In 1993, when presenting my "How to Tell Personal Stories" workshop at an Ohio storytelling conference, I shared the story of my son's bout with cancer in 1989 for the first time in front of a live audience. Finally, I could tell it with the truth and drama it possessed.
Why for the first time? As a professional speaker, I learned early how powerful it is to share personal stories with my audience. Usually the stories I shared were either humorous and/or motivational accounts of my own experiences. Our listeners are not our therapists, so I don't tell a story that I am still having trouble dealing with.
Even though my son's history and my experience with it had a positive outcome, at first I couldn't tell it without bursting into tears. Initially, the remembrance of my fears for my son's life along with the incredible relief I felt when he went into remission would conjure up heart wrenching feelings - almost too difficult express. But over time, I settled into telling the story more comfortably.
To my amazement, the telling was not only therapeutic for me, but to this day, I still have people come up to me and tell me how they remember the story about my son. So many have been touched by cancer, either personally or through friends and family, a true and positive story serves as reassurance. Because I have kept this story alive, others feel a bond with me and have learned that I want to hear their stories too.
Realizing the power of sharing this story, I submitted it to the Chicken Soup series. In 1996, the story about my son's bout with cancer, "I Believe in Miracles," appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul:101 Stories of Courage and Inspiration from Those Who Have Survived Cancer. Of course, I was excited to have my story appear in print, but the best part of the experience is still taking place. As a contributor to the book, my address and phone number was included in the publication. Ever since the book became available, I have received phone calls and letters from all over the United States and Canada - even as recently as two weeks ago.
Most call for encouragement and optimistic words. Even though they have read my story and know the outcome, they want to hear me tell it orally. One woman's husband had lymphoma for the second time and she just wanted to talk with someone "upbeat and positive." Another man called to ask me questions about bone marrow transplants. A nun from Philadelphia wrote for medical advice concerning another Sister's condition - I had to write back to say that I am not a doctor, but to find a positive doctor she could trust. A young woman who lives not far from me was going into the Cleveland Clinic for an operation on her cancerous leg. She just wanted to share with someone how "scared" she was - she didn't want to tell her mother, husband and children about her fears. A two-time cancer survivor called recently for a quick pep-talk.
My belief is that we, as storytellers, can help others with their own healing by sharing some of our own difficult and heart rending stories, along with encouraging others to tell us their difficult stories. It doesn't matter how much material wealth we possess, what level of education we have achieved or our ethnic background, we all have similar healing stories and the need to hear them. And, the more we know someone's story, the better we understand them.
I urge you to consider telling those stories that may be hard to tell, but will become everlasting healing stories to help others - and ourselves, too! Start by writing your story in a journal for your eyes only. Soon, as you realize how helpful this has been for you, start sharing it with friends and family. In time, you will be able to share it with others who will benefit from your experiences, and you, as a storyteller, can encourage them to share their difficult stories. I find that others are more willing to share their stories once we have shared ours with them.
always an easy process, but it is one of the most rewarding for our listeners
Here is a copy of the story that appeared in Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul:
"Chris is dying. I'm going to sell his car." Easter, 1989. My ex-husband was on the phone talking about our 25-year-old son. I was more than stunned, but also very angry!
I knew that Chris hadn't been feeling well - "a stomach virus" is the way he described it. But since it kept getting worse, he went to the hospital, where the prognosis was far from positive. In the doctor's words, "The bad news is that your son has Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - the fastest growing cancer. The good news is that it is a cancer that responds well to chemotherapy - once we stabilize his condition, that is."
For six weeks, that is exactly what the Cleveland Clinic attempted to do, as Chris remained in the intensive care unit on a respirator. His condition had deteriorated to the point that the first day I visited him, I walked right past his bed. I didn't even recognize my own son!
It wasn't time for him to die. He had too much living still to do. I decided to put to work all of the visualization techniques I had learned, to call up my power of positive thinking and to maintain my natural optimism. I told my ex-husband - who was already receiving sympathy cards from his group of negative friends - that I believe in miracles. Chris would pull through. He mustn't sell Chris' car.
I don't know if you've ever experienced the intensive care unit in a hospital. It isn't a pleasant place to visit. There are all sorts of bells and whistles. Nurses and doctors are rushing to answer alarms. The patients are swollen and possess a deathly pallor. Negativity is in the air. I even had a doctor say to me, "Don't you realize how sick your son is? How can you be so positive?" I had him taken off the case.
We were only allowed 15 minutes twice a day. I went every morning. And every morning I took Chris' hand and told him to visualize summer, with the warm weather, the sun and the flowers (all of which he loved). I noticed that every time I visited, a certain light came on and a beep sounded. The nurses told me that it indicated that while I was there, Chris breathed on his own so the respirator reacted. I knew we were making progress.
Chris recovered enough to come home for the summer, still on chemotherapy, with short stays back at the Clinic. Together, we listened to tapes, we talked about the future, we concentrated on the beauty of every moment. By December, he was in total remission. They called it a miracle.
of 1990, he elected to undergo a bone marrow transplant as a preventative
measure. This spring, we will celebrate his thirteenth anniversary of
remission. Yes, I do believe in miracles!
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