My last year of school, my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, from which he died about three months after the “official” diagnosis. I had been thinking stomach cancer for almost a month before his doctor said the words. I got the call from him telling me they had found, “A little cancer,” and then went on to talk about the fact that prognosis was that he probably didn’t have more than a year to live.
I had wonderful teachers at my school and I knew that even a year was a generous amount of time for stomach cancer, particularly as far advanced as it likely was given my father’s complaints. Wanting to be present for my father, I needed to know what he needed. I asked in the best way I knew, ” How do you feel now that you’ve heard that?”
My father, never one to talk about emotions merely said, “Huh?”
I repeated my phrase and he replied, slowly and patiently as if explaining to one quite dumb, “I’m still real bloated. They haven’t done anything yet.”
Okay then. I repeated this to one of my professors as a sort of irony about thinking differently and he chuckled at the story. He knew I meant how do you feel emotionally but he also understood that it was clear my father was not capable of going there. He reminded me, “You have to start where they are.”
I think that is an important bit of information to remind ourselves about ourselves. No matter where we are in our process of health and living, we need to start where we are. Whatever we are ready to embrace or to change or to acknowledge is the best place to start. Whatever we are ready to hold with compassion or with understanding, this is where we should start our process to ever better health and better living. There is no one path to being healthy and well. There is no single way of being healthy. There are many paths. There are many places to start. The important thing is to realize that you need to start. For my father, it meant waiting until he had his first chemotherapy. For me, it might have started with acknowledging how frightening it was to consider loosing my father, likely within three months (within 6 weeks actually) and realize that the only thing I could do was become a clinician.
We all start where we are.