Rachel Naomi Remen on Commonweal:
All people are wounded, but the people who come here can’t cover it up the way the rest of us do, thinking we’re the only wounded people in the world, right? Everybody has pain, everybody is wounded. And because the (Commonweal retreat) participants can’t cover up their woundedness, now that they have cancer, they can trust each other. I can trust another person only if I can sense that they, too, have woundedness, have pain, have fear.
(When you have cancer) you feel separated from the whole human race. You feel as though you’re looking at the world through plate glass. You can see other people, but you feel as if you can’t touch them or be with them, because you are different. They say that the sense of isolation, of being separated from people who are well, is as painful as chemotherapy, as cancer itself. . . .
Years ago, when I was associate director of the pediatric clinics at the Stanford Medical School, one of my colleagues, Marshall Klaus, did a study which at the time was extremely innovative. He was chief of the intensive care nursery, where all the babies were these tiny little people you could hold in your hand. Each incubator was surrounded by shifts of people and millions of dollars worth of equipment. Everything was high-tech. Of course, we didn’t touch these infants because we’d get germs on them. But Klaus decided to do an experiment in which half the babies in the nursery would be treated as usual, and the other half would be touched for fifteen minutes every few hours. You’d take your pinky finger and rub it down the little baby’s back. And we discovered that the babies that were touched survived better. No one knows why. Maybe there’s something about touching that strengthens the will to live. Maybe isolation weakens us.
- Rachel Naomi Remen, cofounder and Medical Director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program as, interviewed by Bill Moyers, Healing and the Mind