How Do People Heal?
In my work as a massage therapist and energy medicine practitioner I consider this question every day. Every client–each person–has a story. We are each on a healing journey. The details vary, but the quest is the same for all: we are searching for wholeness. What helps? What constitutes success?
Recently I had a personal experience that shed perspective on these questions…
I’m at a fairy tale wedding, held in a beautiful castle in northern Italy. The sun is shining; the bride is beautiful; the groom is handsome. They are so much in love! Their love lights up the assembled crowd of friends and relatives. On this day, at this moment, it’s easy to believe that the newly wedded couple will live “happily ever after.”
Very few people here know that the bride is a cancer survivor. She certainly doesn’t look it! At 37, she is glowing with health, confidence and joy. She’s come a long way since that awful day in 1996 when she was first diagnosed with cancer. I know, because I’m her mother, the “cancer mom” who saw her through treatment–the ups and downs, the surgeries, the many rounds of chemo and seemingly endless weeks of radiation.
Her story–our story–began when we noticed a tiny bump under her jawbone. Doctors thought it was an infected salivary gland. Two surgeries later, we knew it was a rare, aggressive form of cancer–by then the size of a walnut. Rushing to a world-class cancer center, we consulted a team of top oncologists, only to learn that the tumor had gone deep, wrapping itself around vital structures–her carotid artery, windpipe and vocal cords. Cancer literally had my daughter in a stranglehold.
The lead oncologist explained gravely that the tumor was inoperable. My daughter had a 10% chance of living until her next birthday–only four months away! With treatment, the oncologist stated carefully, the odds of survival might improve. But there were no guarantees.
My daughter took the challenge. She said she was willing to “fight for her life,” but, as I soon learned, only on her own terms. As a child she had been strong-willed, hard to discipline. But she was also funny, smart and creative in the ways she disobeyed. Under the threat of cancer, these qualities came to full flower. Not only did my daughter defy death, she broke almost every rule in the book.
Actually, most rules were off. There was no school, no homework, no bedtime, no responsibilities. The doctors encouraged her to do whatever she wanted, provided she showed up for treatment. I was told to relax, back off, let her enjoy whatever she could.
Can you imagine giving an energetic, slightly rebellious teenager this kind of freedom? In New York City? My daughter threw herself at life, with all her heart, soul, and humor. When chemo took her hair, she went bald. It shocked people; they looked twice when she passed on the street. Lacking hair to adorn her, she painted her face and her nails, sometimes each nail a different color. She found a group of cancer teens and pulled all-nighters with them. She threw herself into intimate relationships behind closed doors. She even disappeared into the city once, returning at 5 a.m. Who knew what she was up to?
Life! She was up to life. She was living life fully, whatever that meant to her in the moment. At times, her life was awful: black, dark, and painful. She was there, in that moment, experiencing it fully. But when the moment was over, she was back, living her joy full out, expressing her love of friends, her zest for connection, for art, for creativity.
Let’s return to my original question: how do people heal?
In retrospect, I see how my daughter healed. She had a strong love of life, coupled with absolute determination. She received state-of-the-art medical treatment, and, along with it, an outpouring of love, prayer, and support from an incredible assortment of people: medical professionals, therapists, social workers, family, friends, even a troupe of clowns and a litter of puppies. And, importantly, she received the freedom to be herself. Every time my daughter was able to engage fully with something that brought her joy, that was healing. And every time she expressed an emotion fully, be it joy or despair, that, too, was healing.
So, in conclusion: love is healing. Love yourself, love your life, and love one another. Be kind and be open to what comes. We may not be able to see a positive outcome in the moment we’re experiencing, but often, in retrospect, we can see that the pieces of healing were already there. If we are open to the process, with all that it entails, healing can and will occur.
Andrea Georgiou is a massage therapist and energy medicine practitioner with BodyTune Studio in Palm Springs and can be reached at (760) 218.2346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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