Judith Redwing Keyssar, a nurse, author, healer and alumna of RN.FM Radio, is currently undergoing treatment for a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She has shared some thoughts in a recent blog post, and gave her permission for excerpts of that post to be shared with the RN.FM Radio community.
Reminding us of the power of this time of year, Judith writes:
This time of year—the holy days—is a time for gratitude and love as we prepare for the Light to return. It is a time for remembering the power of light at the darkest of times, remembering the fact that “miracles happen” here and elsewhere, and have happened throughout time.
And now Judith shares with us a deeper truth in her own life:
This year is no different, except that I am planning on a personal miracle. I am a nurse, a midwife to the dying and a healer. And NOW I am a patient. A “person with cancer.” Ovarian cancer. As I prepare for chemotherapy—“chemical therapy”—for a cancer that was caused by a mutation in my genes (BRCA1) and whatever else causes our DNA to be disrupted (stress, environment, toxins, life on the planet in 2013)—I must imagine miracles. I must believe in the magic of medicine. And the “art” of medicine. After all, I am a healer, a practitioner of healing, a writer, a singer, a person who meditates and does yoga and dances, as well as being a nurse.
And even though it is the darkest time of the year, Judith reminds us about something that is so very important to remember:
But we have so much to learn in the darkness. We are not bears, but there are such lessons in hibernation. In going deeply inward to the dark places that scare us, or comfort us. Deena Metzger, author, healer, my long-time teacher/mentor, asks me, “What is the healing path for your life and all our lives that illness allows to come into being?” This is the question we must all ask ourselves, when we close our eyes, go into the darkness, find the safe and sacred space deep in our hearts and spirits, and allow ourselves to breathe and to ponder. What IS the healing path of this “one wild and precious life?” For me. For any of us. For Nelson Mandela, who died last night. Can we allow ourselves, even if just for moments, to be present in our “higher selves” as we travel the path of an illness?
When we work as “clinicians” it is so easy to get side-tracked from our true “healing path” under the guise of healthcare. It is easy to forget about what Elizabeth Kubler Ross called the “art of medicine.” It is difficult to allow our full selves, our true natures, to show up at bedsides of those who are suffering—even when our “jobs” allow it—as in the case of hospice and palliative care clinicians. But as Dr.Michael Kearney, a palliative care physician so eloquently teaches—we must bring our whole selves to this work. Who we are as “spiritual beings having this human experience” matters. It matters greatly. It may matter more than our education or our skill set. Showing up and being present is what matters. Allowing our whole selves—the poets, the artists, the dreamers, the song-makers, the ritualists, the meditators, the contemplatives, the dancers, the movers and shakers within—to show up in our “work”—is critical to healing.
It is a very vulnerable time when a clinician realizes that he or she is now a patient, and Judith is courageous in her examination of this altered role:
Now, as I walk the path of the “patient”, the path of a woman with ovarian cancer, stage 2c, the path of one who must find strength and healing from western medicine, I must draw on all of these healing capacities and more. I must see chemotherapy as my healing medicine. I visualize the Pacific Yew tree, which yields Taxol—the powerful chemo agent used to kill ovarian cancer cells. I visualize the healing powers of the earth that have coursed through this tree and will now course through my veins.
I visualize the power of the rare Rock of Platinum, a dark and shining rock found in alluvial waters and also on the moon. The platinum molecule at the heart of Carboplatin, is the other medicine that will heal me.
Judith recognizes that her clinicians have many roles to play in her healing, and they are walk the path alongside her.
All of my doctors and nurses and pharmacists and med techs, as well as my acupuncturist and Chinese herbal practitioners and massage therapists, are my shamans, healers. Their hearts and souls have led them to walk the path of healthcare in America, and I am grateful for their wisdom, knowledge, and experience. As they prepare their rituals of healing, mixing the medications that will eradicate the dis-ease in my body—I put my faith into the power of this healing, along with everything else that I know and trust will heal me.
Bringing her prayerful thoughts to a close, Judith shares deeply about her journey:
We must dare to be our selves in the best of times and in the worst of times. In the darkness of winter and in the brilliance of the summer sun.
As we prepare our rituals of the “holy days”, our remembrances of the power of light, our honoring of the teachings of compassion and loving each other as ourselves, in all traditions, may we allow light and healing into each and every cell of our bodies.
May we help each other understand that the healer and the healee, the care-giver and care-receiver, the giver and the receiver are one. Whole unto themselves, and connected to all of us.
Please join the RN.FM Radio community in sending our love, compassion, support and thoughts of healing to Judith Redwing Keyssar.
If you would like to join the online community that is supporting Judith in what may well be a long process of treatment and recovery, please click here.
Ms. Keyssar is the author of “Last Acts of Kindness; Lessons for the Living from the Bedsides of the Dying.” Her book won a 2011 American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year Award. She is a Palliative Care Nurse and midwife to the dying. Currently she is the Director of Palliative Care at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the San Francisco Bay Area and is also on the Steering Committee of the California State University Institute of Palliative Care.