Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Promise--Your Experience Can Benefit Others

In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a saying—one of the “Promises”—that says, “No matter how far down the road you have gone you’ll see how your experience can benefit others.”

In AA that generally means that even if your addiction took you to some pretty bad places, and you have regrets, the day will come when that exact experience will allow you to help someone else. And yesterday I listened as that “promise” played out in CancerLand.

A friend of John’s has a new diagnosis. His cancer is stage three, and it’s scary. With one phone call he was catapulted into CancerLand and his wife and children with him. He knew about John’s cancer and he called with questions.
I sat in my office and listened to John as he talked on the phone in the living room. Eavesdropping—absolutely! As I listened to John’s side of the conversation I knew what was being asked. “What do stages mean?” and “This book, by Mukherjee, is it helpful?” and “Did you have to get a port, and does it hurt?” I could also hear the questions that were not being asked and the ones that the friend didn’t even know yet that he should be asking. 

My heart hurt as I listened. And yes, I could barely stay still. I confess that I --only twice --scribbled notes and handed them to John while he was on the phone, “tell him about waterless shampoo”, and “tell his wife to call me.” I realized that much of what they are facing is best shared with the caregiver—because I could also hear how many details John didn’t remember because his chemo exhaustion was so severe when he was living through

Finally, I stopped listening from the other room and just went to sit in the living room and curled up in a chair listening as John so caringly talked about what was hard and what was not, and what to do about work and money and food and first aid. I just sat in the chair with my hand on my heart for John and for his friend, such a new traveler in this scary territory.

After the call we sat and talked about what we each remembered, what else we could do for this friend, and what we wished we’d known at the outset and what no one can tell you until it happens. 

But I knew for sure that John’s cancer had generated another blessing—even though he had gone so far into pain and exhaustion and logistical hell when the surgeries and chemo dominated his life, here he was living the promise and seeing that, “Your experience can benefit others.”

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