What is Cancer Journey Coaching? “We Listen to the Whispers”

by Judy ViaCava, CCJC

Many years ago I was fortunate enough to be at a woman’s health conference, where Dr. Dupree was the keynote speaker. She spoke of many things about breast health and breast cancer, but the words that resonated with me to this day was the importance of “listening to the whisper” of the body’s message. A number of years following, I became a patient of Dr Dupree’s. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had surgery, chemotherapy, and I am now a 3 year survivor.

As I continued with my own journey, I trained as a cancer coach through The Cancer Journey, and am now a certified cancer coach.

Last month I had my last follow-up visit with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Scarlett. He also spoke of the importance of listening, from the doctor perspective.

As I was deciding what to discuss today I thought of the common thread that Dr. Dupree and Dr. Scarlett said about listening, and I too want to tell you about cancer coaching and listening to the whisper.

Cancer Coaching: What do we do? We listen closely, and urge our client to go deeper. We ask questions until we go way beneath the surface . . . we listen for the whisper to find the meaning, because that is where the answer is hidden.

The Cancer Journey model begins in INNOCENCE, where the cancer patient normally resides. Then comes THE CALL, when they are told they have CANCER . . . their life has changed forever. Time stands still. As the doctor appointments, lab tests, and hospital visits begin they are thrust into INITIATION and their life is no longer their own . . . they belong to their medical team. At some point, when they feel like they don’t see the end of this existence, they get lost in THE PIT. Fortunately, they realize they have resources (ALLIES): friends, books, faith, a loving pet, anything or anyone who helps coax and lift them up. To get out of the pit the patient realizes they need to let go of something. As they are lifted away from the muck of the pit they begin to see a glimpse of a new life. As they shed the old thought patterns they have a BREAKTHROUGH and begin to realize hope, dreams and goals, which move them forward to TRANSFORMATION: a new, improved way of being.

The cancer journey is a dance and the patient moves in and out of each step. The cancer coach often is called to duty between INITIATION and THE PIT. Our client doesn’t want to slide into the pit, but they soon realize that the only way out, is through.

In the pit our client feels the most vulnerable. The cancer coach comes armed with intention, compassion, empathy, and specialized tools. We leave our personal agenda home and we follow the agenda of our client. We listen to the whisper. We know that every client is creative, resourceful and whole . . . they are not defined by their cancer. They have a life outside of cancer!

A cancer coach stands at the shoulder of our client, looking in the same direction. We help our client to listen to their own whisper of their inner-being. What has she known all along, but was tucked away? Who has she dreamed of becoming, yet has put on hold? What is blocking her from reaching her highest potential? A Cancer Journey coach asks the questions, using a toolbox full of maps, questions, visualizations, and charts to diagram these dreams until they become so real and possible, that our client realizes that she has life to live beyond her cancer.

A cancer coach will delve deeply into the emotions that many family members and friends don’t want to touch. The family’s and friend’s agenda is to make their loved one be “normal” again. They are afraid of what may happen to them if they lose their loved one. A cancer coach will listen to the fear, the anxiety and the panic. We listen and hold the space for our client to get to know their fear. Feeling the feelings, getting to know what and why they are there, making what was causing the fear seem less threatening. Buried emotions stay inside waiting to rear their ugly head. The cancer coach takes the journey with our client . . . we laugh, cry, yell, support and cheer together. We listen to the whisper.

Sometimes, if the client wants to talk about death, we go there. We explore what that means. Maybe we are the only person they can talk openly to about dying. What are the feelings surrounding death? The cancer coach listens, asks questions, and listens some more. A cancer coach holds the space for our client to process.

How about the caregiver? What has he had to give up to care for his loved one? What is he feeling? Who supports him? Who comforts the caregiver? The cancer coach listens to his whisper.

Maybe a survivor has been released from the safety net of the doctor’s care. Now what? Who will keep a watchful eye to catch any possible recurrence? What if cancer is lurking? The fears are real, the panic may re-ignite. There may be a slide back to the pit. The cancer coach is there to hold and support our clients through this transition.

And last, but by no means least: To the medical staff. Who listens to your whisper? Who supports you when you endlessly fight for the life of a patient, yet they don’t get well? Do you lock those feelings away? Do you attempt to stay detached from your patients, because if you didn’t you wouldn’t be able to stay strong? Who listens to you when you are exhausted, overwhelmed, afraid, angry and sad? A cancer coach can help you too.

The Cancer Journey coach is a valuable resource to the entire team, from the patient to the caregiver, to the survivor and to the healers. We listen to the whispers.