I recently helped to facilitate our free cancer survivorship program, A Time to Heal. As any teacher knows learning goes two ways – from teacher to student…and from student to teacher. Spending 12 weeks with a group of cancer survivors who are learning to thrive after their diagnosis changes you. Sitting and listening to the presenters each week, my little green notebook began to fill up with suggestions for my own life: how to listen to my body, how to control my mind when fears take over, how to take charge of what I’m putting into my body and what I’m doing (or not doing) to keep physically fit and healthy.

At each session I watched the participants, both cancer survivors and their caregivers, begin to move forward and make a plan. Making a plan requires looking ahead in your life, a big step for a cancer survivor especially if they are not that far out of treatment. Treatment is about killing cancer cells today, how you are feeling today, and what you need to do to feel better – today. The A Time To Heal curriculum helps a survivor to move beyond “today” and look forward to a new “tomorrow”. The survivor and their caregiver create a plan for how they see “their best life”. They come to terms with what has happened to them and learn many tips and tricks to help them in their new lives.

One of my favorite parts of the class is sitting around the table and guiding the participants as they share their journeys: the highlights of their past week, the troubles that may have arisen, the change they’ve noticed in a particular relationship, the fear of the next scan. Slowly, week by week, this collection of cancer survivors and caregivers becomes a support group, not just a learning environment. Each one inspires another. They have all been changed by cancer, and sometimes even for the better.

On a dreary November day, I watched a fall session graduate. To quote one participant, “I feel like a whole other person – I can handle it now!” Caring warmth radiated from the entire group as each participant shared one important step from their action plan -changes they will make one step at a time. They had found their sense of calm.

So why did I ask you what is your combine? On that same dreary November day, I also attended a six-month reunion party. A nearly full class reconvened to share stories and laughter and support each other once again. One participant brought starter plants for everyone as she had renewed her love of growing things. She also started painting again and brought her resurrected garden art piece for all to see. One participant shared the news that her cancer had metastasized but she had peace about it. After work, when her thoughts were getting the best of her, she’d call her boyfriend. He was out working in his combine and he’d let her know where he was. She would find him, climb in, they would talk, and eventually she would be lulled to sleep by the combine’s engine as it moved along row after row. Peace in the combine.

We all need a “combine” in our lives. Some of us look in the wrong places for peace and contentment in our trials. I’m privileged to facilitate a class that helps survivors find their “combine” and move forward in their lives. We’ve just completed a spring session and held the fall reunion party, and at times the sessions were difficult to fit into my “schedule”. But I’m working on shifting my priorities, making ATTH a priority, and remembering the lessons I learn from the participants. And I’ve determined helping families on the cancer journey is my combine…what’s yours?

Brenda Bonn
Executive Director of HOPE Cancer Connection and Facilitator for A Time To Heal