Published on February 20, 2020
I have written a lot about resilience and the importance of it for myeloma patients. The “Wall of Resilience,” a moving photo exhibit curated by Sue Dunnett, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, depicts a variety of sources of strength and resilience that myeloma patients rely on in their personal lives. These include nature, family and friends, hobbies, and activities. And the theme of the IMF’s 2020 Myeloma Action Month campaign, which starts March 1, is resilience—an attribute people living with myeloma call on daily.
The bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth shows comprehensively why passion and resilience are the secrets to success. After researching why some well-qualified military recruits successfully completed basic training, while others failed, Duckworth realized that those who succeeded possessed a type of perseverance and thought that this quality deserved a lot more thought and discussion. She developed something called the “grit scale” to measure individual perseverance.
Passion and purpose
Resilience is the ability to thrive in the face of adversity, such as a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Some people are naturally resilient. But for most people, a better understanding of resiliency and some “coaching” are required. The following specific actions can help:
- A reality check: Take a positive approach but without rose-colored glasses. Face the seriousness of the situation.
- A reaffirmation: Acknowledge that life is meaningful and that your inner strength and purpose can pull you to succeed.
- New plans and improvisation: These will be required to solve problems in dealing with management of your myeloma.
Achieving effective resilience is an art
One must be positive, but not ignore obstacles. Family, friends, and community support are very important to enhance resilience through low points.
A passion for life and success is vital, as is creating concrete ideas and goals. Where will you go for the best treatment advice? Will you be able to continue to work? All the essential questions need to be answered.
How can optimum resilience be achieved?
One of the keys to resilience is the ability to calmly step back and quietly, patiently assess the situation. Each day is not the same. Rest is required to prepare for each small battle. Energy must be conserved. In facing a life challenge like myeloma, the ability to step back and focus on what needs to be done is very important.
One way to improve our focus, according to resiliency experts, is through mindfulness techniques: take deep breaths, calm the mind, and allow solutions to emerge. Studies have shown a benefit with 20 to 30 minutes daily of quiet meditation before starting the busy day.
Helpful tips from the birds and the trees
We can turn to nature to witness resilience in full force. A striking example occurred in the winter of 1890 when starlings, small birds, were introduced to Central Park in New York from the U.K. Previous efforts to introduce other bird species in America had been unsuccessful. But starlings are extremely resilient. Their passion to survive in New York drove them to hide under the eaves of the nearby American Museum of Natural History to keep warm. But in order to expand to a population that is now 200 million birds and counting in the U.S., the starlings proved to be tremendous innovators as well. They seek out grain in farm fields. Males may decorate their nests with flowers to attract mates. Their strong beaks are fantastic for foraging. They adapted amazingly to the new challenge of being in New York.
The best example of resilience among trees is that of the Gingko, a tree most associated with China. Gingko trees have survived in planet earth for about 200 million years and individual trees can live for thousands of years. In Peter Crane’s beautiful book, Gingko: The Tree That Time Forgot, he leads off the chapter on “Resilience” with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strength comes from an indomitable will.”
The famous Five Generations Gingko found in Tianmu Mountain National Reserve in China illustrates an important quality of the Gingko tree: the ability to re-create new trunks from the ground level up if the major trunk is severely damaged. This happened five times and resulted in a tree with five major trunks. Such trees can resist pests, infection, and toxins, allowing them to adapt to changing environments.
Basic recommendations for myeloma patients
- Maintain your sense of purpose in achieving best outcomes.
- Realize that there will always be setbacks. But step-by-step progress can be made.
- Try to understand your abilities to cope and think carefully about what is best for you.
- Seek support for the low times. Discuss and review options and plans with family and friends.
- Conserve your energies. Rest and regroup when support and plans are in place.
- When possible, try to approach things with a sense of humor.
I wish everyone reading this blog post the strength and resilience to achieve their very best!
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®.