A Journey Through a Foreign Country Called Cancer, a survivors story.
"Each of us who has made the journey through the foreign country of cancer has our own story. My journey of two bouts with breast cancer changed my life forever. I learned to speak up for myself, to discover my own special gifts, to deepen my spirituality and belief in the body-mind-spirit connection
, and to be grateful for the wonder of life. Although many times it was a dark and difficult path, the road was also lighted with moments of unexpected kindness, love, and miracles. After my own experience, I wanted to help others cope with the diagnosis of cancer, and to realize they are not alone without a passport in a foreign country."
Linda Texter Hall, a breast cancer survivor who was first diagnosed with non-invasive intraductal carcinoma in early 1983, refers to her illness as a “journey through the foreign country of cancer.” And now, because of her experiences, she is committed to help others cope - “to realize they are not alone without a passport in a foreign country.”
As I spoke with Linda recently I could see some the many ways she does just that -- from the pioneering spirit she gained to undergo newly discovered procedures -- to her desire to participate in numerous support groups and to undergo training to help women one-to-one deal with cancer and ultimately to become one of the founders of The Wellness Community - Delaware. For many years she has also shared her belief in the body-mind-spirit connection to use her knowledge to teach yoga and stress reduction techniques to other cancer survivors.
“My first diagnosis was in February 1983, on Valentines Day,” says Linda. “I was 39 years old and I had cancer. No one in my family ever had any type of cancer. Like many people facing cancer then, I thought cancer meant a death sentence.”
“My husband, Roger, was wonderful. We were living in New York City at the time and I remember walking home from the doctor’s office to our apartment in ‘a terrified daze’. He bravely put aside his own fears of the future to give me the confidence and support I desperately needed.”
Linda admits it was a frightening time but she also wanted to be as informed as possible before making any decisions. “I read as much as I could,” she tells us. “and a co-worker urged me to read a book by the pioneer of a new procedure called a lumpectomy. Prior to this, a mastectomy was the usual option. I was taking a crash course in cancer, racing to doctors for second (and third) opinions but chose Dr. Oliver Cope, the surgeon who had written the book I read and was the pioneer of the lumpectomy.”
Within several weeks, Linda underwent a lumpectomy, followed by 6 weeks of radiation therapy, as well as, an additional radiation implant following treatment. At the advice of Dr. Cope, she opted for “the team approach” to treatment with a surgeon, radiologist and oncologist at New York University Medical Center. The surgery went well, the lymph nodes were removed, and she received the good news that none were cancerous.
“Despite all the support of my loving family and friends, I still felt alone and frightened. It was unfamiliar territory,” says Linda. “There were no support groups, although I was able to talk to a friend of a friend on the telephone who was a breast cancer survivor. She was very kind.” As you will see, Linda remembered the experience and when given the opportunity to volunteer her support she does in many ways.
While in the hospital, Linda participated in a new program that used guided imagery to cope with the fear and stress following a cancer diagnosis and operations. Already proficient in yoga, as soon as she could after surgery she began stretching exercises - stretching her arms ,through pain, until she could reach above her head. Her husband served as her enthusiastic and loving coach. (A few years later when they moved to Delaware, Linda, confident in the importance of being a coach for others trained to become an American Cancer Society volunteer in their “Reach for Recovery” program.)
“Reach for Recovery,” she explains, “is helping other women on a one-to-one basis -- women who have just been diagnosed with cancer. I often refer to the women -- and friends -- I met as my ‘bosom buddies’. I soon discovered I received as much as I gave,” Linda adds.
Linda remained cancer-free for many years. A secondbreast cancer diagnosis and surgery for Paget’s Disease, was performed in 1991 at University of Pennsylvania Hospital. This time she had a mastectomy with a abdominal tram flap. “This was not a recurrence but a new and rare form of cancer. I was shocked and upset that I would undergo this battle again, but somewhat comforted inthe fact that it was in the same breast and hadn’t spread,” she tells us.
It was more difficult this time to heal. She not only had her breast healing, but because the procedure she underwent involved a sort of “tummy tuck” that used her own tissue to create a breast, she also had to deal with a large incision across her abdomen.
Linda, in addition to working at Winterthur, “moonlighted” as a yoga instructor. She had done this for about 2 years and was delighted when her supervisor at the YMCA (where she taught) encouraged her to come back ASAP. She went back soon after to teach basic, gentle yoga.
“The yoga postures and relaxation techniques helped my students, but it also helped me recover sooner than I would have otherwise. The definition of yoga is body-mind-spirit and I believe in this connection. There were times I was sad or depressed but these times became less frequent when I found that my body was healing again, and realized I was able to do most of the things I did before. I also learned to be patient with myself.” Linda opted for early retirement from Winterthur and continues to teach yoga at various locations throughout Delaware. See her website www.lindayoga.com for more information and a class schedule.
Linda joined several support groups to be able to talk with others who had been through the experience of cancer. From this, she learned that two women were starting “The Wellness Community” -- a non-profit organization with support groups and a variety of services for people undergoing treatments for all kinds of cancer. Their website is www.wellnessdelaware.org . Today, The Wellness Community is a model for others around the country. Linda is also a volunteer with Delaware Hospice, where she specializes in bereavement, www.delawarehospice.org.
Along the way, Linda credits her husband as her greatest supporter. Roger Hall is an author whose book “You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger” originally published in the 1950s has recently gone into reprint. Linda smiles and adds, “he was my supporter for so many years, through so many things. It’s my turn to encourage him to promote his book through lectures and signings. (On November 2, he will be at the Bayard Taylor Library in Kennett Square, PA.)
When asked what has been a constant source of comfort through her journey Linda says, “Prayer. Rather than to pray for something to happen or not happen, I just say “Thy will be done” and leave it up to God or the Universe. Through prayer, letting go of fear is easier than I ever thought was possible. I believe in miracles and the kindness of strangers. I am grateful every day for the gift of life, and truly celebrate every one of my birthdays as one more year of being alive, and able to give and receive love.”