Books Reviews by Debbie Homewood
Picking Up the Pieces by Sherri Magee, Ph.D. &Kathy Scalzo, M.S.O.D.
This is a book about how to put your life together again, after it is been taken apart by a diagnosis of cancer and the subsequent treatment. However, before you decide this book is not for you, let me say that anyone who has experienced a life changing event, whether it be a serious accident, abuse, a very significant loss, some other type of serious illness, either acute or chronic, the basic process offered in this book and all the supporting information and tools will be very helpful to you.
I have had a private practice in counselling for 25 years. In the course of my career I am always having to continue my education and training which continuously exposes me to research, resources and the work of others in the field. Every once in a while I come across a resource that is just outstanding. Picking Up the Pieces is just such a resource. It is outstanding because it looks at all aspects our lives, how we are affected by traumatic changes like dealing with cancer, not superficially, but to the core of our being, and how we can begin to put our lives back together again, as we start to move on with our life. The depth of understanding, the wealth of experience shared, the tools, techniques and strategies provided are relevant, realistic, meaningful and practical, and embrace our complexity and vulnerability as human beings.
So… whether you are recovering from cancer or some other equally life-altering challenge, this book will be of great assistance to you. What follows briefly describes the concept of Picking Up the Pieces.
The diagnosis of cancer and the subsequent treatment cause many changes. This journey is unique for everyone and yet many of the needs are similar. Once your treatments have ended you face the challenging task of picking up the pieces of your life and putting them back together again.
Many people are quite shocked to find that after treatment ends they are riding an emotional roller-coaster, climbing giant mountains of joy and hope only to hurtle down, without warning, to fear and disappointment. It is often like experiencing a tidal wave of emotions once treatment is over. At different times you may feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, elated, exhausted, weak, relieved, anxious, grateful and unsure.
Cancer and treatment affect the whole person: heart, mind and spirit, not just the body. There is physical change, emotional change, spiritual change and social change and once treatment is over you may feel like you have entered a void. What now? Where do I go from here? How do I move on from here? You are aced with making a transition from the past to an unknown future. Everyone reacts to this in between time differently, but one thing seems to be the same. What was normal is not the same now. A real task is to figure out what normal is for you now.
This book uses the metaphor of constructing a jigsaw puzzle. As a survivor you must reassemble the pieces of your life in order to feel whole again. There are four phases to putting the puzzle together again. Each phase allows you to recover a different aspect of yourself. Recovering in this process means reclaiming a part of yourself and your life. This allows you to begin to identify the changes you would like to make in order to embrace life fully to live well again. The four phases of the process are:
- Recovering a sense of self: the Inquiry phase (the 4 corners of the puzzle)
- Recovering a sense of control: the Discovery frame in the edges)
- Recovering a sense of meaning: the Growth phase (work towards the centre)
- Recovering a sense of the future: the Reflection phase (see the whole picture).
You are provided with the tools to really look at where you are right now in terms of your body, your emotions, your spirit and your relationships. It then guides you through some steps to help you begin to take control where you can, developing a healing plan that is right for you to help you move forward.
In addition to the many resources, the great information and the tools, the book also encourages you to begin to incorporate into your life two daily practices – Attentive walking and the 5 Question Check In. Attentive walking is a way of slowing down, coming into the present moment and being aware of yourself and your surroundings. We know from all the research on Mindfulness that these types of activities are empowering and help us manage stress in very effective, but gentle ways. The 5 Question Check In is a practice to help you focus your awareness inside, gently get in touch with yourself and begin to be able to listen to the quite voice within.
A fundamental premise underlying everything in the book is that, although many resources and suggestions are offered, you are the real expert in terms of what you need and what will work for you. You are encouraged to take from all that is offered what feels right for you.
If you or someone you knows is having trouble putting their life back together I encourage you to take a look at Picking Up the Pieces. It may be just the encouragement and support you need to get started.