to a terminal illness, the impact of treatment, the experience of grief and loss and the importance of family.
Not only did my father have the cancer to face but also the adjustment to being disabled as the removal of the tumour affected the spinal cord function, and he lost the use of his legs resulting in rehabilitation at Hampstead and the rest of his life in a wheelchair. The degree of change in such a short time tested his psychological capacity, particularly his need for independence, but his optimistic attitude went a long way to helping him through this journey until he reached acceptance of the dying process very close to the end.
Unfortunately he did not win the fight but he was one of those patients who had an extremely positive attitude to treatment and was determined to do all he could to survive and live the best life he could as long as he could. Like my Nanna, the course of his cancer was too advanced at the time it was diagnosed for him to fully recover. He had access to some fabulous Doctors, an incredible Oncologist and palliative care nurses who were wonderful and I have fond memories of the care that was shown to my father and our family by these special individuals that are drawn to palliative care work. The support shown to us at this point as a family was memorable and it was pleasing to be treated with such respect and care. The idea that the patient had a family who also needed support was very much present in our experience and appreciated.
In contrast to these stories, there are many stories of survival, of people identifying symptoms early and getting treatment that are successful in allowing them to move forward with their lives and families. I see these clients and it gives me great satisfaction to provide a forum for them to have an objective sounding board and to discuss their feelings as they adjust to the diagnosis and treatment. At some point what is clear is that these clients somehow have been given permission to seek counselling, whether it be by a family member, a doctor or a friend. Isn’t it interesting that our society still struggles with illness, grief, and death and it is often our job as psychologists to ensure they see counselling as a valid forum for them to explore their issues. It is one of the biggest privileges to sit with someone as they face this journey and to be given the trust to explore all that comes up for them at this time.
Cancer research is so important for our community. The personal and professional experiences I have shared above have led me to feel compelled to run this morning tea as a means of supporting this important cause. We hope to see you there.
You are invited to join us at our practice to raise your cup in support of raising money for cancer research.
Host: Attuned Psychology
Date: Friday May 23rd, 2014
Location: 61 Archer Street, North Adelaide
Tel: 8361 7008
Come and join us for a cup of tea, coffee or donate a plate of food and share some morning tea/brunch to help us raise money for cancer research, to support our friends, family and community members that have been touched by cancer. Gold coin donations would be appreciated and all proceeds raised will help aid cancer research.
As part of The Attuned Psychology Mindful In May Meditation Challenge we will be holding a 10 minute Mindful eating exercise that you are invited to participate in at 12.30-12.40pm. Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea gives us the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness by using all of our senses.
If you cannot attend you can participate in the mindful eating meditation through e-conferencing by registering for the event.
Please contact us to RSVP for your attendance in person or through e-conferencing by May 21st. We look forward to seeing you there.
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