Extracts taken from a report by Helene Corrie on ‘Teaching Cancer Patients‘
However much we try to hide it, ‘Cancer’ is a dirty word. People, when they are first given the dreaded diagnosis, experience shock, panic, anger, denial sometimes, but always a sense of grieving and alienation. They often have to go through surgery, in many cases left maimed and disfigured. It deeply affects their perception of themselves and the relationship to their family and friends. Then, they have to go through a gruelling treatment. Whether is is radiography or chemotherapy is is an invasion of their deeper self as well as their body. They experience extreme distress, pain, sickness , breathing difficulties and loss of hair, which makes them immediately conspicuous to the outside world. Living through this nightmare has its positive side too. Through sheer necessity, they find themselves resources they didn’t know they had. Most of them share a strong will to beat the illness. They experience a complete reversal in their priorities. They get to understand the negative influence of stress. And they feel a desire to change. This is where to role of the Alexander teacher starts.
I teach these people just like any other pupil. They are weak in body, but strong in mind. For the first time in months they come to the hospital to have pleasurable experience, their Alexander lesson. The one-to-one, the hands-on touch, makes them feel cared for in a human way. The breathing technique gives them a positive and practical tool to deal with their problems. The learning of better use gives them a control over themselves, that the illness had taken away. The teacher must not give them false hope. But the learning gives them real hope that by improving their use they take part in their recovery. I help them to come to the conclusion that what is important is the well being of today rather than the unknown future. Humour and lightness can still be part of their life. The Alexander teacher needs to be adaptable, empathetic, calm, patient and reassuring.
The patients develop a new awreness of themselves. They stop associating anxiety and pain with ‘pulling down’. The breathing helps them to control panic attaches, insomnia, and the sickness caused by chemotherapy. It also gives them something to do while they wait for their check-ups. The technique helps the regeneration of muscles damaged by the radiotherapy. It helps to keep lymphodaema at bay. By learning to move in a more balanced way, it gives patients more mobility and helps them to save energy. Finally it will enable them to be better equipped to deal with the future, whatever it holds for them.