Turning Mesothelioma Tragedy into Hope for Others

People with arms raised to the sky

The mesothelioma community can relate to the struggle families face when a member is diagnosed with a serious illness. Many of us can also speak from experience when we talk about the grief and anguish of losing a loved one.

In 1992, my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I was 13 years old. His death, as well as his life, changed everything for my family. He had been our rock, our patriarch. He embodied all that was good in the world. He was a great man, taken too soon.

My mother had been a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, and after Dad passed she could no longer afford our brick home in a nice neighborhood. She wanted to move closer to her side of the family, which meant a new school for me, some 200 miles away.

Many times I thought I couldn’t go on after losing the man who meant everything to me. I was different. Everything was different. I am not sure anyone ever “gets over it” when they lose someone who means the world to them.

My father’s death left me broken, but I found a way to use my brokenness for good. My experience with loss helped me find my calling. It enables me to help others dealing with grief in a unique and meaningful way.

Tough Times

Shortly after earning my first degree, I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. My husband was the sole breadwinner, and it allowed me to spend more time at home with my kids. For the first time in my life since the loss of my father, I was happy.

My youngest child had just been born when my husband began having some serious health problems. Soon, he was no longer able to work. He became disabled, and our financial situation was thrust to the forefront of our priorities. I had to get a job, and fast.

I worked as a restaurant server while deciding what to do with my life. We live in a small town, so I got to know many of the restaurant patrons on a personal basis. I will never forget the day when I found my professional calling.

A gentleman I served every day for most of a year came to place his order. Rather than his usual two sodas, he ordered only one. Laughingly, I reminded him that his wife wouldn’t appreciate him forgetting her soda. He crumbled into tears. He could barely breathe as he told me about her sudden death.

I took his wrinkled hands into mine and connected with a man I barely knew. I experienced the death of his wife as he did. I knew that pain all too well. I truly understood what he was going through. For that brief moment in time, the world stood still and it was just the two of us.

We cried together; we prayed together. As he walked away from the counter that day, I knew exactly what I wanted to do in my professional life.

My Educational Journey

I went home that day with a sense of urgency and determination. I called to begin the enrollment process with an online university. As a busy wife and mother, I knew a traditional classroom wouldn’t be a good fit for me. Balancing family with work and school wasn’t easy, but lo and behold, two years later I graduated with a 3.98 GPA and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

I am currently working on a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. While I have just begun the first term, I am proud to say I aced my midterms and can see my dreams coming to fruition.

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.

Rabindranath Tagore
1913 Nobel Prize Winner

From all my studies, I have learned so much about the human spirit and healing. It wasn’t until I studied existential philosophy that I truly understood how my experiences can be used to help others. One thing that stands out most to me is that not everything we learn can be found in a book.

Healing My Wounds from Mesothelioma

The concept of the wounded healer has been around since the times of the ancient Greeks. According to the famous psychologist Carl Jung, “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals.”

Many psychologists have incorporated themes of the wounded healer into their counseling and psychology practices. The results of one online survey show more than 70 percent of responding therapists experienced one or more psychologically wounding experiences that influenced their career choice.

I’ve found one of the best ways for me to heal from the loss of my father is by helping others. Because I suffered great loss, I can truly and empathically understand the loss others experience. From that perspective, I can take the hand of the brokenhearted and help guide them through the tumultuous experience.

I hope to one day specialize in grief counseling and become a wounded healer myself. For any of you who have suffered the turmoil of a serious diagnosis or loss, you too can help others through your experience. Reach out to someone and lend an ear. It may help you as much as it helps them.

  1. Gordon, T. (2014, February 17). What does the 'Wounded Healer' mean? Retrieved from http://www.drterrygordon.com/what-does-the-wounded-healer-mean/
  2. Barr, A. (n.d.). Wounded Healer Counsellor & Psychotherapist Research. Retrieved from http://www.thegreenrooms.net/wounded-healer/

Melanie is currently pursuing a Master's degree at the University of the Cumberlands. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Phoenix. Her father was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1992. She is dedicated to writing about her unique experience with the rare disease.

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