Written by Lisa Yen, NP, NBC-HWC - October 21, 2018
On a recent trip to Iceland, I was fascinated by the sight of ancient cairns. These were not simply piles of delicately balanced rocks left by tourists at breathtaking viewpoints. Instead, these cairns were impressive pyramid structures looming taller than an average human. They had served as trail markers for hundreds of years before the invention of cars and GPS units. I closed my eyes and imagined what it must have been like to journey through the rugged terrain of Iceland with these cairns as my guide…
Imagine being lost and alone, unable to find your way on the dark, uncertain path. The skies are gloomy and overcast, and the unrelenting wind chills you to the bone. There are no signs of life around you. You waiver between tears and a state of panic. You want to give up. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you catch a glimpse of something off in the distance…a pile of rocks in a recognizable shape. You instantly know it is a cairn. It is so simple and rugged, formed of rocks of various sizes to balance into a sturdy pyramid. With each step closer to this pile of rocks, you can finally breathe again. You hadn’t even noticed you were holding your breath. A huge wave of relief washes over you. Somehow, by seeing that pile of rocks, you know you’re going to be okay. Not only do the rocks mark the way, they tell you that you’re not alone and that others have traveled on the same path. You suddenly feel a little less alone, a little less scared. It sparks a bit of hope somewhere deep inside. You muster up the courage to continue on the journey with a lightness in your step…and in your heart.
There is something calming and at times, moving, about the sight of a cairn. Perhaps our emotional response is because of the cairn’s meaning. It is more than a pile of rocks marking the trail. The cairn carries significant messages. Geologist David B. Williams writes in his book Cairns: Messengers in Stone how cairns convey three messages:
Cairns are a timeless means of communication crossing many barriers. The experience that travelers have when they see a cairn is what I hope for those who are on the journey of living with neuroendocrine tumor (NET). With all its unexpected twists and turns, those of us navigating this journey can feel lost and anxious, as past explorers did in Iceland. Because the stress and anxiety of uncertainty may feel overwhelming, we yearn for a cairn to help guide the way.
The good news is there is a cairn along your journey.
A health and wellness coach (or simply “health coach”) can serve as a guide, or a cairn, on your journey. By partnering with a health coach, you experience the powerful message that you are not alone. Connecting with a coach and with a deeper community of past, current, and future fellow travelers through groups such as LACNETS cultivates and inspires resilience. These experiences positively influence the traveler’s narrative to create one of resilience.
To this end, I am excited to announce that LACNETS is offering one-on-one telephonic coaching sessions to NET patients and caregivers within the Southern California region who are motivated to invest in their own self-care. Health coaching is an opportunity for individuals to invest time and energy in self-care by going through a personal journey of change with a health coach as a guide. To be clear, coaching is not about seeking or receiving medical advice, nor is it therapy. The role of the health coach is not to give advice, prescribe a plan, or tell the client what to do. Health coaching is not about obtaining information about NET. (For NET-specific information, visit our resources page.) Instead, health coaching is a personal journey of making positive behavioral change toward self-care with a coach as a guide. Just as a cairn does not affect the external conditions such as the weather nor the length of the journey, health coaching is not intended to specifically address the medical aspects of the NET journey. The focus is not on disease management or treatment but rather, the focus is on improving one’s quality of life. The coach guides the client in defining and clarifying his/her own health and wellness goals and helps the client move toward those goals in an incremental, manageable way.
While the NET journey may be unpredictable with factors outside of the patient’s control, the client can choose to work on lifestyle choices within one’s control that may include nutrition, movement, sleep/rest, mind-body connection, spirituality, environment, or relationships, just to name a few. Through this process, the client gains the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make lasting and positive behavioral changes. Doing so fosters hope, clarity, and gratitude. With the guidance of a “cairn,” the client develops a new narrative of resilience so that the client can persevere in his/her journey with NET.
You are not alone. There is hope. There is a cairn along your journey.