The wicked witches of cancer ...finding our healing path home. I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too… —Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West Can we see illness as opportunity? — Deng Ming-Dao
Once the diagnosis of cancer is made, we are beseeched by a whirlwind of feelings, thoughts, information, platitudes, and tons of advice from both professional and amateurs alike. When our loved ones or us, get smacked by the harsh and cruel realities of all physical life, all we want to do, is grab our beloved canine friend and flee home. The immensity of the diagnosis follows us like the mean-spirited spinster, Miss Gulch, and threatens to upend our world, even if that world is filled with drab, dreary and depressing landscapes. We all know on an intellectual level that everything that lives, dies and that ease and disease exist in an eternal ebb and flow. Cancer is like a cyclone which uproots our foundation and deposits us in a strange land. Confronted with such primal power, our brains turn to straw. No amount of left brain, analytic reasoning will help us out of our predicament. Because what ails those afflicted with cancer is a crisis of all three levels of existence: body, mind and spirit. It is no mistake that Dorothy, the archetypical heroine is protected and led by her dog, named Toto, (the whole in Latin). Cancer is both disease and illness, and like all life-threatening conditions, demands a soul centered response. We will need all of our attention and discernment in choosing and implementing the myriad therapies and care that will be required. We will need comfort, and support and care. Any disease can teach us to live by confronting us with our own mortality and giving us the opportunity to dance with the uncertainly embedded in every life. If we have the courage to follow where our fates lead us, a greater way of being can emerge. Spoken of in myths, legends and stories since the dawn of time, the hero/heroine ‘s journey exists to teach us to find an authentic way to our inner home where true healing occurs; the oft referred to, healing path. It is not just our little dog, Toto, or our beloved friends and family, that are in danger but ourselves as well. The tinman was paralyzed by his love for the little munchkin girl…although she was never in physical or emotional danger. But there he stood immobilized by his broken heart and rusting life of regret. Regardless of whether we are called to be as caretaker or as patient, we are being asked to assume the roles of helper and guide to our own transformation. Even though our fervent wish is to return home, and leave the Land of Cancer, we can never return as the same person we were in the beginning. Healing implies a willingness to touch others deeply, meeting pain, and suffering with courage and tenderness. The first thing is to realize that we are called to walk through the dark and scary forests of sickness and debility and face the fear, depression and even anger, that physical illness produces. Ultimately, if we persevere in the quest and have the courage to confront the wicked witch of cancer, we can dissolve it all with the water of our kindness and love. In this journey between the quotidian life, we have known and the countless visits with all sorts of wizards, guides and creatures of every sort and type, we will need to find and traverse a healing path. The path will provide an opportunity to re-assess those aspects of ourselves, our lifestyle and environment that often sabotage our wellbeing and health. It is no small surprise that the major goal of an oncology therapy plan is to achieve remission. Remission can mean a re-setting of the goal or outcome of a campaign or project. Re-assessment and re-ordering of things. To re-purpose our lives. This re-working of those aspects that are not healthy and wholesome can link the transformational aspects of an illness with the personal aspects and relationships that can bring healing and wholeness in the face of illness and pain. Cancer like the wicked witches only have the power over us that we allow. Glinda, our ever-present guide and helper, teaches us the power we have over these forces by banishing the wicked witch of the West, ….” go away you have no power here.” Yes, fear has no true power. But for us to survive and thrive and return home with a greater sense of health and joy, will take the most up to date medical knowledge, coupled with the courage to stand with and against the chaotic nature of cancer. This will need attention and awareness and lots of companions, guides and friends and the greatest weapon that the universe possesses, love. Healing is not all light and love often found in many new age spiritualities, but a thing found deep, down and inside. In other words, the low, dark and small. The great and all-powerful Wizard of OZ, initially addresses our heroine as the great and all powerful OZ; but the central myth of his existence is that he has no true power to give Dorothy what she needs. That gift is hers already. Dorothy, our archetypal warrior of love replies, “I am Dorothy, the meek and small”. And in the low, dark and lowly places healing is found. The cancer journey will require a transformation of us, and our relationship with our bodies, our families and friends and our cherished beliefs and attitudes. Empowerment, challenge, acceptance, transformation, empathy, vulnerability and touch, deep healing physical touch. In the journey we will learn to walk between two worlds……the world of science/ medicine, and love /care: illness and health, brokenness, and wholeness. I am often asked why and how one can devote an entire career dealing with such things as cancer, pain, illness and death. In my professional journey, I try to love greatly and I, like the tinman though, still opt for a heart although it is often broken. For like the poet, Rumi would remind us, the wound is where the light gets in. My patients, have all served as my divine teachers of the healing role of unconditional love and compassionate presence. I am one of the all-powerful wizards, a professionally trained oncologist, and the truth is I have no real power over life and death. What my little dog would tell you, is that I never was or should be, a good wizard, but strive to be a good and kind man. In this role as the kindly Professor Marvel, we assist in the unleashing of the inner healing that exists within each living entity. To do that we first need to stop, listen, and look. Once we understand that we are not in Kansas anymore, we can venture forth to find our way home. The broom we are asked to get will take knowledge, love and courage to get. And it starts with a very simple question, ‘what is the illness asking of me?