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"What's your story?"
That little phrase, a common conversation starter, takes on new meaning at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). There, a program called Your Story gives cancer patients the chance to reflect on and share their life stories.
For more than 10 years, Meg Brady, director of Your Story, has been recording the life stories of cancer patients. "It's a great opportunity for patients who are here to have a moment when they're not focused on cancer, but on all the things that have happened in their life," she says.
Jolanda Tedford took part in the program after learning of a devastating cancer diagnosis. A visit to the doctor after an injury at work uncovered multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. "The thought process is fear initially," Jolanda says. "A great gulf of fear. Then you say, what can I do in three to five years? That's the motivator."
Jolanda saw a brochure for Your Story at HCI. With her background as a legal secretary, she thought transcribing her life in her own voice would be something her children would appreciate. She also thought it would take her mind off treatment. "The medicine is horrible, so to be able to take time to reflect on some of the better things in my life does my spirit good," she says.
In one-hour recording sessions, Your Story facilitators ask questions to help patients get started with the stories they want to tell. Portable digital equipment allows recording any place a patient may be. Meg says some patients choose to record while getting chemo in HCI's Infusion Room. "This is one place where you can focus so much more on the positive things," she says. "People can sit down, laugh, cry, and really explore what their life has been about so far."
Meg says the recordings are a priceless gift for family members. Many people who've lost relatives to cancer have called and written to her, thanking her for the opportunity to hear their loved ones share their stories again and again.
For Jolanda, sharing her story not only gave her something to give her children and grandchildren, it allowed her to see her life with a new perspective. "It takes you back to those times that you probably didn't appreciate at first," she says. "I start looking back at all the intricate parts of my life and realize that has all made me the person I am."
Jolanda beat the odds and is now cancer-free, but she says recording her life story gave her a new appreciation for every day. "Every morning I wake up to see what's new, as opposed to waking up to get through the day," she says. "It opened up things that I didn't know were inside me."
Meg says her job is to encourage patients to share their stories, but in the end, they control how their story is told. "Every time I tell a story it changes," she says. "Your Story is your chance to get the story you tell the way you would like it to be."
To learn more about 'Your Story' visit http://www.yourstory.utah.edu/
Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.