Returning to the classroom was like rebirth, and I have derived enormous inspiration from my students, many of whom are living with family members or other loved ones with cancer, and are attuned to the realities of coping with such adversity. Dr. Olevsky also identified the importance of my husband to my healing, calling him "my rock" and giving us both the benefit of her confident approach. We are very grateful for her commitment and dedication to our well-being and her role in our lives as a healer and a friend.
The quality of care I have received at UCLA is an approach that I call "treating the whole person." For many years my husband and I have worked in various African countries, studying visual and performance arts and their roles in cultural contexts of healing, and we have always admired what we have witnessed to be inclusive understandings of wellness. When one person is sick, the community heals together. And when a person is treated according to traditional approaches, it is not only the body that is the focus of the treatment, but the whole person — the mind, spirit, family and community. The powerful embrace of a circle of friends, loved ones and healthcare professionals has reminded my family that we are not making this journey alone. My husband and I have been gratified to experience our oncologist’s confirming care and fastidious attention to every detail of my illness — of our
illness, I should say — and the uplifting spirits of the nurses and other caregivers who have become a part of the new tapestry of my life. UCLA’s Simms/Mann Center for Integrative Oncology
has been vital to this important work, as it offers so many ways to address the whole person and her or his community in the healing process.
Metastatic cancer throws those of us living with it into a dizzying orbit of unpredictability, which can be both difficult and stressful as we navigate from one scan to the next, one blood test to another. But it helps to remember that everyone lives in a state of perpetual uncertainty. Most just don’t think about impermanence in such conscious ways when following expected courses. Those for whom cancer is a constant reminder that life is delicate, inherently unknowable and subject to sudden flux can benefit significantly from wisdom offered by the Simms/Mann Center’s inter-faith chaplain, Michael Eselun, who has been an anchor for my husband and me since our very first day of chemo.
As he brings spiritual healing to cancer patients, Michael has taught us something that does not come easily or naturally: to value the detours
in our lives, not just the goals. During one of his many visits to us in the treatment room during my first few months of chemo in 2010, I explained that I wanted to set relatively short-term goals for myself, and especially to see our sons graduate in the next two to three years, one from high school and the other from college. I told him that I ardently hoped to be here for these events, and if I reached these benchmarks, then I would set new goals.
I asked Michael if this was asking too much. He answered that if we look back on our lives, it is often the least expected turning points that have had the greatest impacts. It is the detours that make us strong and shape our identities — the hardships and challenges that take us by surprise and for which we must find the wherewithal and resilience to confront. Such "detours" may prompt the most transformative internal developments and insights. Michael’s advice was to try not to be so goal-oriented, as he cited the well-known saying, "If you want to give God a good laugh, just tell him your plans."
Through thought-provoking conversations with Michael, and engaging in dialogue with others affected by cancer in his monthly Circle of Reflection
at the Simms/Mann Center, the wisdom imparted through Insights lectures
, and Dr. Mary Hardy’s nutritional guidance that taps into the knowledge of indigenous cultures around the world, I have been able to contemplate important questions and to consider new perspectives on my cancer journey. Michael’s listening abilities and his gift for offering new ways of seeing have helped to empower me during moments of uncertainty. But while I have cultivated an appreciation for life’s detours, I still do not give up my goals.
My most persistent prayer is to be here with and for my family, to see them thrive. I keep this hope alive like an ever-burning flame and place the greatest faith in my doctor, caregivers and the treatment options available to me. I have experienced personal growth from an integrative approach to healing, and have been strengthened by the sense of being treated not as a statistic, but as a whole person
, whose children and husband, parents and siblings, relatives, students, colleagues and friends, as well as UCLA’s healthcare team, collectively make this journey deeply meaningful and profoundly transformative.