Pillar Talk by Ken Burger

  • Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ken Burger


I log into my laptop and the friendly face of Marjorie Avent appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. 
She's smiling. I know her.  She was a chaplain at Roper
St. Francis for almost five years.  She's laughed.  She's cried.  She's looked death in the eye, held its hand, felt it let go.

She needed to do something else with her Furman University education, her seminary training, her need to help people before it was too late.
She came to me for two reasons. One, because I write about things. Two, because I am a cancer patient.
Marjorie is now a support counselor for Roper St. Francis Cancer Care and is facilitating a LiveSTRONG grant program called Pillars4Life, an online, 10-session program that brings a dozen strangers together on a computer screen with nothing in common other than cancer. 
Some are patients.  Some are caregivers. But we share stuff.  Sometimes the symptoms are similar. The loss of hope.  The fear. The unknown.  The known. They all factor into this psychological soup for learning to live with something that might kill you.
                SIMPLE ENOUGH
The first session was simple enough. We introduced ourselves. First names only.  No diagnosis. No history.  Just names and voices.  Kind voices. The kind you wish you knew more about, but clinical studies are blind.  Just the facts. They'll feed it all into a computer later.
 But Marjorie knows what we don't know.  It's going to go beyond the numbers.  She's going to ask uncomfortable questions. The kind you don't talk about. How do you feel?  Really feel?  Optimistic? Hopeless?  Agitated?  Angry?  What makes you feel better?  Meditation?  Prayer?  Drugs? Hugs?
How about your favorite song? “I Feel Good,” by James Brown? “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” by Bette Midler.  Some are religious.  Some are ridiculous. But they say something about what's going on with you.  Deep inside you.  Where others aren't allowed.  That's where we're headed.
                HOMEWORK AND HOPE
So now I'm going to log on every Tuesday afternoon at 5 o'clock for 10 weeks and see Marjorie's face and the first names of people I don't know very well, yet. We have workbooks to scribble in. We have scales to grade our pain and feelings and emotions and they're all designed by people with initials after their names to help us develop a personal compass to lead us through this thing called cancer.
Some, quite honestly, might not live long enough to celebrate the last day of school. Others may think it's just mental massage. We talk about stress levels. We take deep breaths. We listen to soft music. We share. Small things. No long medical histories allowed. 
                So far it's baby steps.  I've looked ahead in the workbook and I see words like hope, balance, inner strength, self -care, support, spirit, life review. There is homework. There is honesty. There is anonymity. There is hope.
                I'll get back to you every now and then and let you know how it's going. 
                If you'd like to be part of a future group email Marjorie.avent@rsfh.com">Marjorie.avent@rsfh.com.
Contact Ken at

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