My name is Nancy Hall. I am a mother of two wonderful children and a stage 4 breast cancer survivor. In my work life, I was, among other things, BC’s first Mental Health Advocate. Prior to my illness, I was working as a planning consultant in the area of mental health and addiction.
There is a tendency to think about InspireHealth, and especially the LIFE program, as a source of information or of individual services; I want to share with you that InspireHealth is much more than that. Here are five examples of things you may not know about InspireHealth that became instrumental in supporting my life and healing:
- InspireHealth is a community of people who are all committed to living their lives to the fullest no matter what stage of their illness. As you move through your treatments and participate in the various programs, it is the people you meet that inspire you to better health. It is about the hugs you give and the hugs you get. In the end, InspireHealth participants demonstrate the self help maxim “Helping you helps me”.
- InspireHealth has a juicy library. When I was first diagnosed, I read everything I could on people’s experiences of recovery from cancer. I even read about death and dying. At the end of my “deep dive” into InspireHealth’s library, I knew if others could survive through being an “exceptional patient”, then I could too. InspireHealth’s library and narrative tales of recovery gave me confidence to ask questions and dig deeper into my treatment options. When planning my radiation treatment, I wanted to see a picture of what lymph nodes they were going to radiate. It seems no one asks those kinds of questions, because in the whole department, there were no pictures of the lymphatic system. In the end I drew a stick body and asked the radiation oncologist to just put an X where they were going to radiate me. At the very end of it all, I found at InspireHealth a medical text and the staff let me take a photocopy of the lymphatic system to help me visualize where I was about to get treated.
- InspireHealth has a great team of service providers. They know cancer treatment inside out, and they offer so much more. They taught me that no matter what my stage of illness, I could live well with cancer. Despite being recently informed of the news of a recurrence, I left my group acupuncture session in surprisingly good spirits. Besides my treatment to address the side effects of chemo, Dr. Puhky treated my spirit points and gave me a quote from ancient Chinese medical texts saying that “the job of the wise acupuncturist is to help the patient detach from their illness and focus on the care of the spirit”. While every other practitioner around me was relating to me through the somewhat gruesome results of my CT scan, he told me something I won’t ever forget: “You can do it”. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to benefit from the best of what modern science has to offer to treat my cancer, and I also want people on my team who will help me rally my will to keep on living and help keep my body strong. What is even better, besides the existing practitioners at InspireHealth, is that as a patient, you will likely meet medical students who are learning about integrated cancer care. I find it hopeful to consider what kind of doctors these young individuals will become, as they start their careers tuned in to the possibility of integrated approaches. So if you have a chance, take some time to talk to the students at InspireHealth; pay it forward with just a minute of your time to a young learner.
- InspireHealth’s offices are intentionally restful places. When you enter the offices you are welcomed into a beautiful healing environment. Look around at the art work and the soft colours on the walls. Did you know that the flowers in the lobby are donated each week by a group of women committed to creating healing spaces for cancer patients? Stop and smell the flowers just for a minute when you arrive and thank your fellow community members who bring such grace to us as we enter InspireHealth. Think about your home and how it can be arranged to be more healing. Way to go InspireHealth and your donors for leading the way and emphasizing the importance of an environment that inspires healing!
- InspireHealth’s staff helps you to live strong. Cure is not always a reality, but life with cancer can be healthful especially if you pay attention to the right combination of complementary treatments available. On advice, I seek naturopathic care to help with my tissue health and the functioning of my organs, especially stomach, kidney, bladder, and liver. With a bit of acupuncture on the side, I experienced radiation and chemo with minimal fatigue. All of my caregivers comment on my good health. I enjoy InspireHealth as an island of hope. I would like to see support such as what InspireHealth provides being fully integrated into the process of routine cancer care, such as at Sloan Kettering and MD Anderson, both major cancer care centers in the US.
Part of living strong is shifting your diet. In this case, lectures and books are fine, but practical information is what people need. I love the laughter coming from the cooking classes at InspireHealth, as people learn about enjoying a plant-based diet. Outside of classes, I exchanged recipes for green lemonade and other delights with my fellow InspireHealth members.
When my chemotherapy resulted in painful peripheral neuropathy, InspireHealth’s team taught me about how to rally my endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, through meditation, swimming, and acupuncture. The traditional system’s treatments all came with their own side effects. Because of my integrated care, I didn’t have to endure the pain of the side effects of meds to treat the side effects of treatments. While I am meticulously compliant with my primary treatment, I am able to avoid the challenge of treatment layered on treatment layered upon treatment and all of the complications (constipation, fatigue, memory loss, etc.) that traditional symptom management often provides.
The above are but some of the things I found at InspireHealth that are less obvious, hardly highlighted on the website or brochures, and yet, had powerful impact on my experience of living with cancer.
Last but not least, I have recently been invited to give back by sharing my recovery stories with new patients at the FireSide Chats, the weekly one-hour information session about InspireHealth’s services. I want them to know that they too “Can do it”. I know from research that the brain secretes endorphins when I help others; “Helping you helps me” is once again at work.
By Nancy Hall Ph.D.
If you would like to share your story and your experience of InspireHealth with the thousands of patients and partners who receive our weekly email, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org