Faith, Ourselves, and Attitudes Toward Treatment Options

by Mel Heller, MD


Dear Ones:

I do not know if many or any of our GIST Support group want to check in on this subject, but I find it encouraging, and of interest, that two different doctors, one of medicine and the other of theology, both from the University of South Carolina, felt that these matters warranted discussion, and presentation in the current Archives of Internal Medicine.

We patients, GISTmates and Listmates alike, are not alone in pondering these matters, and I ask if our own voices should not be more strongly heard and considered by the medical professionals and pastors in whose hands we place our bodies and trust.

What would some of our own voices say? We ought not, I think, to argue among ourselves, or seek so much to persuade, but perhaps to voice or sing out for each other some of our personal beliefs and inner resources which might bring insight or a bit of comfort to our Listmates including their families perhaps and caregivers, who are also besieged by our not-so-common and unusual cancer.

When we deal with less than complete and insufficient facts, as we most often do in fighting cancer, we seek the often conflicting opinions of experts. But when push comes to shove as it eventually can, the decision often comes down to what we believe, rather than what we know..

We talk urgently about optimal doses of Gleevec, and our PET and CT Scans, placing our backup hopes in Sugen, RAD and other drugs in the pharmaceutical pipeline. But even though our anxieties and worries linger and recur, we must be doing something right with our inner resources, and being able to hang on and cope as well as we do.

Perhaps there is where our collective strength and individual expertise can be found. Each of us, I would guess, has some kind of personal formula deep inside which somehow sustains each of us. Perhaps we have not put it in exact words for ourselves, but maybe we ought to try to focus in on what we believe, for our own sake and for the sake of each other.

As I say, each of us must be doing at least something right because we are hanging in there, and perhaps really winning against one of the biggest and most frightening bullies of all time, namely cancer. Think of our attitude, faith and resolve as part of our immune system, if you will, in contrast to the anxiety, depression and despair can only drain and weaken our immunological, emotional, and spiritual defenses against stress.

I submit that our individual and combined experiences with cancer are very real, first hand, and up close. If knowledge is strength, where else might we find such specific and authentic experience and knowledge on which to draw for ourselves and each other?

Our surgeons likely know the insides of our bodies better than we do, having been in there with both hands. But we know our much deeper, inner selves, and only we can speak for ourselves, and about what we have learned in coping with cancer we really are. Taken together, and drawing upon what each of us have experienced, that is a lot of knowledge that is largely unexpressed, neglected, and going to waste, I think.

We need each to find and define the words that give us strength. No one of us alone can write the GIST libretto for all of us. Perhaps, however, if we each contribute and share our personal perceptions, thoughts and experiences courageously, one by one, we may find together some answers, if not an anthem for ourselves.

We can take our pills and put our heads in the sand. Or we can take our pills, and dig together in the shifting sands of our shared time – and perhaps find some sea shells or even a pearl or two. What do you think?