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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beit Natan Summer "Retreat" -- Part I

I did not have to be persuaded to attend this time.

After such a strong and positive experience at Beit Natan's two day winter retreat (read about it here and here), I was thrilled to attend a one day event in Jerusalem!

I was delighted to see T, my "roommate" from the winter retreat, who came in from Petach Tikvah. She is an amazing woman. She has been living with a brain tumor for over 20 years! (I find that very encouraging)

As we entered the conference hall, we received a small bottle of "bubbles."

Haya Heller, who founded Beit Natan, greeted us. She is a very impressive woman; a psychologist by profession, she is also living with her own challenges (MS). Haya concluded her opening remarks by inviting us to let out our "inner child." Slowly, women of all ages rose from their chairs, and filled the room with the magical soap bubbles.

I did not expect to learn anything new from the first lecture, about nutriciton. I was pleasantly surprised to find the lecture both interesting and informative. Though the theory was inspiring, the practical application was... well, impractical. Healthy eating demands food preparation. Spending a significant amount of time in the kitchen has never been "my thing."


Next on the program, we had a choice of 4 sessions. Originally, three of the sessions were divided by topic and stage of cancer, and the fourth session was in English. I chose to attend the session for women with advanced cancer. Unfortunately, in the end, none of the sessions were determined by stage. Since the groups were random anyway, I decided to attend the group in English.

I was the only woman in that group (with the possible exception of one), with metastasis. During the introductions, three women shared that they were rejecting conventional treatment and choosing to treat their cancers solely with "alternative" methods -- I found that very disturbing. I do not dismiss the benefits of "complimentary" medicine. But I cannot fathom how someone can choose a path that is likely to lead to metastatis.

The session was lead by a "narrative therapist", who invited us to interview cancer. The fascilitator and another participant played the the roles of cancer cells. I watched as the women asked: What do you want from us? Who are your parents? How can we get rid of you?

As the "cancer cells" answered these questions, I felt increasingly alienated. I do not relate to the approach that "cancer is caused by worry and stress" or "cancer is a gift." At the root of these attitudes is the idea that we can control cancer, that if we can learn what we need to learn from it, then the cancer will go away, or not come back. Not only did I feel the session was a waste of my time, it was actually disturbing me.

I decided leave and find a different session.

I joined the session "Speaking with Ourselves and Our Loved Ones", led by the facilitator of my support group. The women were talking about communication, and the difficulties in talking about cancer, with our kids, husbands, and friends. It occurred to me that I can easily talk about the technical side of cancer (test results, treatment plans, etc), but that it is far more difficult to talk about the emotional issues (having cancer forever, being a mother with cancer, fears of dying, etc).

Towards the end of the session, we were asked to write a letter, to ourselves or a loved one. I knew right away that I needed to write to Moshe, and that I would share the letter with him. I want so much to find a way to talk about the emotional issues without being swallowed up by them.

When the session ended, I felt strong. I knew that I needed to talk with Moshe, and that I would find the courage to raise some of these issues.

(Click here to read Part II)

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


Baila said...

I would have also left that session. Although I learned much about myself because of my cancer, I still don't think of it as a gift. The gift was being able to live with it with humor and grace and each day of survival.

It sounds like you made a good choice sticking with the session you went to in the end.

Batya said...

I should get some of my friends to attend these things. Unless their "denial" makes them stronger and helps them cope.

You seem so open in your blogging.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Baila -- I think we should try to learn and grow from all of our experiences. But, like you said, that doesn't make them all a "gift."

Muse -- Different people find different ways of coping. We all live with a certain amount of denial. I know that I certainly do. I wake up every day and try to live my life as if I don't have cancer.

That said, it is important to have some sort of outlet to discuss one's inner feeling (fears, etc).

In general, I'm a fairly open person. I find blogging very therapeutic. Sometimes I write things on the blog that are difficult for me to talk about in person. The blog allows me to put things "out there", without having to talk about them all the time.

And, even with all my support, from family, friends, and my blog, I still find that the support group provides me with a forum for talking about things on a completely different level.