As an 18-year brain tumor survivor with three awake brain surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, and clinical trials including immunotherapy with a dendritic cell vaccine, I've gone through many experiences to stay alive. The cancer journey can be complicated and complex. Along with conventional treatments, when necessary, much more is needed to optimally heal the whole person. Fortunately, on the integrative health wellness front there exists helpful tools which include mind-body connection, spiritual healing and vitality, finding support and meaning.
Last year, I learned about Reimagine, a powerful program, based on the Seven Pillars of Personal Strength™, to help a variety of people feel better, especially those affected by cancer. Created by clinical oncology counselors with expertise supporting cancer patients for many years--including a decade to create their curriculum, classrooms, and teaching methodology--Reimagine's program has been studied and tested at Duke and other hospitals and shows impressive results. The program helps people learn strategies used in decision making, increase their confidence managing levels of distress, and even thrive in the midst of a serious health challenge.
What I learned from the seven pillars of personal strength
1. Hope: Focus on thoughts/actions that empower.
No doubt, I certainly know an array of perceptions about hope for people affected by cancer. The Hope Pillar guides cancer patients to optimally choose what they focus on to create confidence, including how to find best-feeling thoughts with specific actions to feel better. Along with addressing some fears, I explored my relationship with death, which further inspired me to love myself, love others, and forgive, as well as increased confidence and clarity.
2. Balance: Take control of how to spend time.
I know life can get intense. I've experienced a lack of control many times. The Balance Pillar helps people evaluate their daily time and energy, find ways to align with their true priorities, and get their personal needs met. I used a tool called "Balance Pie" where I kept track of my activities and the time spent on them each week. This allowed me to see what I was prioritizing and what I was leaving behind and to make changes accordingly. Through the process, I made a plan with specifics that I wanted to change to create more harmony in my life.
3. Inner Strength: Recognize the strengths within.
With many highs and lows, I know that some life experiences and self-perceptions can diminish some of my strengths. The Inner Strength Pillar asks cancer patients to explore their strengths and needs to help them understand that there are basic human needs to support quality of life, clarify which of those are important, and create a plan for getting them met. The Q&A allowed me to recognize my own strengths and aspects that I wanted to develop for my personal transformation. Looking at my Needs Inventory™ helped me concrete actions I can take to feel more empowered in my life.
4. Self-Care: Make personal needs a priority.
Over the course of my 18 year cancer journey my self-care strategies have expanded and evolved. The Self-Care Pillar helps people create better relationships with their bodies, and helps them understand the mind-body connection. I especially loved using two tools: the "Body Drawing" where I saw some pain and power in myself, and "Dialog Within...™", where I chose to talk with "My brain on fire." In a hypothetical written conversation with my brain, a variety of emotions, some clarity, and advice came to the surface. It was a beautiful experience for me and a tool I will continue to use in my life.
5. Support: Give and receive the love needed.
People cannot go through cancer without help from others. The Support Pillar helps people connect to family and friends, communicate their needs, receive support, and honor the needs of their loved ones. For me, I identified people who gave me support and mapped how each relationship made me feel on the "Support Map™". It showed me how much support and love I receive from my family, which is extremely meaningful to me. The process also had me assess relationships that didn't feel as supportive and helped me create boundaries to take better care of myself.
6. Spirit: Connect to a source of inner peace.
Regardless of the relationship you may have with what you consider "spirit", the Spirit Pillar explains how to experience it--including asking for what is needed, releasing a sense of control, believing in what provides comfort and connecting to a source of peace, wisdom, and love. Through this pillar, I selected ways that I connect to spirit, wrote a letter to spirit, and wrote a letter from spirit--with the entire experience feeling majestic. All of that gave me reminders about spirit's presence in my heart and soul.
7. Life Story: Find value in all of personal experiences.
For many years, I've seen challenges as opportunities and to find value in my experiences. The Life Story Pillar allows you to reflect on the events of your life looking for your strengths, needs, and lessons learned--with the goal of telling a better-feeling story about yourself and assessing what you've gained from your experiences. As I completed the "Lifeline Worksheet "from birth to present time, bearing witness to my life inspired me to acknowledge some of the pain, make a commitment to heal some wounds, and embrace my major accomplishments. Doing so gave me validation about what I truly love in my life story.
Although the process can be both difficult and rewarding, people can find help in relieving the emotional impact of cancer by applying simple, yet scientifically proven, strategies: Reimagine helped me do some of that.
Since I personally do not know what will happen in the future, I feel power and strength in the present time and I love improvements. Every moment provides opportunities to feel better. Positive transformation is possible and paramount.