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Archive for May 19th, 2010

Time to tie it all together! (I stamped words on the ribbons to remind me how far I've come)

Over the weekend, I attended a wellness workshop for cancer survivors hosted by the St. Vincent Cancer Center. Marla, the center’s social worker, had invited me ages ago, even before I thought to call myself  “a survivor.” But as the workshop date approached, I found I was a little reluctant to go. I couldn’t really explain why. But I had told Marla I would be there, so I went. Then, sitting in a circle with twenty-five or so others, I heard another participant articulate beautifully her own reluctance to attend. She said she’d already put “having cancer” behind her and she really wasn’t interested in dredging up all those difficult emotions again. I immediately understood exactly what she meant. And yet, by the end of the day, we both agreed the workshop was a truly valuable experience and had helped us renew our commitment to making the most of this gift of life we’d been given!

The front cover of my little "collage" book made during the Wellness Workshop

(This will seem a bit odd, but way back when I was diagnosed I remember telling my therapist that I didn’t look forward to having the label “cancer survivor” attached to me. Of course I wanted to survive – I just didn’t want to live with such a narrow label of who I was…But here I am today talking enthusiastically about attending a “cancer survivor’s” workshop!)

The program was held at the Hotel Santa Fe and funded entirely by the Heidi Paoli Fund of the New York Community Trust. Of all the women in the room, only two had not had cancer: Cynthia (my nurse practitioner, who I was delighted to see there), and a woman named Joyce, who was introduced to us as the person behind the Heidi Paoli Fund that made the workshop possible (both her husband and his daughter, Heidi, had died from cancer). Nearly all of the others there had lived through breast cancer, but there were a few of us with other types: Nanci had lung cancer, Sarah had throat cancer, and me with colorectal cancer.

Inside, with pieces that can be removed and replaced as I wish!

Each of the two facilitators had survived breast cancer – both more than once! Marla, who compiled a huge notebook for each of us with tons of resources and information, had been through it twice. The other presenter, Pasha Hogan, a wonderful inspirational speaker as well as yoga instructor, was a three-time breast cancer survivor! She impressed me even more with her passionate way of leading us through some stress reduction techniques, including guided meditation and yoga.

And, we had a nice lunch under a portal in the Hotel’s courtyard. (I could overhear the other tables exchanging cancer war stories with each other, but thankfully our table talked mostly about gardening!)

The outside of my collage book...

By far my favorite part of the day was the “creative arts” project we worked on in the afternoon. We created these sweet little collaged accordion books. Of course I launched into mine with gusto! We were asked to set aside our “inner critic” and just cut and paste without questioning what or why we chose the images we did. Afterward, we were asked to share a little bit about our collage. I couldn’t help but notice that my perfectionist self hadn’t fully stepped aside while we were creating. So, I decided to honor that bit of me by including an image of a book with the title “Perfection.”

I know that I’ve been dramatically changed by my experience with cancer, but I discovered during this workshop that I like the fact that there are still some aspects of me I haven’t lost. I admit that I’m actually glad to find my “perfectionist” has survived along with the rest of me!

So, here are some photos of the artsy little “cut and paste” project I came away with. I can also say that I am very grateful now to be called a cancer survivor. Let’s hope the label sticks with me for a long, long time!

The back cover...

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