Photo: Karen Supman in 2018.
Karen Supman was diagnosed with plasmacytoma with amyloid, abnormal plasma cell growth that is cancerous, in 2006. You can read the account of when she received her diagnosis here: Hearing I Had Cancer.
The following piece is a continuation of her healing journey.
By Karen Supman
After the chemo and radiation did not work on my tumor (plasmacytoma with amyloid), I went to see a surgeon. Looking at my records, the surgeon informed me that he didn’t want to perform surgery due to the complexity of the procedure, and the radiation I had received before would impact healing.
He also said I probably wouldn’t survive.
It was at that time, I heard about a Qi Gong Master that assisted cancer patients. I had read an article in the New York Times that Qi Gong helped with pain management. Qi Gong is an ancient Asian practice of movement, breathing and meditation used to balance the “qi” or “life energy.”
I found out that the hospital I went to brought in a Qi Gong Master monthly as part of its wellness program for cancer patients, so I made a private appointment.
At that first meeting, Master Hong asked me a series of questions and told me that I held a lot of sadness and stress in my body. I started to cry and felt embarrassed.
He motioned for me to come and sit next to him. He took a piece of paper and a pencil and started a child-like drawing, creating a stick figure of a woman standing next to a tree. The woman was crying.
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“I know that you believe in Western medicine and that it is good to talk to doctors about your problems, but I want you to find a tree to talk to every day. I want you to talk to it for 30 minutes and I don’t care if you cry. I want you to talk to it every day and then come back to me,” Master Hong told me.
With many trees to choose from near my home, I chose a towering cottonwood tree situated along the man-made lake in front of my condo. Its majestic branches gave refuge to the heron and egrets perching on its massive limbs, as it gently expanded over the duck filled pond, grassy knoll and sidewalk.
Grabbing a cup of coffee, cell phone and Zoe, my Maltese, I headed towards the tree and sat down on the boulder next to it. If I was to have an intimate relationship with a tree, I decided it should have a name. I named it Maury.
I imagined Maury as a person with a worn-out loose cashmere sweater who was always relaxed. Someone who was always calm and comfortable in his own skin. I noticed Maury was significantly larger and separate from the other cottonwoods that were nestled together. Like the tree, I still felt solitary in dealing with the fact that I was alone in my cancer. I was dealing with the possibility of dying and that you did alone.
Looking up through the thick branches of the tree, I observed its massive trunk. It might sway its limbs during an Arizona monsoon, but the sturdy trunk held everything together. I looked at its roots. They, too, were strong, reaching several feet in all directions and toward the water for nourishment.
As I thought about the tree, I realized that while my physical core was damaged, the real core was my ability to think. I compared the tree’s roots to my thoughts. If I was going to survive this cancer, I had to be firmly committed. I had to start over again with a renewed attitude to live and have the right kind of thinking. It turns out that Maury was talking to me as opposed to me talking to him.
As I talked to my life coach a few days later, she offered a suggestion. She told me I should place each issue or concern weighing on me on a separate branch of the tree. She pointed out that since God created the tree, I was giving him control of the problems. I only hoped God would take them.
I went back to Maury the next morning and gently placed all that was concerning me – my health, my children’s wellbeing, my finances – on his strong branches. Talking with Maury allowed me to release the fear that I had been carrying around.
Maury stood there when I finished, quite calm and peaceful as if nothing had changed. No matter what issue I threw at him, he was unaffected by my concerns. Maury taught me that “core training” was really in your head. Where the mind goes, the body follows. I realized my survival had nothing to do with the disease and everything to do with my thoughts. I would create my recovery. I changed my thoughts to what I wanted to accomplish and erased all the fear and doubt from my mind.
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I shared what I learned from the tree when Master Hong returned the following month. He smiled at me and said, “You have not gotten better for a long time, but you will see that now you will get better.” He helped move the “qi” through my body and taught me simple breathing and meditation techniques to do daily.
In the days and weeks to follow, I sat on the boulder adjacent to Maury every morning and focused my thoughts on affirmations of the outcome that I wanted to happen.
I drew strength from that ritual, and it helped me start my day to finding peace, hope and determination. I could be like Maury and be strong with my thoughts firmly anchored to the outcome that I wanted.
I became open to new ideas and ways through my daily practice, and I researched offerings at MD Anderson Cancer Center. I finally chose a team of doctors who agreed to try a surgery that they had never performed before.
On August 7, 2007, the surgeons removed a sizeable potato-shaped tumor from my spine as well as part of my eighth rib. They reconstructed my spine with many pins and rods. I have been cancer-free ever since!
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I wanted to share this true story of mine for you to have hope and realize that none of us are alone.