Inner Fire Preface

Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA

July 1998

Medical oncologists have always been fascinated by the power of the will to live. What makes a person faced with a life-threatening crisis fight to live? How do people cope with chronic disease or refuse to let physical discomfort keep them from enjoying their family, friends, and outside interests? We feel that the answer to questions such as these has to do with the will to live.

In trying to find how certain people were able to overcome such obstacles, we began asking them about their will to live. What promoted their ability to cope under the stress of disease and get so much out of life, no matter what the circumstances?

We discovered a commonality of factors among both those who live with acute and chronic disease and health care professionals in good health. These factors include: hope, faith, attitude, determination, the love of life, courage, luck and chance, the ability to cope, a support system, having a purpose (or goals), and appropriate medical care. We consider the integration of these common factors to be the keystone for the will to live.

Our research began with the premise that, through telling stories of how people cope with illness or various life crises, we could better understand the process and then help to implement what we learned in our patients' lives.

Our goal was to help others, but, in the summer of 1995, we became direct beneficiaries of this research. It was at this time that Ernest acquired a rare medical syndrome, Chlamydia type II double pneumonia, and had an acute heart attack. He was on a respirator for ten days and would have died were it not for the excellence of his intensive care medical team and the love of family and friends. Not only were his own values, reaffirmed, but also he learned much more about his own will to live and about the power of the human spirit.

This book deals not only with people who have faced or are facing cancer or other serious illnesses, but also those around them - physician, care givers, and family members - who have experienced first hand or through observation some of the critical ingredients of the will to live. We believe that when you read the experiences of the people, written in their own words, you will agree that we all have untapped potential for emotional and spiritual strength that enables us to endure.

We go through many stages as we deal with illness: fear, frustration, depression, and helplessness. We may eventually find ourselves drained by illness and inactivity, tired of feeling victimized by events beyond our control. We cannot endure such emotional upheaval indefinitely. At this point, an acceptance of reality begins to emerge along with thoughts of how to work around problems and recapture something of value in life. We consciously or unconsciously make a decision for life.

Many of the people in this book made that decision. Each of the journeys is unique, but several life-affirming themes continually resurface. It is clear that they have a message of importance for all of us. Their stories lead us to reassess our own values and goals.

In presenting you with the ways in which others have coped, we are not advocating a drastic change in your own way of life. We only want to suggest that, even if you have a life-threatening disease, you can make choices and compromises, as you did before you were ill, and in this way live with your problems. We hope you then will increase your efforts to keep fighting.

We really know very little about this mysterious force, the will to live. It seems more potent in people who are connected to others than it is in those without strong bonds. It also seems to involve a willingness to fight and struggle through whatever the difficulties and pains of life may be.

We hope to be able to find something in those people who have a strong will to live that can be taught to those who seem to lack it. Perhaps the best we can do at this point is to share the stories and struggles of some of our patients, friends, and colleagues to reassure others that they are not alone, that their fears are justified, that hope always exists, and that attitude can make all the difference in the world.

If the contributors of this book were to give one piece of advice to those who have encountered adversity in their lives, it would be: It's up to you. You can learn to live with it, live around it, or live in spite of it. You don't know what you can do until you try.