We all can benefit from giving back, from volunteering, even if we have health problems. Connecting with others brings hope into our lives.
I was shocked and concerned—my friend Mary was just diagnosed with Stage I non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. What shocked me even more was that right after her initial diagnosis, before she had decided on a course of therapy, she went back to work. Full-time!
Back to Work
“Work was a blessing and a great distraction, a way to focus on other people’s lives, and not on how the disease would play out. It helped me to cope with the uncertainty of what would lie ahead,” she said. It helped her focus on others, not entirely on herself.
Mary, a Catholic Charities mental-health therapist, said that work kept her waiting and “what-will-lie-ahead?” thoughts under control. The day-to-day tasks and schedule helped to normalize her life.
After consultation with a hematologist (blood specialist) and an oncologist, Mary decided to undergo radiation, the preferred treatment in this case. She had 13 consecutive radiation treatments on the affected enlarged lymph nodes in her neck area. She tolerated them well and was back at work one week after treatment ended.
Two things helped her in her recovery: prayer and thinking outside her own medical world through work and caring for other people.
“When I fretted,” Mary reflected, “the following Scripture passage was the spiritual equivalent of a deep breath: ‘Cast your cares upon the Lord and he will support you’” (Psalm 55:22a).
To set her priorities straight regarding the place of good health in the scheme of life, she prayed: “For your love is better than life” (Psalm 63:4).
She prayed a daily Rosary and put herself under the protection of Our Lady of Lourdes; she asked that, figuratively speaking, she be put into the healing waters of Lourdes.
Focusing Outside Ourselves
Facing an illness brings its own challenges, such as getting to doctors’ appointments, managing medications and doing physical therapy. Even our simple daily tasks seem to take more time: getting up in the morning, keeping the house clean, doing laundry and cooking meals. Emotionally, we can be overwhelmed by all we must do.
We all can benefit from giving back, from volunteering, even if we have health problems. Studies show that volunteers live longer and have higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease, according to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
A therapist friend of mine feels that when patients volunteer, “It gives people who are ill a reason to get up in the morning. Looking outward takes a per- son’s awareness off constantly thinking about his or her condition. Patients who see a purpose in their life usually fare better.” Volunteering for a non-profit organization by making phone calls or stuffing envelopes can be a great way to start.
Those who cannot get out of their homes can also do good by acknowledging caregivers or health-care professionals. Maybe it’s thanking a family member or friend who always calls or drops by for a cup of coffee. A simple phone call, a hug or just saying, “Thanks, I appreciate all you do for me,” goes a long way. Being healthy is a two-way street. The person receiving care needs to be of service, too.
Connecting with others brings hope into our lives. Mary noted a real sense of solidarity that grew in the waiting area of the oncology department.
“One day I was waiting for treatment in Mayo Clinic’s reception area of the radiation oncology unit when a man came walking through and with vigor gonged the bell signaling that he completed treatment. In unison the room cheered.”