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Cancer Narratives: Has Cancer Made You Feel Selfish?

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Using scientific research as a springboard for discussion, CKN is distilling this research into practical narratives that will improve the quality of life for patients and offer deeper understanding and connection for physicians.  Please join this Doctor-Patient conversation about feelings of guilt and selfishness.

 


 

by Chris Lewis, Living with Cancer

 

I know, no one likes to consider themselves as selfish, especially me! But my encounter with cancer has made me wonder. Other people are always my concern, and the joy I receive in my life has always come from doing things for others. However, when cancer struck, my world turned on its head. Instead of being a part of my family focus, I became the entire focus. Everywhere I went, people wanted to know what was happening to me.

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The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 13 – Coming Home to Your Body, Mindful Breath and Body Scan

HealingCircleBook  Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

 


 

See the Table of Contents

 


Read Chapter Thirteen:  Coming Home to Your Body, Mindful Breath and Body Scan

Watch the Video:  Try following this Body Scan relaxation exercise (get down onto the floor if you can).

 

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

 

Resetting the Stress-o-Meter

 

Resetting your stress-o-meter by practicing a relaxation technique everyday can profoundly affect your life in many ways.

 

First, you’ll be able to settle down faster and more effectively when you’re feeling stressed. For example, let’s say you’re going into your doctor’s office to get the results of a recent scan.  (As an oncologist, I’ve noticed people seem to be more anxious about the “unknown” than they are when they’re coping with the difficulties of any “known” situation.  And even when they’re living through a really tough situation it’s their fear of the future, rather than the suffering of the moment, that affects them most.  The fact is people have incredible resilience when they live in the moment, which can be of great surprise to themselves and to their loved ones. Typically, people’s fear of the future is far overblown, and their innate capacity to cope and love in the midst of adversity is far underplayed). Back to the doctor’s office. If you notice that you’re feeling anxious, you can settle yourself down by tapping into the relaxation response. The critical step is to notice your unique reaction to a stressful event. The stress reaction might manifest as physical sensations (eg. feeling breathless, heart pounding, headache, butterflies in the stomach), emotional states (eg. irritability, feeling like you’re going to cry) and even a change in the way you think (trouble concentrating, swearing in your mind, labelling people or situations).

 

If you’re able to notice any of these stress reaction cues then you can press the ‘pause’ button, take four slow deep breaths into your lower abdomen, while bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.  Then use the wise and compassionate part of your mind to reassure yourself.  For example, once you prime the relaxation response you might think to yourself along these lines:  “I may be feeling stressed now but I can handle this. I’ll just take one step at a time. I’ve been through tough situations before and I’ll get through this no matter what the scans show.”  Or you might take a more spiritual perspective:  “Here’s an opportunity to bring my love and peace into the world.  I’ll be loving to everyone I meet on this journey no matter what happens.”

 

When you settle down an acute stress reaction like this, you’ve switched the brain activity from the stress pathways to the relaxation pathways.  The key point to this is that when you reset the stress-o-meter by practicing a relaxation technique on a daily basis outside of when you’re feeling stressed you’ll change your brain. The circuits in the relaxation pathway get stronger and stronger so it gets easier for your brain to switch from the state of “upset / can’t concentrate” to the state where you feel more peaceful and are able to think clearly. Practicing relaxation daily for 10-30 minutes is like creating a big well of calming energy on which you can draw when you need it most.

 

As a physician I know the profound health benefits of stress reduction (having more energy, better brain/memory function, fewer health problems in every organ system in the body) but it is my personal experience of lowering the setting on my stress-o-meter that has convinced me of the benefits of practicing relaxation techniques. On the days that I meditate in the morning, I feel more calm and at peace with the world. My energy seems to permeate my body down to my feet, and I feel more connected with the earth. My mind seems to rest more easily on what’s happening in front of me, and not flitter about thinking about everything else. Being in this more relaxed state doesn’t mean that the challenges of life disappear; the world will serve up the same external conditions.  But you’ll be in a different space to receive them, and your ability to choose how you want to respond will improve.

 

Instead of being spaced out when I’m relaxed, I’m actually more efficient, doing one thing at a time by putting my entire focus on it. Being calm also allows me to see the reality of the situation for what it is. I’m not fighting with the truth and wasting my energy wishing it to be different. Practicing meditation doesn’t mean that I turn off having to make judgements of others either. I can still see people for who they are, and I still use my rational mind to try to make good decisions. Moreover, my natural love and compassion seem to extend out from my heart more easily when I’m relaxed.

 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, resetting the stress-o-meter provides a window to the sacred.  When we’re able to relax into the world, we become aware of the beauty of life, and we can put our precious life force energy into what’s most important.

 


Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad. 

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.

In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.

 


 

Read Chapter 14

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 11 – Bonnie: Learning to Paddle My Own Kayak

HealingCircleBook   Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

 


 

See the Table of Contents

 


Read Chapter Eleven:  Bonnie – Learning To Paddle My Own Kayak

Watch the Video:  Integrating Wisdom and Love on the Cancer Journey

“How can we bring wisdom, love, gratitude and purpose into the cancer journey so healing occurs naturally?” This talk is an inspirational mix of true stories of remarkable survivors, the science of the mind-body connection, and a perspective on healing that transcends physical medicine.”  By Dr. Rob Rutledge

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

 Bonnie and Self Compassion

 

Bonnie was at the first retreat when we started to film and interview the participants to find out more about their cancer journeys. She was articulate in describing what we had seen time and time again; strong, smart and loving women and men, deeply conditioned to go beyond their limits to be there for others in many ways, often to the detriment of their own wellbeing. When our self-image and self-esteem are based on meeting the expectations of others in a fast-paced digital world of immediate gratification, sometimes the only limit we allow ourselves is the break-down of our own health. Not to assign blame to those with a stressful life for their cancer in any way or to suggest there is a clear and direct causation between cancer and stress; the science is not clear.  But a cancer diagnosis can serve as a crisis/opportunity to re-examine one’s life and one’s conditioning (or what I like to call our software) and to deeply question ourselves to find our own true priorities in life.

 

To turn around a lifetime of this kind of conditioning you’d need to deliberately cultivate a daily practice of self-compassion. It is not enough to simply read self-help books and think about loving yourself. It is important to slow down the impulses to respond to every outside request and instead turn part of your attention inward to listen to the signs and signals your body sends.  Signs like fatigue, muscle tightness, aches and pains, as well as psychological symptoms like anxiety, inability to sleep, emotional extremes and racing thoughts. Gradually you can train yourself to see these as important signposts for behaviour change. There is someone inside of you crying out, someone who really needs your attention, someone who is very important to you – yourself.

 

Practicing mindfulness of body, or what I like to call synchronizing body and mind, is what we do when we practice mindful yoga, soft-belly breathing and the relaxing mindful body-scan. This aspect of meditation – paying attention to your body deliberately with repeated, daily discipline – has been shown through neuroscience to strengthen the connection between different parts of the brain. Cultivating self-compassion in this way brings the wise part of our human brain into a position of oversight with clarity and calming that settles the more primitive structures of the brain responsible for stress, emotions and physiological regulation. So when Bonnie says she has made her yoga and mindfulness practices a priority that she protects fiercely, we begin to understand why. In doing so she is shifting a well rehearsed lifetime pattern of letting others – work, family and friends – pull her away from her own wellbeing.

 

Paddling her own kayak ultimately means that she now knows that she is the only one who can consistently regulate her inner system toward health and wellbeing. When we are pulled around by the demands of the outside world, it’s like being caught in an undertow that pulls us further and further from our own true nature, from natural contentment, happiness and wellbeing. This is also why we recommend retreat practice. In a retreat we break away from the ordinary demands of everyday life to focus on the cultivation of mindfulness and reconnecting with ourselves. A retreat can be just a weekend like our Skills for Healing Weekend Retreat or it could be a week a month or a year. It can also be those few precious moments that we take first thing in the morning or last thing at night to tap in with ourselves in silence, with mindful attention and self-compassion.

 


Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist  living in Halifax Nova Scotia with over 30 years experience integrating mindfulness into counselling, education and healthcare. He is co-author of the The Healing Circle: integrating science, wisdom and compassion in reclaiming wholeness on the cancer journey and co-founded with Dr Rob Rutledge the Healing and Cancer Foundation. He designed and has taught with Dr. Rutledge the Skills for Healing Weekend Retreats for people living with cancer and their family members 42 times since 1999 in 20 cities across North America touching the lives of more than 1600 people. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and welcomes distant consultations.

 


 

 

Read Chapter Twelve

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 12 – The Raisin Eating Meditation

HealingCircleBook   Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

 


 

See the Table of Contents

 


Read Chapter Twelve:  The Raisin Eating Meditation

Watch the Video:  Watch and participate in this exercise by eating a single raisin (or other small piece of fruit) slowly and mindfully. Afterwards reflect on this simple and profound exercise. (note this video matches the written chapter very closely)

 

 


 

 

RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

The Power of Bringing Consciousness into your Body

 

“Clench your feet and wiggle your toes inside your shoes. Nobody will notice.”  This is the advice Reverend David Maginley, the Spiritual Care Specialist at our cancer centre, suggests to brides and grooms. Having presided over hundreds of weddings he knows the simple act of bringing attention back into your feet can lessen the feelings of anxiety and uncontrolled excitement, and allow the young couple to focus on each other and the beauty of the ceremony.  (Clenching the feet also will push the blood from the calves up to the heart and brain – lessening the chance of fainting and making the wedding day even more memorable.)

 

Dave told this story at a seminar he and I presented for Testicular Cancer Canada as part of a session on working with fear and anxiety. It was the second time in two days that I had heard this advice.  The previous day I had attended a breakout session at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, lead by a yoga therapist, Ann Pitman, from the Ottawa Integrative Oncology Centre. Ann led a group of social workers, psychologists and other cancer specialists in an exercise which taught multiple ways of bringing people who are suffering with anxiety and high stress levels back into their bodies.  In one breathing exercise, we straightened our spines on the in-breath and relaxed back and hunched forward slightly on the out-breath.  In another exercise we stood up raising our arms high over our head in a 3 phase in-breath before flopping forwards and throwing our arms towards the floor with an exaggerated out-breath.

 

As I brought my attention into my legs and feet during this session, I realized how rarely I’ve spent time “in my body” throughout my adult life. I remember drawing a picture of myself during an art therapy session when I was in my twenties.  I captured the image of purple and bright green colours radiating from my head and eyes. The torso was smaller – and my legs were like tornado-shaped wisps of grey that didn’t even touch the ground. I had no feet.  Even this morning, during my meditation session, as is typical, I alternate between my mind drifting off to plans for the day, and bringing my attention back to my breathing. But rarely do I actually feel the weight of my knees, shins and feet on the mat. Rarely am I truly in my body.

 

Over the last few days, however, as an experiment, I’ve tried to consciously bring my attention back to my feet. While walking or climbing stairs, I’ll purposely press down harder with each step. While sitting at a meeting, I’ll unobtrusively twist one or both feet – feeling the stretch in my calf and the many joints around my ankles. When I do this I can feel more energy coming into my body, and somehow I seem to feel more at peace. In a way I’m using mindfulness to empower my body and produce a calm and engaged state of mind. I am yoking the mind and body.

 

But the teaching here is much more profound – being outside the realm of classic western science and medical teaching.  I believe that consciousness has an effect on our physical bodies. When we bring our attention to a certain part of our body, the cells in that region are energized.  Like saying a prayer for the body part, or practicing a form of energy medicine like Reiki or Healing Touch, we can increase the energy field of the tissue thus facilitating its healing. I don’t know how this works, or if we can control the outcome in any way, but I do believe in the powerful and loving act of bringing your attention back into this walking, talking, breathing miracle – your body!

 


Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad. 

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.

In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.

 


 

Read Chapter 13

 

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 10 – Settling the Mind

HealingCircleBook   Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

 


 

See the Table of Contents

 


Read Chapter Ten:  Settling the Mind

Watch the Video:  The Power of Mindfulness (module 3)

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

What Happens When We Pay Attention?

 

Growing up, my family had a dog named Buttercup, a golden lab and collie mix. I loved Buttercup and always felt that she was there for me when I needed her, to comfort me when I felt blue. Later in life when my kids were growing up and moving out we decided to rescue a cat from the shelter, as cats are a little easier to take care of than dogs. Never having a cat before I wasn’t sure that I could love a cat in the same way that I had always naturally loved dogs.  My son and his girlfriend picked out a little female tabby and named her Cleopatra. She was a bit frightened of men’s feet and would often run under the table when I simply walked in the room. Yet when I was seated she was very affectionate, rubbing her cheek against my hand. Paying attention, I noticed over time that the more I paid attention to her, stroked her, rubbed her soft fur, massaged her, fed her and noticed her beautiful eyes, her feline demeanor and cute little ways, I began to appreciate her tremendously and I began to love her. I realized paying attention leads to appreciation, which leads to love.

 

Dr. Richard Davison at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds has done intensive research for many years into how the brain changes through meditation, the practice of mindfulness and through the practice of what I like to call Heartfulness (the practice of deliberately extending loving-kindness). With the current technology of functional MRI brain imaging he has observed a significant expansion and development in parts of the brain that relate to higher executive functions, good judgment, emotional intelligence and empathy in those who have practiced meditation for many years. Our brains actually change when we practice mindfulness and loving-kindness. This is what he calls self-directed neuro-plasticity.

 

Paying attention deliberately in the present moment with an attitude of acceptance, non-judgment and open curiosity is the practice of mindfulness. We can practice formally in meditation; sitting, lying down, walking or standing and we can practice throughout all the activities of daily life. While listening to those around us, we can notice if our own agenda, ideas or random stray thoughts are distracting us from listening deeply with empathy and understanding. We can practice being fully present and alert to our senses while waiting in line at the bank or airport, while eating, while taking a shower, while petting our dog or when we wake in the middle of the night with worries, fears and racing thoughts.

 

While practicing mindfulness we begin to notice where our attention goes. Do we preoccupy our mind with all of our worries, projecting negative scenarios and jumping to conclusions regarding our next diagnostic test result? Or do we observe the tendency to project possible futures and gently let go of these thought forms knowing that ultimately we can’t predict the future and that there is no point in scaring ourselves with our own elaborate thought patterns and horror stories.

 

Gradually paying attention expands the pathways of learning. We begin to learn more from our environment, more from others and importantly we learn more about ourselves. Mindfulness leads to awareness and insight into how our mind works and how we can optimize our own unique intelligence. More than one hundred years ago Henry David Thoreau wrote “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we want to dominate our lives.” Once mindfulness practice helps us to see some of the problematic thought patterns that can dominate our lives and helps us in letting these go we can also use our practice of mindfulness and loving kindness to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others, to cultivate healthy habits that lead to wellness, like regular exercise, healthy eating, loving relationships, and self healing practices and healing intentions.

 

Practicing mindfulness gradually increases our confidence in deep forms of innate human intelligence. We can begin to trust that this deep form of intelligence can respond to current situations with clarity, insight and compassion based on accurate awareness of current conditions. This is why I like to say practicing mindfulness is the one thing you can do that has the power to change everything.

 

One thing that happens when we pay attention is that we get better at paying attention to how our heart is an open pathway naturally loving to all creatures great and small, including ourselves.

 


Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist  living in Halifax Nova Scotia with over 30 years experience integrating mindfulness into counselling, education and healthcare. He is co-author of the The Healing Circle: integrating science, wisdom and compassion in reclaiming wholeness on the cancer journey and co-founded with Dr Rob Rutledge the Healing and Cancer Foundation. He designed and has taught with Dr. Rutledge the Skills for Healing Weekend Retreats for people living with cancer and their family members 42 times since 1999 in 20 cities across North America touching the lives of more than 1600 people. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and welcomes distant consultations.

 


 

 

Read Chapter Eleven

 

 

The Healing Circle Book Chapter Blog Chapter 9 – Karen – Accepting and Aspiring

HealingCircleBook   Join us by reading one chapter per week of our book The Healing Circle which includes inspiring true stories and teaching from the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. Each week we will post the next chapter of our book, links to related video, and a blog about the chapter. Learn about recent scientific advances in the body-mind-spirit connection, updates of the people featured in our book, and our reflections on each chapter. Read the whole book for free by accessing the previous blog posts. Please send us your comments and questions! Deep peace and healing, Rob Rutledge, MD and Timothy Walker, PhD.

 


 

See the Table of Contents

 


Read Chapter Nine:  Karen – Accepting and Aspiring

Watch the Video:  Qi Gong (like Tai Chi) – This standing energy exercise refreshes the vital energy of the body, mind and spirit.

 


RobRutledgeBlog by Dr. Rob Rutledge

Managing the Expectations of Others

 

“Karen – Accepting and Aspiring” was the very first chapter I wrote for The Healing Circle. I knew it would be easy because I could cut and paste large sections of an email Karen had sent to her friends explaining her approach to her recent breast cancer diagnosis at age 40.

 

More than 9 years later, I am still impressed with the depth and breadth of the lived wisdom contained in this chapter.  First, Karen sends out a group email updating her friends and family.  Instead of spending valuable energy explaining what’s happening to each and every person as they email, call or drop by, she does it efficiently and quickly.  Being open and authentic with everyone bypasses the issue of trying to hide her emotions from friends and colleagues.  Karen has more energy for healing when she allows herself to feel exactly what she is feeling in every given moment – at home, at work, and with friends.

 

Managing expectations of others is something we can do proactively.  One of my patients, a physiotherapist, didn’t want to be pitied by others (especially her colleagues and clients) after being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to undergo chemotherapy.  As she was going to cancel her appointments for more than six months, I encouraged her to write a letter which her clinic staff would hand out to every client. It saves the guessing and having people think of the worst-case scenarios.  I also encouraged her to be explicit about how people should treat her.  Specifically she wanted everyone to act “business as usual” and for her clients to tease her as they had in the past.  I imagine if I got that letter, it would make it easier for me to come into an appointment knowing I didn’t need to say I’m sorry and that I could just be myself.  This physiotherapist also arranged for one person to coordinate the food donations, and another to be the gate-keeper for visits.  She felt much better after sending out a group email to everyone as Karen had done.

 

The second reflection arises from the first paragraph of Karen’s group email in which she warns the readers that the content may be “a little bit raw and a lot personal” and that people can opt out from reading more.  The teaching here is that not everyone has the ability to hold the tension of seeing a loved one suffer.  The degree to which we can stay with our own difficult feelings (fear, sadness, frustration), accept the uncertainty of the future, and own the truth of our own mortality, is the degree to which we can simply be present when a friend or a family member is really hurting.  Often, we don’t need to do anything. We don’t need to say something encouraging just to be positive, though that has its place too.  Karen shows great insight by recognizing that there is a spectrum of personalities in her colleagues, friends and family, and not all of them can be emotionally supportive to her. Instead of being angry or judgemental about the friends who bail on her, she respects their perspectives and truly cares for each one of them, and finds her support in those who can.

 

Being proactive in managing the expectations of family members and friends, and forgiving those who don’t have the capacity to be supportive, are ways to preserve our life energy for what’s most important and express our love and wisdom in the world.

 

P.S.  I last spoke to Karen a month ago and she is doing great!  Her kids (youngest is now 12) are growing up and flourishing in a multitude of activities. Karen continues to work part-time as an anaesthetist, and is the Program Director for over 100 resident doctors.  Thanks to modern medicine and everything she has done to empower her body, she’s able to share her love and wisdom with her loved ones and so many young physicians.

 


 

Dr. Rob Rutledge is a Radiation Oncologist in Halifax, Nova Scotia, specializing in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

In 1999, Rob co-created the ‘Skills for Healing’ Cancer Weekend Retreats. These weekend support groups teach a powerful and integrated approach to the cancer diagnosis and ways to heal at levels of body, mind and spirit. To date, more than 1,600 people have attended the retreats in over 20 cities across Canada and abroad. 

Rob also leads the Healing and Cancer Foundation, a Registered Charity, that freely offers educational videos, documentaries, and webcasting seminars – and he is co-author of a book called The Healing Circle, which captures the teachings and inspirational stories from the weekend retreats.

In 2010, Rob received Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Award for Excellence in Patient Care and, in 2006 Doctors Nova Scotia presented him with the Health Promotion Award in recognition of his contribution to physician health and health promotion in cancer patients.

 


 

 

TimothyWalker.jpgBlog by Dr. Timothy Walker

Karen – Living in the Land of the Unknown

 

Rob’s friend Karen came to one of our retreats within a year of being diagnosed and at a time when her emails had already become part of our presentations.  It was a delight to meet her and get to know her and I was impressed with her willingness to speak her truth and to expose her vulnerabilities to the rest of the people at the retreat. For us, she is the one who coined the phrase “having cancer is living in the land of the unknown”. This phrase encapsulated her struggle around the uncertainty of how long she might have with her children who at the time were still quite young (3 and 5).  In our small group discussions she explored this terrible fear she had of leaving them at such a tender age. She looked at it from all angles actually imagining how her kids would cope without her and how they would grow up without her loving presence and wise guidance. This was very brave indeed.

 

Karen’s bravery did not go unrewarded, as she was so willing to jump in with both feet and explore all of her fears one by one she was also able to release a lot of pent up emotions that she had been carrying around since her diagnosis. Through her tears she actually let her heart and her body open to examining that which she was most afraid of, with the support of the small group. If she were to die while her children were still young, she voiced, she would want to leave a legacy for them through writing, recorded stories and videos. She would also want them to always know how much she loved them and that in whatever way she could she would maintain that stream of love pouring into them for their entire lives. Everyone listening was deeply touched.

 

Then after a period of silence, while she was drying her tears, she spoke again with a sense of deep realization. She said even though it would be hard for her children she had a profound confidence in them and in her husband. They would survive and eventually thrive even without her being there. She realized it was her own sense of projected loss of them that most wounded her heart. This realization actually brought her great solace and peace despite the horror of imagining the worst. A calm came over her as if a great burden had been lifted and not long after, her keen sense of humor and compassion for others was shining again.

 

When introducing the discussion of our greatest fears, I usually mention my childhood nightmares.  This time I’d recalled my Dad making me look under the bed and in the closet with a flashlight to examine if there were real monsters there. In the closing circle of the retreat Karen said that she was so glad that she looked under the bed and deep into the closet to find that even if there were monsters there, living in the land of the unknown, they weren’t as scary as she had assumed they were and that she was learning they were monsters that she could gradually befriend.

 


Timothy Walker Ph.D. is a mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist  living in Halifax Nova Scotia with over 30 years experience integrating mindfulness into counselling, education and healthcare. He is co-author of the The Healing Circle: integrating science, wisdom and compassion in reclaiming wholeness on the cancer journey and co-founded with Dr Rob Rutledge the Healing and Cancer Foundation. He designed and has taught with Dr. Rutledge the Skills for Healing Weekend Retreats for people living with cancer and their family members 42 times since 1999 in 20 cities across North America touching the lives of more than 1600 people. He has taught at Dalhousie University, Acadia University, and Mount St. Vincent University as well as hundreds of workshops, seminars and retreats Internationally. In his private practice, The Healing Circle, Timothy sees individuals, couples and families and welcomes distant consultations.

 


 

 

Read Chapter Ten