Thursday, September 5, 2013

Survivor's saga reveals hope in dark times

Suzy Farbman has had her share of trials in life.

She first gained national recognition when she appeared on “Oprah” to talk about her first book, “Back From Betrayal.” The book was a deeply personal story of how she and her husband had struggled to save their marriage after Suzy learned of his infidelity. Writing helped her sort her thoughts as she struggled to cope with a situation no one could be prepared for. She hoped her words could provide comfort to others.

Her marriage was renewed and she was enjoying the success of her book in the summer of 2004, when a twinge of pain sent her to her doctor. A series of tests revealed her next trial: uterine cancer so advanced it had spread to her bones.

She spent the next year undergoing the full range of treatment – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. To cope with the stress, she asked her husband to keep track of the medical details with her physicians and caregivers. Meanwhile, she focused on her spiritual health.

She prayed. She read religious texts. She wrote in her own journal. As she faced an uncertain future and fear of the unknown, her efforts to “live in the moment” made her more sensitive to the details of her everyday life. She began to see things she would have dismissed in the past – from people she met to pieces of good fortune – not as coincidences, but as signs.

“I experienced a series of miracles and it felt like God cheering me on,” she says. She dubbed those miracles, large and small, “Godsigns,” and they became the basis of her second book, released in the fall of 2012. Now, she’s nine years out from her diagnosis and she’s made it her mission to share what she’s learned from the experience.

In October, Suzy will join us for a series of presentations during Customer Service Week. We were able to catch up with her to get a preview of her inspirational message.

Q: What is it like to share the very personal story of your battle with cancer with new audiences? 

A: It’s been rewarding to see the responses I get. People have their own interpretation and their own needs and they see it as a story of surviving challenges. It’s really rewarding to see them “get it” and to see heads nodding. If I’ve had a chance to interact with the audience beforehand and know there are some survivors and patients there, it’s great to give a voice to their concerns.

Q: What has this experience taught you about the mindset one needs to endure tough times? 

A: A cancer patient has little control. Cancer takes over everything: your schedule, your plans, your hopes for the future. I knew the one area I could have influence over was to pursue spiritual strength and encouragement. I had prayed years before, during my mom’s health problems. I prayed for half an hour one night. I felt physically lighter the next morning. I learned the value and possibility of turning things over to a higher power.

Q: What lessons do you hope people take away from your presentation?

First, trust the universe. Second, be willing to turn it over. Be open to whatever possibilities are out there. Trust in the outcome, some things are meant to happen. Finally, be more in the moment. Don’t spin out with fear of the future. You may tend to focus on big, global fears, but do what you can to focus on the moment. Think about, right this minute, how do you feel? That makes it easier to get through a medical crisis.

Q: What can those of us who work in health care learn from your experience?

Patients are people, too. Show your patients that you’re a person and you value them as a person as well. The care I’ve had has been amazing. As brutal as what they did to me was, my doctors and nurses were heroes to me. In chemotherapy, the staff members were always gentle and upbeat.

It’s very important that doctors and nurses take time to tell you what they’re going to do. If there’s going to be pain, they should acknowledge it. Those few extra seconds explaining things make a huge difference.

Q: How has writing helped you during this experience?

I’ve journaled my whole life, but much more often in tough times than in good times. As a patient, you have fears, but you don’t want to drag everyone through that. The journal is an objective friend that accepts what I say, period. I recommend it for everyone. If you never look back and read it, fine. But you may say, “Look at what I worried about and it didn’t happen.”

Q: How can people be better at seeing signs in their own lives?

Stop and notice when you feel a jolt, a surprise or a “wow.” Be open to it. Think about “can I construct a story around this?” Take the time to think about it, appreciate it and write to Suzy Farbman about it! (Suzy is currently working on a follow-up book compiling the Godsigns stories people share with her). Pay attention. When you’re more vulnerable, you’re more open to that kind of support. Before this experience, I had no idea the universe can be as talented as it is.

Meet the author 
Suzy Farbman will be speaking to CoxHealth employees at Cox South (Oct. 8), Branson and Monett (both on Oct. 9) as part of Customer Service Week. She will also appear at a public event Thursday evening:

When: Thursday, October 10, at 6 p.m. 

Where: Magnolia Room, 4th Floor, Hulston Cancer Center 

This program is open to anyone in the public. The first 50 registrants will receive a free copy of "Godsigns," courtesy of GYN Cancers Alliance and CoxHealth. Heavy appetizers will be served. No fee, but please register by calling 269-5224.