A woman who changed my life

Michele Chaban is a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto — she both changed my life and helped me change it.

It was 1991 and I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. I fell apart. A young nurse suggested I see a social worker. I couldn’t see why but she found that Michele had a spare hour. That hour became a week, a week became months. In each session we covered the “whys” and “wherefores” of the issues of living with cancer — living and dying, how to improve the quality of life, acceptance, anger, rage, etc.

Michele has lived with chronic pain for years so she knows what it’s like. She’s a truly spiritual individual who understands that the state of one’s spirit often determines whether one lives or dies. We went into this subject deeply. I came out healed in spirit and body, with a certainty that I could and would live my life in the ways most appropriate to me, not according to what others think I should be.

^For a cancer patient, this is crucial. Too often, women with breast cancer are women who have always subordinated their needs to the needs of others — often to their detriment. This does not mean leadg a selfish life but, as the great “stress” doctor Hans Selye said, a life of “enlightened self-interest.” Since then, my life has improved enormously. I retired from a job that was killing me and kept the one I love (painting and teaching painting). Eventually I moved to the country where I ride a bicycle and surround myself with beautiful music, things and people while avoiding aggressively controversial people and issues. As well, I try to pass on to other cancer patients what I learned — and deal with what happens, not with what might happen.

It’s a wonderful life. Thanks again, Michele.

Winning submission for our International Women’s Day contest March 2000.