By Kent Spencer. This article was published in The Province, July 28, 2013. Janice Wright, Director of Clinical Services at InspireHealth, is a long-time friend of The Haven.
A Vancouver-based organization called InspireHealth is frequently the last stop for desperate cancer patients in B.C. Dr. Janice Wright heads up the non-profit endeavour, which employs unusual techniques to bolster the “mind, body and spirit.”
Severely ill patients bang on drums to “feel their joy” or try “laughing classes.”
“We can all be quite serious in our lives and our breathing is quite shallow,” says Wright.
“Breathing deeply in laughter yoga gets our bellies moving. When one person starts to laugh, others start too. It’s contagious.”
Staffers at government-funded Inspire-Health work with about 650 cancer patients every year, drawing on concepts such as faith and spirituality in addition to conventional medical treatments.
“For most of us at InspireHealth, faith means faith in oneself. It comes from inside,” says Wright. “No matter what happens, including the most unfortunate events, patients move forward with faith in themselves.
“Once faith is galvanized, the possibilities are endless. We tap into their deepest wisdom.”
Wright says pretty much everyone who crosses her door arrives with some belief in his or her own spirituality.
“Everybody has something which is important to them and feels connected,” she says. “Some talk openly about God.”
Frequently asked questions from patients include the great ones of human existence: Why am I here? What is life about? What is death about? Wright explores ways to help them find their own answers.
“When people are up against lifethreatening illnesses, they tend to find a new authenticity in their lives,” she says.
“They find a sense of peace that they take with them.”
Occasionally, someone will insist they don’t have any kind of spirituality.
“I’ve had people say they’re not religious, but go out every night and look at the stars,” she says.
Wright knew from an early age in Burlington, Ont., that she wanted to devote her life to medicine, but her career has developed differently than most general practitioners.
InspireHealth takes traditional medicine in different directions.
“The conventional medical model was one where I was expected to be the expert,” says Wright.
“It wasn’t working for me. Ultimately, I believe my patients are responsible for their own healing.”
She transferred to a new area of practice that concentrates on making people well by using things like diet, exercise and counselling.
“I love my work,” she says. One of Wright’s memorable successes involved a very sick grandmother who arrived at InspireHealth after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had been given just three months to live.
The woman had been healthy all her life and experienced many adventures travelling the world.
One of her biggest worries was that she wouldn’t have time to write her memoirs and leave a legacy for her family. She asked Wright for advice.
“It was a crisis of faith. She was beside herself,” says Wright. “I told her to write her memoirs as if her life depended on it.”
The size of her tumour soon diminished and the woman enjoyed a good life for three additional years.
“She literally came jumping into the room one day. She said she was ‘writing up a storm.’ That was so exciting. For me, it was a spiritual moment,” Wright says.
Not every outcome is so fortunate, of course.
“I don’t want to pretend that everybody has an epiphany and goes on to live forever,” she says. “At a certain point, all the broccoli sprouts in the world aren’t going to save you. We all die eventually.”
Thoughts about facing one’s end were summed up by one patient who addressed a group session, recalls Wright.
“When death comes knocking, I intend to answer the door with a smile on my face,” he said.
Everyone in the room applauded.
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