Looking to the Future: Bob’s Story
How could it be? How could he — feeling great, looking fine, being fit—possibly have the colorectal cancer diagnosis that his doctor was telling him he had? But that’s what he heard, and that was the answer to the gastro-intestinal discomfort Bob Nevin had had for the past few months. That was five years ago.
He’d need both chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor before facing surgery. And so, for the next six weeks, he underwent chemo that exhausted and nauseated him, and radiation that burned him. But that was not the most terrible part.
“I felt so drained internally, emotionally dead. The spark of life was sucked out of me. That was the worst for me; I couldn’t feel,” says Bob. “There was this awful cloud hanging over me.” He couldn’t look to the future with any confidence that it would be there. Years later, he still doesn’t know whether it was the treatment or the stress that placed him in such awful depression.
Radical surgery followed a two-month hiatus. And then Bob’s life changed further. Surgery altered his body so significantly that he had to stop working as a handyman; now he could only work for friends who understood his new situation. He lost his health insurance.
His care partner, Harold, a friend of 30 years, discovered the Cancer Support Community to help himself cope with the anxieties of caring for a friend. Reluctantly, Bob attended the first support group. Each man went to his own group—one for caregivers and one for patients—but kept the content of the groups private as each one addressed his own needs. Much to Bob’s surprise, coming to the group helped him. “You get tips from other people, like sitting in a sitz bath. But, mostly, it’s emotional support.” He leans back against the couch. “We both felt better about the situation, more confident after these groups.”
But confidence isn’t necessarily joy. And that oppressive cloud lingered. “This sounds weird,” he hesitates. “But one day, a friend came to my house. He said he was a healer, and told me to hold out my arms.” He holds his out to demonstrate. “My friend put his hands near mine, transferring his energy to me through his hands.” Suddenly, for the first time, the cloud lifted, pulling Bob out of the stupor, the profound depression that felt as if it were crushing him. He doesn’t know how this act could change him. But, somehow, it did.
Now Bob could contemplate his future confidently. “I didn’t want cancer to come back. I thought about what I could do for myself.” And so, he attended a Healthy Cooking class at the Cancer Support Community. “I used to eat microwave food in plastic containers all the time. And meat at every meal. When I first came, I was surprised how good a meal could taste without meat!” His voice lightens with amazement.
Five years later, he still attends these classes, filled with camaraderie and laughter. “Sometimes we talk about cancer, but it’s informal. It might happen when we’re chopping. You meet someone who is in the same boat you were, and you can help. It is something you know.” Bob plants his hands on his knees. “You might not have the same kind of cancer, but when you’re facing death, you have the same stressors.
“You get a lot of setbacks in life. My home on the Delaware was flooded three times. My father’s house that we built for him was flooded. My business went bankrupt. I had to give up my job after the surgery. I don’t have health insurance. Life is a lot of struggles, but you’ve got to get over these obstacles,” he frowns.
Bob stands, a tall man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. “I’d say cancer made me more aware of what’s important. To me, the most enriching part is the people I love. You see, cancer made me think about death. Where will I go? What will I take with me? The bad times are interesting, but the joyous times are with my friends and family.”
What Brings Us Calm?
A healer transfers his positive energy to you, and suddenly you feel the miasma of depression lift. But positive energy flows from many sources—and Cancer Support Community offers many choices: The Art of Healing Dance guides energy flow through specific gestures and movements used in Middle and Far Eastern classical dance; Exploring the Labyrinth is a centuries-old meditation practice of walking a maze that calms the spirit; Qigong and T’ai Chi align breath and stylized movement to balance the chi or intrinsic life force to bring peace; Yoga provides strength and flexibility through slow movements that help bring a sense of control to body and mind.