Cancer As a Rite of Passage

By Maureen Dobson

It was 7 pm and there was a knock on our door.  A colleague had stopped by our home to share his concern and support in person.  He and his wife had just been through cancer themselves.  A breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, time off work for treatments, and fear, fear of the unknown.  He had already walked this path I was now facing and wanted to help.

And then it began.  The phone calls, the emails, the gifts, the hugs, the tears, all expressions of empathy and compassion and unlimited offers to “help”.  “Let us know how we can help…you should talk to so-and-so…go see Dr. such-and-such…try this supplement…or that acupuncturist…explore this research…etc, etc, etc”.  Everyone felt helpless and was yearning to help.  Bringing me gifts or offering advice were the most genuine ways they knew to help.

Fast forward six years.  I was unemployed, cancer-free, and attending my first “Choosing Conscious Elderhood (CCE)” retreat.  I did not know what to expect, but I was excited to be there.  I had just come through one of the most horrendous experiences in my life.  I wanted some time in the company of fellow wisdom-seekers to reflect on and share my story.  And I wanted to uncover more of the hidden mysteries behind my life and my very close brush with death.

Beating cancer, stage 4 melanoma, was no easy feat.  Six years prior, my doctors predicted a 5-10% chance for my survival.  To increase my odds, they recommended a heavy-duty six month bio-chemo regime.  After lots of research, I did not choose their route.  Instead, I quit my high stress job, my partner and I moved back to our hometown, and together we walked a most unusual path towards healing.  This journey included a simple lung surgery to remove the tumor, a short three-month cancer vaccine trial, and a long, uncharted course of natural medicine.  Good, clean nutrition, Chinese Medicine, emotional and financial support from loved ones, and deep spiritual work, were my primary components for healing.

I had not realized it at the time, but I had come to the CCE retreat to give thanks to all who had supported me and to do some soul searching about the next few steps of my journey.  Deep reflection, journaling, story-telling, and ritual shared with a community of other wisdom-seekers created a powerful passage into the next new phase of my life.  I had spent all my financial resources and needed some clarity about what to do with my life now that I passed the five-year mark of being cancer-free.  So, I dialogued with myself, with Mother Nature and her creatures, and I uncovered my new story in solitude and in council.  I dialogued with the fox, the ants, the birds, the cow pies, and I uncovered the biggest lesson of all— in this most lonely time I experienced complete support.

My experiences during the CCE retreat deeply paralleled my experiences with cancer.  In many ways, it was my own solitary journey, but I never would have come this far without the circle of support around me.  As we moved back and forth between individual reflection and solitude, then back in to council to witness and share our stories, I relished in the balance and the health of it all.  And I reflected on the first days of my diagnosis and the many offers of “help” from my family and friends who needed to “do” something.  And I gave deep thanks for my new friends who were helping most by just simply witnessing and listening to me telling my story—letting me “be”.  That initial knock on the door, six years prior, was now a new door opening to the next adventures in my life.

Maureen Dobson teaches Sage-ing in northern Colorado and directs Boulder County’s senior services programs. She may be reached at maureen@wisdomwork.org

 

What to Do or Who to Be?

By Susan Manning

Susan Manning

Carolyn Heilbrun, a feminist author, wisely said that when thinking of your future, it is helpful to remember your past and “follow your threads.” I decided to learn about becoming a conscious elder because I was overwhelmed with the decision I had made to retire at the end of my next academic year. I have had a fulfilling work life since I was twenty, first in public mental health and eventually in academia as a professor of social work. Work and education have been very important to me my whole adult life. It was in my work that I earned respect, developed self-esteem, and found strengths that made a difference in the lives of others – students, colleagues, clients, and others.

Education “saved my life.” I sometimes share my story with others by saying, “I was a teenage migrant worker.” It is a provocative way to convey a very rocky beginning and to downplay the losses and damage accrued when I, at 15, dropped out of school, married a teenager (17) who was not educated, and traveled across the southwest, living from hand to mouth. In the process, I gave birth to three children by the time I was 18 years old. I was lucky to have a mother who valued education and who worked during my childhood. Following her model, over my adult life I earned a GED on my way to a Ph.D. Education provided the foundation for all of the steps of my work life. Needless to say, I could not comprehend a life without work and the roles that come with it. Who was I if not a therapist, a teacher, a researcher, an author? Continue reading

Carl’s Legacy

By Anne Wennhold

Anne Wennhold

Some years back, while working as a photographer and audio visual specialist in the local hospital, I had a wonderful man who volunteered to help me with the audio visual equipment in my department. As a volunteer Carl did what I considered important but tedious work such as setting up and threading the 16 mm projectors for meetings or repairing tape recorders used by nurses to make audio notes on patient progress.

A retired truck driver, Carl was unremarkable in stature or appearance, and rather invisible in a crowd.  But his presence was huge.  He had a calmness about him that was as effective as laying a soothing hand on one’s shoulder when people or upsetting events interrupted the day.

As we became friends I was curious how someone could be so content with work I considered boring and menial with no prospect of advancement or creativity. And why did he seem to have no huge need for a more glamorous or “successful” retired lifestyle? Continue reading

Welcome to the New Website!

Welcome to the new website of the Center for Conscious Eldering!

Some of the pages you’ll want to visit:

  • Our upcoming programs, including retreats and workshops coming up this summer and fall. You’ll be amazed at the natural beauty of the venues! You can see from our testimonials that these events are life-changing experiences for participants. Find one that fits your calendar, or consider a custom program for your group or organization.
  • Our blog, a growing collection of reflections by Center for Conscious Eldering leaders and other members of the community. Would you like to share your thoughts with other elders? We invite you to submit a blog post for inclusion here. Please see our guidelines for submission.
  • Articles by Ron Pevny, introductions to conscious aging.
  • Resources for Conscious Aging, a collection of links to multimedia files and online resources for your journey into conscious eldering.

We hope that you’ll find our new website an enjoyable resource. You’ll see photos from Center for Conscious Eldering programs, read about the experiences of participants, and encounter a new paradigm of aging.

As the numbers of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s increase, our culture must find a better way to appreciate and integrate the elders of the community. This essential cultural change can begin with us. It can begin here, in our community.