Kenneth L Abbott, MD, FACP  |  1/25/2022

You Don’t Have to Walk Alone

Imagine hiking through an unfamiliar forest. Which is better? To try to blaze a useable path through the underbrush, hacking away with a machete or ax, stumbling over uneven ground, blocked by large fallen tree trunks, confronted with unexpected ravines and slippery boulders? Or to have a well-marked, groomed trail to follow, with sturdy bridges and reliable signs, and a legible, accurate map in your hand?

When my wife and I vacationed in the mountains of western Virginia two years ago, we explored with great delight the several climbing trails on the property and never once got lost. We blessed the people who had already been through those woods, made and maintained those trails, cleared away any obstacles, posted helpful signs, and drew good maps. Even as we set off on the trails with just each other for company, we walked in someone else’s footsteps and benefited from the efforts of those who went before us. It was like having a personal guide as a traveling companion, someone to point us in the correct direction, to show us spans over chasms and paths around seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to warn of dangers along the way, and to bring us safely through the woods, then to a well-appreciated, guilt-free dinner back at the hotel. We earned those calories!

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be much like a trek through undiscovered terrain. You want to be prepared. You want to know how to avoid whatever pitfalls and traps may loom. You seek guidance on the best way to come through to the other side safely. Where do you find such valuable assistance? Cancer support groups include members at all stages of the cancer care process, from newly diagnosed persons to long-standing survivors of many years. The “old pros” have learned a thing or two over their experience and they want to share the results of those lessons. Many people have told me about the instant community that coalesces in the infusion center, as people sitting in treatment chairs next to each other exchange ideas and insights, promoting helpful things to do as well as warning of problems to avoid. This information is nearly always trustworthy, but it is a good idea to verify what you hear with your care providers. Someday you’ll be able to pay this forward when you are the experienced survivor who takes someone under your wing.

The score of the beloved musical “Carousel” contains several memorable songs, including one that has become something of an international standard: “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” When sung, it is guaranteed to raise lumps in throats. Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics communicate a near-universal human sense of solidarity, that in our darkest hours we are not bereft of comfort and nurturing support from those who love us, even, perhaps, from those who have passed from this life.

The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the power of companionship when it states, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” There is strength, as they say, in numbers, and wisdom in many counselors. As you proceed in your cancer care journey, take hold of all the available assistance. You never have to walk alone.
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