According to Anne Harrington, author of The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine, the value of support groups for cancer survivors was heralded by Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. He and Dr. Irving Yalom (a colleague) had conducted a study in 1989, which determined that women with late-stage metastatic breast cancer who participated in a support group lived on average twice as long as those in control groups.
"It was the first time a randomized clinical trial--the gold standard of medical research--had ever been used to test the power of healing ties."This wasn't surprising information. I'd read about Spiegel's study in the Bill Moyers' book, Healing and the Mind, which was based on the blockbuster PBS television special.
What was surprising to me was that the evidence from the original study has never been replicated. And that is a stunning realization. One of the reasons I started this blog was because I believe that we can help each other heal.
As I read further, the following paragraph provided me with a lot to think about. When Dr. Spiegel arranged for Harrington to visit the original support group, she asked the following question: "Living this particular 'healing ties' story from the inside, did they believe it? Did they think it was helping them live longer?"
Harrington said she will never forget what happened when she asked the question. There was silence until a number of women said they didn't believe the premise of the study. The reason why was because so many women in their group had died.
However, one woman said, "It would be nice if David's hypothesis proves out and maybe it will in the long run. But I don't think it matters to me at all. That's not why I joined this group."
When Harrington asked why she and the others were in the group, the women said "they stayed in the group because they learned there, from one another, how to live with cancer and how to die better with cancer, something they could learn nowhere else in our culture."
And I realized that is the reason why I continue writing this blog. I believe that illness enables us to look at our lives more honestly, and to speak more openly about important life issues. Perhaps if I had never suffered from depression, my life would have remained largely unexamined.It's difficult to tell. But, what I do know is that is that being ill has enabled me to be with people who are ill. Surviving debilitating depressions has given me the ability to empathize with others who have suffered losses.
As I am trying to be more forgiving these days, I realize that I can finally forgive my mother's friends who abandoned her when she got Dementia, and moved into the assisted living facility.
At the time I found their behavior inexplicable, and so very disappointing. Two years later, I feel sad for them. What kind of people abandon a friend they have known and loved for most of their lives? Why didn't they know that while mother may not have remembered what she'd eaten for breakfast that morning, she retained most of the memories from her life, except recent ones.
Where was their compassion?
In my forgiveness mode, I pity my mother's friends. Whatever prompted their behavior, they missed out on the last years of my mother's life. They missed her smile, her sparkling blue eyes, and her love--which never diminished. And I'm so grateful that I didn't.
It was a blessing that I could be there for her. She lives forever in my heart. And I'm sorry for people who were either so frightened of their own mortality, or of illness, that they lost their humanity.
If that's one of the lessons I've learned from bipolarity, and from our discussions with each other, it's another reason to feel grateful!