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Journey Through Cancer

Author(s): Jean Lavelle

ISBN13: 9781847302113

ISBN10: 1847302114

Publisher: Veritas

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  • First published in 1993, this is the moving and inspiring story of how Jean Lavelle responded to the news that she had cancer. Jean now revisits this time in her life, of how she came to realise that there is more to cancer than its physical aspect, that the physical can be a symptom of the psychological. Having set out on her inward journey to heal herself, Jean wrote this book for the therapeutic value of writing it all down, of letting it flow onto the page, straight from the heart.

  • Jean Lavelle

    Jean Lavelle is married and the mother of three grown-up children. She lives in Co. Laois.

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    Lavelle is the married mother of three grown up children who for almost twenty-four years now has been living with cancer. As part of coming to terms with the disease, which she describes as in internal healing process, and in the hopes of inspiring and helping other sufferers, she wrote this book. It was first published in 1993 and she returns to it with added insights in this updated edition. It is a short book but a powerful one as Lavelle distils the essence of her experience and her feelings.

    There are no flowery descriptions here or euphemisms as she writes honestly about what she went through and in particular the spiritual struggle that the diagnosis of cancer and the very real possibility of an early death brought on. In the end, Lavelle found comfort in her religion and this book is as much about that religious journey and the consolations of faith as anything else. Lavelle was eventually declared clear of cancer but the experiences she went through and the lessons she learned have not left her.

    - Books Ireland, April 2010

    Few families escape the experience of cancer in one of their members. While there are almost as many forms of cancer as people who contract it the word itself is enough to frighten most of us. In my own parish its often termed the bug and spoken of quietly. Yet its also true today that many people survive cancer and one such survivor, Jean Lavelle, a married mother of three, has recounted her experience in a small volume entitled Journey Through Cancer. First published in 1993 and with a postscript of January 2010 it tells Jeans story of struggling with the thoughts and pain of cancer, eventually discovering an inner selfhealing enabling her twenty-four years later to declare her journey through cancer has left her feeling more real and secure in her own being than before. The support and inspiration of her family, especially her children, as well as a strong religious faith were also key steps to her survival. This short yet passionate reflection offers hope to all who have been afflicted with the disease.

    - Intercom, October 2010


    This book is about a healing process. It is about the painful business of maturing.

    There are umpteen different forms of cancer and the causes of most of them are unknown. There is scarcely a family today that has not been touched by cancer in some way. We all know or have heard of someone who has had cancer, but when you are told you have cancer, what do you do? You can try to hold on until the researchers discover the cause and the cure for it, but maybe there are as many causes as there are patients! What then? This is the story of what I did. That is all. I make no claims and I hope I make no generalisations. But maybe what I have to say will help someone else in their struggle with the disease.

    I chose to see the cancer I had as something very personal to me. Having had surgery for it twice, I realised that I must assume responsibility for my own life and everything in it. That is, I decided that I must respond to the cancer , not by making a frantic search for a cure outside myself, not by waiting for the dreaded disease to recur, but by journeying towards healing inside myself. My journey has not been easy but it has been worthwhile.

    No two people are the same; no two people will respond to cancer in the same way. I am sharing my journey with you so that if there is something in it that will resonate with you, then it may help you along your way.

    When you have overcome cancer you are indebted to a multitude of people. I want to thank my husband for the enormous support he gave me throughout the illness. Without him I would have gone under. I thank him too for his support in the writing of this account, which he has read at all its stages. Without him it would not have seen the light of day. I want to thank the doctors, the nurses and the hospital staff. I want to thank all those people who helped me (some of whom will recognise themselves here, despite name changes), and the many, known and unknown, who prayed for me.

    Names have been altered to preserve anonymity and privacy, but everything is told as it happened. Finally, I thank Fr Nivard, monk of Mount St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, for his enthusiasm for the project of writing it all down and for his help in doing so.


    It was the end of August and I was flying around in the whole of my health (as I thought) with only three things on my mind: have a new hair-do , a body-wave! , bring the children to the seaside for a day, and buy them their school uniforms. Then, like a bird shot down in midflight, my life changed.

    For four years I had had a black spot in my left thumbnail. I always thought that I must have caught it in something, like a door, to have caused the injury. But I had no memory of injuring it. Having a very young family to care for I knew that there were days when I could have caught my head in a door and not noticed! When bringing the children to various doctors for minor ailments over the years, I showed the nail. The doctors invariably made nothing of it. Indeed one of them cheerfully told me to put nail varnish on it!

    Eventually a doctor said to me, If I were you, Jean, I would show that nail to a surgeon. I think maybe he might take it off and it would grow clean again. I had wondered myself how the black spot had not grown out of the nail. No blame to the doctors , most doctors would never in a lifetime come across malignant melanoma of the nail tissue. So I finally went to a surgeon who did a biopsy. My husband Jim was with me in the waiting room when I went to get the result. The surgeon came in and, standing in front of me, said in a grave voice: The news is not good. It
    is cancer.

    My immediate reaction was to sway to and fro in the chair and repeat in a loud whisper, Im having a nightmare , Ill come out of it. My husband managed to remain calm, and placing his hand on my left shoulder, communicated some of that calm to me. I felt as if an earthquake was taking place in the very pit of my being. If only I could wake up and discover that I was having one hell of a nightmare, but my sanity would not allow me to escape this cruel reality. I had cancer. Or rather, it had me! The surgeon went on to suggest amputation of the whole thumb, which he would perform the next morning. My husband thanked him and told him we needed a few hours to think about it. As we stood up to leave, my legs felt like jelly, while the rest of my body was numb. My husband linked me out to the car where our children were waiting to be brought shopping for their school uniforms. We explained that we could not go shopping that day. They did not protest. They were silent and were not fooled by our efforts to hide our shock. Silent tears flowed. The day you are told you have cancer is a day to remember in order to forget.

    Inwardly I felt as if I was a babe again, back in my mothers womb. From a distance I could overhear that I was to die before the time was ripe for me to be born, before the time was ripe for me to make conscious contact with my own creative centre, get a sense of my real self. I felt engulfed by a feeling of quiet desperation.

    When we got home we phoned an old schoolfriend of mine who is a nun and also a theatre nurse. Sr Mary said she would phone me back within an hour or so when, hopefully, she would have made arrangements for me to see another surgeon.

    Then I flopped down into a two-seater in our kitchen, feeling as if my heart was breaking. Our nine-year-old son, Anthony, disappeared into his bedroom to cry. Always a sensitive child, he could not look at anyone in pain. After a while he returned to the kitchen looking so calm and peaceful that I was astonished. I know him and I wondered what had happened. He had run away from me in fear to cry and be alone. Now he appeared to have lost all fear and wanted to draw close to me. He moved slowly and, sitting down beside me, he hugged me, opened his hand and showed me a Green Scapular of Our Lady. He then explained with the disarming simplicity and faith of a child that when he was lying on his bed crying he had remembered the Green Scapular under his pillow. He reached in for it and at the very moment he held it in his hand, a little shock went right through him, which conveyed to him, Your Mammy is going to be all right.

    It was obvious from the childs whole countenance and demeanour that he was grounded in a truth too great for me to comprehend in my present state of bewilderment. It was wonderful to be hugged by a child whose overwhelming fear had been transformed into a peace beyond all understanding.

    Then the phone rang. It was Mary to say that she had made arrangements for me to see another surgeon next morning. My husband and I felt somewhat easier now that we were going to have a second opinion.

    Next morning the second surgeon confirmed the diagnosis, but said that amputation of the thumb from the first joint would be sufficient to deal with the condition. I felt relieved on hearing this news. Then I asked the surgeon if the rest of the thumb might have to be amputated later should the cancer return. He said, No! The form of cancer you have is only interested in nail tissue. I was not offered chemotherapy or radium treatment, as research shows that the cancer you have would not respond to such treatment. The surgeon went on to give me some statistics about the likelihood of my being alive in one year, two years and so on. By the time the surgeon mentioned the fifth year there were no statistics left. I got the message. My term of office on this earth would be up within five years. It sounded very like a death sentence, but I was so relieved at losing only half my thumb that I let the statistics in one ear and out the other. A few days later I was on the operating table.


    It is now almost twenty-four years since cancer paid me a visit. The day I was told I had cancer, the bottom fell out of my world, as I knew it, only to come together again gradually at a deeper level.

    Grace sometimes comes in the form of a negative. What we perceive to be the worst thing to happen in our life may turn out to be the best thing. By giving the Wounded Child in me permission to talk and express herself clearly, I reclaimed the power that had been locked into her silence. I was now listening to her voice, unlocking her emotions, acknowledging the depth of who I truly am and embracing all of me. I was liberating my whole self. During this healing process the Wounded Child became my Angel of Light. It was from her I learned, slowly but surely, how to survive in this world and how to transcend it.

    Life is all about forgiveness and letting go, but it takes time to process the anguish and heartbreak. It may seem impossible to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you because to do so would imply that what they actually did wrong is okay. With insight comes the grace to accept people as they are; to choose those who are good for us and to bless and release those who are not. In my own experience, it was from this space of inner freedom that my angry heartbreak was transmuted by an insight coming from a deeper place within. With this revelation came compassion, love and peace. Peace is the name of the Divine Physician which heals , from within.

    Gradually I emerged from my journey through cancer feeling far more real and secure in the source of my own being. In other words, I was now living from the ground of my own innermost truth. Cancer woke me up to the importance of acknowledging and integrating my wounded self, enabling me to access the healing power rooted in the core of my being , my Real Self.
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