“I now know cancer to be a very powerful and proficient teacher with the potential for profound transformation.”
Ruth Bachman is a kind, determined, and energetic person who has worked to overcome challenges and inspire others after losing her dominant hand and forearm to cancer.
In 2003 Ruth developed soft-tissue sarcoma in her left wrist. Life took a quick turn as she immediately started chemotherapy with plans for surgery in the future. When it was realized that chemotherapy was not working her surgery was expedited and, just two months before her daughter’s wedding, her left hand and forearm were amputated.
Having been a left-hand dominant person, Ruth spent months working with occupational therapy to learn how to live with only her non-dominant hand. Ruth remembers feeling frustrated during this time by being told that she would “wear sports bras, jogging pants and slip on shoes for the rest of your life.” This also motivated her to seek out the support she wanted and the team that she wanted to work with.
But Ruth is a thriver! And with hard work decided that,
“if something is possible, I will absolutely give it my best shot. And if it isn’t, I will gracefully let it go.”
Ruth gives a sense of graceful openness when she talks about life and enjoying the moments as she is living them, which emulates her mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has become a way of being for Ruth, and helps her navigate all of life's challenges and mysteries. Ruth talks about how mindfulness is the message of her phrase, "don't borrow trouble". She reminds people often not to "borrow trouble", meaning that we all need to live in the present moment and not to take on unknown troubles of the future and not to dwell on the troubles of the past.
Ruth has a website, ruthbachman.com, where she writes a blog about her life experiences and navigating life with her survivorship visible for all to see. Ruth uses the metaphor of an hourglass and describes that life is like an hourglass in that there are always narrow spots that are difficult to move through. Transformation happens as a result of the passage. What is required for going through is the acceptance that this is happening. "You can go kicking and screaming, but you will go."
"Cancer is the narrowing and life is the sand passing through."
In the Hourglass blog, Ruth discusses how the visibility of having an amputation forced her to confront her disease and choose how she wanted to live. She shares, “you don’t get to choose cancer, but there are things that you get to choose. It is a sense of personal power when you get to choose things... Everyday I am confronted with something that is one handed; and everyday I have the opportunity to learn to do that thing a new way, to ask for help, or to decide gracefully never to do that thing again."
Ruth discusses the importance of addressing loss and grieving when it comes to treatment and survivorship. Even if treatment is successful there are losses and experiences that need to be grieved, including the assurance that the cancer will not return. She talks about how she and her family needed to allow themselves the time to grieve the loss of the lives they had envisioned. As Ruth reflects on losing her hand she shares,
“I lost my hand, but what I truly lost was the ability to do everything the way I used to do it.”
A change like this takes time. Time to grieve. Time to accept. Time to adapt. This is true for everyone experiencing cancer or a rare disease; everyone needs to allow time to work through the loss and grief.
Toxic positivity can overwhelm any person with cancer or a rare disease. Ruth remembers someone saying to her, “Ruth, you’re lucky you only had cancer for three months.” Or “Ruth, you have one of the easiest cancer stories I’ve ever heard.” While these comments may be well intended, they belittle the individual’s experience by valuing their cancer as “less than” someone else’s. Are you interested in learning more about healthy and toxic positivity? Visit the Positivity Section.
One of Ruth's favorite quotes is by author and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, “the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”. Ruth emulates this message in every aspect of her life with her perseverance and hopefulness. She hopes to empower others to be actively engaged in their lives and to remember that they have the power to choose how they will respond to the narrow spots of the hourglass of life.
To learn more about Ruth Bachman and to read her words of wisdom, visit her website https://www.ruthbachman.com/
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