New Focus on Resilience
This past weekend the IMF convened the 20th annual Support Group Leaders Summit in Dallas, Texas. As usual, this was a highly emotional and successful event, bringing together 69 returning support group leaders, along with 31 leaders who participated for the first time. Congratulations to Robin Tuohy, IMF Vice President, Support Groups, and the entire IMF team for flawless planning and implementation.
A new and unique presentation at the summit was a visual exploration of personal resilience. Sue Dunnett, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, assembled 55 photographs to create a “wall of resilience.” The powerful display, which explored the themes and feelings linked to resilience among support group leaders, proved to be very popular and moving.
Themes of resilience
Leaders were asked to submit a photograph of anything that represented their own resilience. For me, it was remarkable to note that none of the pictures showed anything medical. It was as if the camera had moved away from the myeloma to instead capture the personal life of each patient leader. The focus was on what is important in daily life and experiences. Common themes were family and friends, hobbies—ranging from cooking to dancing, hiking or running, boating, biking, and simply, vacations.
Turning to nature to see resilience
Some of the most striking pictures were of scenes from nature: the world around us, including animals, plants, and the sunset and sunrise of each new day. One photo symbolized this feeling: “Life Finds a Way” showed a fern growing, pushing through rocks on hard terrain. Yes, as discussed by Sue Dunnett, finding a way physically, mentally, and emotionally to get through tough times is what resilience is all about.
Support and resilience
The central element of the IMF Support Group Leaders Summit is “support.” One aspect of resilience is the inner strength and faith that enables patients to push forward with difficult decisions and therapies. Many pictures reflected the value of support. The support comes from family, friends, and pets – dogs and “agreeable” donkeys: “they ask no questions and pass no judgements.” This collective support is clearly important.
A photo and story about “Isaac’s Tree” illustrate the same theme. The tree had been trimmed and trimmed as it became too large, but it survived as a refuge for birds, squirrels, raccoons, and myriad insects in the web of life. “Isaac’s Tree” is a testament to the “power of life.” And I certainly agree!
The photo reminded me of the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees.” One especially striking story in this book is about the resilience of trees in a forest. When a storm comes through, the trees on the edge of the forest are damaged. Careful studies have shown that through connections between the roots, the protected inner trees can supply sugar and nutrients to the damaged trees to speed recovery. This is a testament to the notion that “life will find a way.” Part of resilience is trusting and believing that your body can heal and recover, and this can be something to celebrate and enjoy.
Visualizing resilience in action, so to speak, can help people think about maintaining, and, if possible, enhancing resilience in their everyday lives. The physical, mental, and emotional components are all important in facing challenging life events. When times are hard, it is especially difficult to gather inner strength. This is when family, friends, and the wonders of nature can be a great comfort and resource.
Thanks to Sue Dunnett for the “Wall of Resilience” exhibition and presentation, which were an inspiration to us all.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie co-founded and now serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.