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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Cancer wisdom hard-earned

Jean Peterson, right,  has seen cancer first-hand, first through her late husband’s 9-year struggle and Petersonnow through her own. Her journey has been long and difficult, she said last week, but she has emerged with a better understanding of both cancer and herself.

Peterson, a resident of Lake of the Woods and former nurse, was another of the featured speakers at last week’s Cancer Survivor Symposium at Mary Washington Hospital. This session was the latest in a series that the hospital’s Regional Cancer Center has sponsored. The topic this time was, “The emotional and spiritual impact of cancer.” (Previous postings have featured two other speakers at the symposium, Libby Wasem and Mike Lewis.)

Peterson’s husband, Cliff, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1998. He died in 2007, two months after Peterson learned that she too had cancer. Hers was ovarian cancer.

At first she was shocked, angry and emotionally drained, she said.

“Spiritually I felt that God was very far away, and that my prayers were just bouncing back at me,” she said. “One night when I was at my lowest, I went into the bathroom, looked up to heaven, and shook my fist at God: Why,  Why,  Why?”

Eventually, Peterson began what she said was the “long climb” from the bottom. Some of the things she did during that time:

·         To help her through what she called the “moan-and-groan time,” she focused on activities unrelated to cancer. She tried a painting class, did massage therapy, and found things that made her laugh, she said. She also enrolled in a water yoga class and a water exercise class.

·         She learned to avoid whiners or people with negative attitudes.  “I made conscious choices to try and be with friends who were upbeat,” she said. 

·         She also was protective of what she allowed into her mind, so as not to poison her attitude. This meant filtering much of what was on TV, radio and in newspapers.

·         A grief support group helped, she said, as did two ovarian cancer Web sites and several books on ovarian cancer.

·         She learned that crying seemed to be a healthy and appropriate way to deal with stress.  She quoted  Henry Maudsley, who said,  “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.”

·         She decided that her family was more important to her than anything else. So now she spends as many of her “precious moments” as possible with her two daughters and five grandchildren .

“I realized that there was not any one thing that helped me to deal with my cancer,” she said. “It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together to see what would work for me.”

A previous posting on Lewis is HERE and one on Wasem is HERE.