Change is inevitable. In the song, “Closing Time” there is a lyric, “Every new beginning comes at some other beginning’s end.” Transformation is intentional. While a gift of grace, it is purposeful and not effortless. Within the depths of winter, it is hard to imagine spring. The beauty of nature takes time. Think of transformation as tending a garden – your very own little plot of earth. Trust that it can be cultivated and that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, you begin to plow this plot with patience, sowing the seeds of your future well-being. At the beginning, joy might be found in just feeling that your situation – your little plot of earth – is workable. You stop looking for a different or better place to be. This does not mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where there were previously only rocks. It means you have confidence that something will grow here. As you cultivate your garden, tending it with a quiet mind and an open heart, the conditions become more conducive to growth and transformation. Slow down, breathe deeply, listen to your heart. Have patience. Something will blossom.
This week I had the privilege of being invited to share my message with a group of adults with various neurological diseases at the Fairview MS Achievement Center’s (MSAC’s) day program in St. Paul, MN. I was invited by the staff chaplain, who had happened upon my book in a retail store, purchased it, and subsequently participated in the full-day Healing on Purpose which I conducted for The Center for Spirituality & Healing in April.
I was asked to provide a 60-minute, informal program to inspire the patients. I prepared for my time there, deciding what I would include in my comments and how I would involve those present. I had asked and been encouraged to bring copies of my book to sell at the end of our time together. While essential, my preparation gave way to serendipity and circumstance. What I experienced in the presence of these remarkable individuals was exceptional.
I arrived to find 40 people in wheelchairs. We set up in a circle, as I had planned. After quickly assessing that there would be no writing of the answers to my questions, I asked if all participants would be able to speak. The answer was “Yes.” And so began an amazing hour together.
After a brief introduction of myself and my story of the change that cancer brought to my life, I wanted to hear their voices – their stories. I asked each person to tell me their name, where they lived and some change that had occurred in their life. I asked that when they were finished they say, “Thank you for listening.” To which I would respond, “Thank you for sharing your story.” I also gave permission for anyone to pass if they did not want to speak. The next 35 minutes was filled with what can only be described as a time of attitude adjustment – mine, that is.
I have little or no first hand experience with people with Multiple Sclerosis, but this group taught me plenty. While their individual physical and cognitive limitations became quickly apparent, the positive attitude with which they unanimously shared their stories dramatically changed my perspective. A change in perspective is looking at the same thing from a different angle to develop a different relationship with it. Their’s were stories of triumph and tribulation, shared with tears and laughter. Without exception, the conclusion was the positive affirmation that life was worth living for each of them. Only one person passed.
The attention that was given to each other and to me was extraordinary. As I concluded my comments, I realized that I did not want to sell any books to this group. I wanted to gift them each a copy and that is what I did. Their gratitude was palpable, and the opportunity to talk to them individually as I signed their books was a life experience worth writing about. I was the one inspired.
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Mayo Clinic’s National Cancer Survivors’ Day Event in Rochester, MN. It was a terrific crowd of enthusiastic people who understand the importance of living life every day. The theme was Italian – was this meant to be? Penso di si.
National Cancer Survivors Day in Rochester
Today is National Cancer Survivors Day and it is celebrated in many communities around the world and the U.S. The celebration is normally marked every first Sunday in June and today Rochester had its own inspiring survivor who shared hope and resilience to a crowd at the International Event Center.
And a second media coverage:
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED THE DAY I WAS SPEAKING IN MANKATO. SEVERAL PEOPLE SAID THEY CAME TO THE EVENT BECAUSE OF THIS ARTICLE. THANK YOU TANNER KENT!
The Free Press, Mankato, MN
May 29, 2014
‘Narrow’ victory: Award-winning author shares philosophy of resilience
Award-winning author shares philosophy of resilience
By Tanner Kent
—- — Though Ruth Bachman said she’s always been a positive person — her resilience has only come with practice.
The award-winning Minnesota author of “Growing Through the Narrow Spots” is also the featured speaker during a Mankato Area Lifelong Learners-sponsored event being held 6:30-8:30 p.m. today at Bethel Baptist Church.
During that event, she’ll tell how “In 2003, I was a left-handed woman,” as her book begins. “I was also a wife and mother, in apparent good health.”
And she’ll tell, too, about the sarcoma in her wrist that looked a “6-inch mortadella sausage.” And then she’ll tell about the amputation that took the lower part of her dominant arm, but saved her life.
More importantly, though, Bachman will tell about the empowering attitude she adopted in the face of life-altering change. It’s an attitude, she said, that formulated with the death of her sister in 1991 from skin cancer and was strengthened during a series of trying circumstances that culminated with the decision to allow doctors to remove her arm.
“It started with my sister’s death,” Bachman said. “It took me a long time to grieve her loss and integrate what that meant in my life. … When my diagnosis came — and this was not easy to say — but I found myself able to say: ‘I’ve been given an opportunity to choose life and what am I going to do with that reality?’”
After speaking about her experience for several years, Bachman was motivated by the positive reception from her audiences to write a book. She arranged a deal with TRISTAN Publishing, a Golden Valley-based publisher of “books with a message,” and released her book in 2013.
The result is a visually stunning and emotionally uplifting primer on building resilience. Likening life’s difficult stretches to the “narrow spot” in an hourglass, Bachman urges readers to accept change and instead focus their energy on adapting and thriving as a response.
In Bachman’s own life, she held a name-that-tumor contest (settling on Goliath, for it’s reference to the Biblical giant slain by a smaller and more faithful foe) and wore colorful scarves rather than a wig during chemotherapy.
“We can only control how we respond to change,” Bachman wrote in her book. “The challenge is to say ‘yes’ and navigate life’s changes with courage and intention.”
Bachman’s prose is underscored by her husband’s warm and sepia-toned images as well as clever use of typography and a smattering of literary references.
Taken cumulatively, the book is accessible and artfully rendered. The Midwest Independent Publishers Association agreed, and bestowed the book with a recent Midwest Book Award in the “Inspiration/Gift Book” category.
“I wanted a book that had life, but also one that people could look at with a sense of meditation and gentleness,” she said.
All proceeds from the book as well as Bachman’s speaking engagments go to the Hourglass Fund Project, which was established to foster collaboration between the Masonic Cancer Center and the Center for Spirituality and Healing (both at the University of Minnesota). According to Bachman’s website, funds support two research projects at the U of M: “The first to research the effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery in survivors who have recently completed treatment; the second to explore the effectiveness of music therapy on pediatric patients undergoing bone marrow transplant and their families.”
For more information, visit ruthbachman.com.
If You Go What Ruth Bachman’s”Life is Full of Narrow Spots: The Inevitability of Change” When 6:30-8:30 p.m. today Where Bethel Baptist Church, 1250 Monks Ave. Admission $5 at the door; all are welcome.
I am hoping to be accepted to speak at the TED Salon in NYC on July 8, 2014. Wish me luck – I will find out on June 6. Here’s hoping…….
I received a very kind rejection. Maybe in the future….
I was privileged to have a radio interview on an ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The next day I received an online order for my book, Growing Through the Narrow Spots, from a person in Albert Lea, MN. I happily filled the order and mailed it off. Within a week I received this lovely testimonial:
Ruth, I just wanted to say thank you so very much for your inspirational story. Totally a God moment that I was in my car one morning and heard you on the radio. I am never in my car at that time of the day. I have just received your book and when I opened it you had signed it to me!
You see my husband just passed away 6 months ago and I am struggling through many narrow spots and reading grief books. Looking for answers and anything to take away the emotional pain … as you stated in your book. Then here I hear about your book… something to read for me! and for my journey through and beyond cancer!!
You have touched my soul and I just want to say thank you again for sharing your story and your inspiration. I have found that your book hits home for both my grief and my wellness of living on without my soul mate and the father of our three children. Who knows maybe the next God moment will bring us to the same place at the same time.
You have touched my heavy heart and for that I thank you.
I have often found myself looking at moments like the one described here as coincidence, happenstance, synchronicity and yes, sometimes I say “That was a God touch.” Ascribing significance to a seemingly random event may not be an activity you dabble in, but I find that it reminds me to be more present in the moment; recognizing the beauty in a person, place or thing that catches my attention. In response, I may pause, smile, “hmm,” or lift up a prayer of gratitude. Whatever the circumstance, I know I am always better for having taken the time to relish what has transpired. I would welcome a God Moment that might bring me together with this reader.
I describe cancer as the narrow spot in an hourglass. I am the sand passing from the top, through the narrow spot and coming to rest in the bottom chamber. Life is full of narrow spots, not all labelled cancer. They represent change and loss. I can go kicking and screaming through the narrow spot, but I will go! After arriving at the bottom, I can stick my head in the sand and pretend nothing has happened or I can keep my head up and look around to see possibilities in my sand’s new arrangement. As a result of the passage, the sand is refined and redefined. I am able to sift through to find interior resources not previously noticed and/or called upon. The secret is not to fight the passage, but to courageously embrace and accept “what is.”
Narrow spots are tools that provide us with life lessons that lead us to compassion and wisdom. Poet Stephen Levine wrote: “There is a grace approaching/,,,It is an insistent grace that draws us/to the edge and beckons us surrender/safe territory and enter our enormity.” Cancer is a narrow spot that has forced me to leave safe territory and look at life with a different perspective, not once, but twice. It has proven to be a very powerful and proficient teacher. I have learned that self care is not a selfish act. The cornerstone of self care is being present: slowing down, breathing deeply and listening to my heart; gently and honestly facing limitations, and either learning to do something a new way, asking for help or graciously deciding to stop and not do that thing.
I was invited to write the Foreword for an upcoming book, written by fellow cancer survivor, Ute Buehler. Our cancer journeys are dramatically different, hence our stories are as well. My Point of View for this piece is to be “an unwilling expert,” encouraging readers to share their stories and discover life resources by reading other’s. Here is my first Foreword. The book will be available mid 2014. I will keep you posted.
Unfortunately, we all know something about cancer. It is a rare person whose life has not been touched by cancer, either as a patient, family member, friend, or caregiver. Statistics tell us that one in three women, and one in two men, will be diagnosed with some type of cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is either the number one or number two cause of death in the United States, depending on where you live. In Minnesota, it is number one. I live in Minnesota, but I didn’t die. I am a cancer survivor. I describe cancer as the narrow spot in an hourglass. I am the sand that has traveled from the top, through the tight spot, to the bottom—the same sand, but now arranged differently.
The broadest definition of a cancer survivor is a person living with and beyond cancer, from the time of diagnosis onward to the end of life. So what are we to do with the statistical reality of occurrence and our somewhat misguided belief that we will be the one who is spared? Name it. Talk about it. And gather resources.
Our lives are unique journeys, with twists and turns that teach us lessons along the way. When we pay attention during our narrow spots, we gather resources and methods of navigation we can use when the hourglass is overturned again. Stories are essential to our nature and survival, helping us to make sense of our lives, and keeping us in contact with others. Wholeheartedly sharing stories, as a teller or a listener, strengthens resilience, which is an integral part of health, as well as wellness and the capacity to heal
We cannot control what will happen in our lives, but we can control what we bring along with us on the journey. Start collecting resources. Other people’s stories bring us perspective on our own, and show ways to navigate we can access when needed. Not as a comparison, but rather they provide us with the ability to look at the same thing from a different angle, and develop a new relationship with it.
My cancer story began with a soft, non-painful lump on my left wrist, followed by the diagnosis of Soft Tissue Sarcoma. This led to the amputation on my dominant hand and forearm. I cannot hide it, nor do I want to. I have learned to accept, adapt, and accommodate. There is nothing I cannot do with patience, persistence, and grace. I’ve learned asking someone for help is a gift to them as well as myself—and I get to choose when not to do something. I share my story out of strong sense of gratitude for excellent medical care, and for a lifetime of paying attention, and building resources.
This book is one woman’s story of her journey with cancer. May it be a resource to others who, while having a different experience than what is described here, will see there is always possibility when one goes through a narrow spot with patience, persistence, faith, and intention. There is authentic inspiration in the realization that if someone else has been through it, and survived to tell the story, there is also hope for us. This story, along with yours and mine, will continue to evolve.
– Ruth Bachman, Author of Growing Through the Narrow Spots
We all have the resources we need to face our narrow spots. Ask for help. Spend time slowing down and breathing deeply. Listen to our heart. There may not always be an apparent answer to the question. Patience, while living the questions, is challenging and well worth the effort to be present in whatever situation we find ourselves. As Rilke said, “Live the questions now. Perhaps someday far in the future you will live your way into the answers.”
This is an interview that I enjoyed doing with Cathy Blythe in Lincoln, NE. I am grateful for this opportunity and for Cathy’s kind comments and recommendation of my book. Listen in.