|Tami Boehmer and her daughter, Chrissy.|
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all.”
n Emily Dickensen
When my brother’s prostate cancer recurred recently a kind friend said he’d hold my brother “in the light.” The imagery and thought guiding it was beautiful to me and gently reassuring. Powerful, too, as though through deep meditation and prayer the space we inhabit might actually change.
Does that give you room for thought? If so then you are the kind of survivor who will both benefit from and marvel at a gem of a book by Tami Boehmer, a metastatic breast cancer survivor who transformed her own diagnosis into a search for “super survivors” – men and women who faced a difficult cancer diagnosis and are still here to tell us what they’ve learned along the way.
Just so you know, I rarely use the word miracle and am very well aware, as we all are, of many men and women who were miracles to us but have died of miserable cancers, anyway. From Incurable to Incredible is from the here and now, not from the land of illusion or the smarmy, Suzanne Somers land of science.
Instead, Tami opens up the door and introduces to a group of compelling people doctors can’t categorize. Some you might say, are even past (and delightfully so) their expiration date. Then she steps backstage and lets them tell their stories, 27 different stories, 27 different stories of hope, 27 drastically altered lives, 27 different people of all ages and types of cancer.
Following introductions by Bernie Siegel, MD and Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman, Tami writes about her experience with breast cancer and the journey that led to the book. In 2008, the 44-year old mother and PR professional found that her breast cancer had metastasized to her liver and lymph nodes in her chest.
There is no pity. None. There’s no sentiment or navel gazing. She knew that to survive she needed to get past the statistics she was reading. She called a volunteer chaplain from her church who had a rare and incurable cancer but who was living well with it.
“Tell me everything you’re doing,” she writes about that conversation, “I’m taking notes.”
Good notes and good questions. What contributes to beating the odds? What do these special survivors have in common? She identifies eight different factors then organizes each survivor’s story within the categories -- purpose, attitude, support, perseverance and faith. The stories are rich, by people who made the most of the resources available to them. They took on their own care and were proactive. All had some kind of faith. None of the stories are easy. But through means not definable by any us there are transformations many times over.
“Cancer has given me permission to live the life I should,” said Dave Massey, 51, a two-time Stage IV germ cell survivor. Like another woman, who joked that her Irish mother “would have killed her if she died,” Dave’s humor remained intact. When he realized his doctor’s MO was “when in doubt, cut it out” and the doubt pertained to amputating both his legs, he found treatment elsewhere. Today he runs marathons.
You will recognize some the survivors from the work they’re doing now, like Jonny Imerman, you’ll meet some new ones. You will love all of them. You’ll see yourself, where you rose above your own diagnosis, where you can still learn, and how much all of us can find to celebrate.
When we learn to nourish our lives, we pay attention to our hunger for living.
-- Bernie Segal, M.D., from the introduction, From Incurable to Incredible
(Disclosure: Tami Boehmer provided me a review copy of From Incurable to Incredible. Printing costs were provided by a private donor and ten percent of the author’s proceeds will go to the Lance Armstrong Foundation)