Column: Where is community when illness strikes?

Cara Schulz —  April 22, 2016 — 40 Comments

Modern Paganism has matured to where we now have rituals and specialists to help us deal with many of life’s changes and challenges from a religious standpoint. The happy events were first. We have clergy ready to help us get married or handfasted; midwives to assist us in giving birth, and perform naming ceremonies for babies. We also have rituals and spiritual specialists for the tough times. There are ceremonies used for divorce; and we have specific funeral rites. We also have prison and military chaplains, and a growing number of death midwives to help ease us from this world to the next.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

However, one area is still lacking. How do Pagans navigate through a life threatening or terminal illness? Where are the specialists to help with that? Where are the ceremonies? We do have rituals to send healing energy to a person in need, and those are always greatly appreciated. Just this week, The Wild Hunt featured an article about the emerging Pagan hospital chaplains. Their presence alone would certainly be a sincere comfort in many situations.

We are headed in the right direction. However, as a Pagan facing a life-threatening illness, I can personally tell you that. as a community, we’re not there yet. Let me first share my experience, and then I’ll contrast that with what happens with patients from mainstream religions.

On January 4 I woke up after a colonoscopy to a very somber-faced doctor. He said, “I don’t have good news for you. I have really bad news, in fact. I found a tumor and it was so large I couldn’t complete the procedure.”

I felt my husband take my hand. The surgeon paused and then went on: “We need to be aggressive about getting you to a surgeon. Immediately. I’m sending you out for some scans today.”

He said more, but I don’t remember what. I can only recall the look in my husband’s eyes as he heard the news with me. He was stricken, strong, determined, and trying to hide how frantic he felt.

I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, and that is when my whirlwind started: tests, blood draws, meetings with doctors and surgeons. It’s difficult to explain what that time is like unless you’ve experienced something similar. Time warps. A month seems like both a day and a year. Your decision making and ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes is heavily impaired. Yet at the same time you find yourself lost in thought for hours.

You also have the stress of telling loved ones, and it hits harder each time you say the words, “I have cancer.”

When I told my parents, my mother was plainly in shock. My father couldn’t even look at me; he was so sad. I was ripping the hearts right out of their bodies. I was ripping my own heart out, too.

When this happens, you are vulnerable, and emotionally and spiritually weak. While your family will attempt to help, they are also going to be in shock. Everyone involved needs support. 

What happened to me next is very different for Pagans versus someone within a mainstream religion. In most mainstream religious communities, the moment word leaks out about the diagnosis a well oiled machine swings into action. A clergy person calls or visits to not only check on your spiritual well-being, but also on the family’s needs. The community Prayer Circle is alerted, and weekly prayers begin. Your name is brought before the congregation, where additional prayers are offered.

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Colon charm used in offering. [Courtesy Photo]

If you are unable to attend your house of worship, the clergy person brings the service to you. A calendar is drawn up, and volunteers bring meals to your house; your lawn is mowed; your kids are shuttled to volleyball practice; your dishes and toilets are scrubbed. Everyone knows what to do, and they will do this for months without even being asked. The patient can focus on survival, and their family can focus on their loved one.

Now let me relate my experience.

On my the first visit with the surgeon, he asked me if I’d like to talk to a clergy person. I didn’t know what to say. I desperately wished that were possible. I also wished there was some place to pray and leave offerings. Where were the people flying into action? Where were the people leading a team to help me and my family through this ordeal?

I told a few close friends, of different faiths. I had Lutherans in Nebraska and Pagans across the U.S. praying for me. David Salisbury’s coven in Washington D.C. did some seriously magical shit to pull the cancer out of my body. Catholics lit candles and Methodists knit me a blanket. Atheists in Colorado and Arizona kept me in their thoughts. These are just a few examples, all of which touched me to my very soul.

Yet I realized that if I wanted the comfort of the rituals of my faith, Hellenic polytheism, I’d have to figure it out for myself at a time when I had the least capacity to do so. I needed to get a handle on what to do spiritually beyond the simple prayers and offerings at my home altar. When I could get out of bed, I strengthened my household boundaries, and I pulled from my memory what Hellenics did when they became seriously ill back in a time when our religion flourished.

I put out a call on Facebook to my co-religionists in Greece, asking if someone could please make an offering to a temple of Asklepios on my behalf. My plan was simple. I’d send them the offering and they would just need to leave it at the temple with a note that I’d send along. Gwendolyn Reece was able to connect me to a friend of hers, who was able to deliver my offering.

Then, I began preparing. Ancient Greeks would leave replicas of the body part that they needed healing as an offering at the temple. I found an Etsy artisan who made a small silver replica of the intestinal tract. Although it was meant to be hung on a necklace, I thought it perfect as an offering. I contacted the seller to make ensure that the charm could be sent to Greece in time. I included this note, “Asklepios, I have made many offerings to you in the past and will do so for years to come. I’m having surgery to remove the cancer and part of my colon and I ask you to guide the hands of my surgeon. Please accept this offering. Cara Schulz, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.”

The Etsy seller contacted me with the following note:

48fa6e82-2165-4ac5-a7ce-b0bc4d602dea

With that done, I began to take care of the pragmatic things, because making sure your household is in order is important to Hellenics. I updated my Medical Directive. I put people’s’ names on some of my belongings so they could have them if I died. I designated my son to handle my social media accounts. And I wrote my own obituary for The Wild Hunt because there was no way I wanted anyone to write that I lost my battle with cancer.  

At this point, My cat Willow, who had long been ill with lymphoma and FIV, took a turn for the worse. She had survived a year longer than expected under our meticulous care. One day, my husband noticed that she was looking sad and tired so we took her into the vet. The news stunned us. “It appears she has developed colon cancer,” said the vet.

I started laughing and crying at the same time. I couldn’t believe it. Colon cancer.

There’s a thought, in some hearth religions, that beloved pets and family members will draw in a disease to spare another member of the family. A kind of expiation. In the Christian sense, expiation means an atonement for wrong doing. But in Hellenism, it’s a way to get rid of miasma or the ill fortune brought on by a bad spirit.

Over the past few years, we had moved around a bit, never able to truly set up our household boundaries as we should have. Could a bad spirit have entered our home and allowed the cancer to grow in my body? Was Willow trying to make up for that by sacrificing herself so I would live? All I knew, at that moment, was that my soul simply couldn’t bear the weight it felt. I held Willow as we drove her home and whispered “I’m so sorry” into her fur.

It was not mid-January. I’d had two failed procedures that left me weaker than before. I was down below 100 pounds and in constant pain. For over a month, I had consumed only clear liquids, and the stress was causing me to lose all mental focus. I needed an operation to remove the tumor and a section of my colon. The surgeon didn’t want to perform the surgery because of my condition. However, if he didn’t, I wouldn’t survive.

[Courtesy photo]

[Courtesy photo]


As my surgery drew near, I prayed silently alone. I held tightly to the coin bearing the face of Asklepios sent by my friend Lamyka, a Hawaiian Pagan. My family was with me around the clock, and I needed them there. However, there was still a gulf because I could not have a comfortable discussion of faith.

One night a nurse came into my room to do her usual checks. She noticed that I was crying, that I was scared and in pain. I was tired of throwing up and weak from hunger. The nurse, like the doctor, asked me if I wanted to talk to clergy person. I explained that there was no clergy there for me. Then I explained a bit about my religion and, since she had some knowledge of the classics, she understood the importance of making offerings. She asked if I’d feel better if, when she got off duty, she took some of my flowers and put them on the statue of the Mayo brothers.

It was a perfect idea. The Mayo brothers founded the world famous Mayo clinic, where I was being treated. They are almost considered demi-gods in the medical profession. We may not have a temple to Asklepios here in the United States, but that statue of the Mayo brothers comes close. The nurse said that they often find flowers or notes on the statue, either asking for healing or giving thanks for a successful procedure.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

During that time, I received an email that my offering in Greece had been made. Gwendolyn’s friend had left the package there, unopened, and said a prayer for me. I also received a note from Gwendolyn herself saying that she had libated a bottle of wine from Crete and had a candle going for me on her altar. Other friends, Pagan and Christian and Jewish and Atheist, were all praying for me or wishing me well.

On the day of surgery, I taped the coin of Asklepios to the underside of my arm, asking the surgical assistant that it not be removed. He didn’t want to do it. But I explained that it was a religious thing and that I knew that my surgery was very risky. So he added more tape and agreed to leave it there. I also wrote the surgeon a note across my chest that read: “Good luck, Doc.” A little levity can’t hurt, right?

The surgery was a success and, after a few days, I went home. I couldn’t make it down to the family altar in our basement so my husband, an Atheist, brought my incense burner up to the bedroom. He had even gone out to buy the best incense he could find to give thanks for my surgery. It was so touching that he understood the importance of giving thanks immediately when I got home. I didn’t even have to ask him. He was the one who lit the incense and said how happy he was to have me at home, safe. Willow didn’t like the hospital smell, but eventually curled up with me.

[Courtesy photo]

[Courtesy photo]


I had complications. I had ER visits. My husband struggled to meet all of his obligations – to work, to me, to our ailing cat Willow – and at the same time eat something other than fast food at odd hours.

I wound up with another 6 day hospital stay, and we just had to let the housekeeping go. But once I was back home, it was clear that I was on the mend from all the complications. Then Willow died. She held on just long enough to see me through. I have never felt so sad or so guilty in my entire life as when I held her little limp paw. Willow died so I could have the best chance at life. All I could do for her was to write an epitaph, a short poem for the dead popular in ancient Greece.

We are as sad at your passing,
Little Girl,
as we were happy to have you in our lives.

You had a kind heart.
Caring for us when we were sick
and comforting us when we cried,
wrapping your little white arms around our wrists.

Now our tears fall
and there is no comfort to be had.
No soft fur to stroke or gentle purr.
You’re simply gone though you fought to stay.

It’s not right that your reward
for sixteen years of love and devotion
is to be ashes in a vase.

After surgery comes healing. I am working to get to the exercise classes for chemo patients so Apollon can bless me with strength. I spend time in the sun for Helios to give me his energy. And I rest within the boundaries and protection of my home, struggling to wash the sheets, to have clean underwear, and to eat real food. Everything takes me 4 times longer than it once did. I often have to stop in the middle because moving can cause me to vomit.

Now, my husband is back working full time. It’s pretty rare for him to come home and have a real dinner. It’s rare that we even have the makings for a real dinner.

I am also enjoying the thrills of chemotherapy. Lots of chemo, with delightful side effects like nausea and painful blisters on my hands, feet, and in my mouth. This all means prayers and offerings to Hygia asking that she help the chemo clear out any leftover cancer cells before they attack my other organs and to please lessen the side effects.

Friends living near Hot Springs, South Dakota have placed offerings at the statue of Hygia there. Hot Springs was a place of recovery for Civil War veterans due to the healing waters that bubble up from its many springs. There is still a large VA medical center there, along with healing pools and springs from which you can drink. As soon as it is possible, I will plan my own trip to Hot Springs so I can make offerings in person and take in its waters.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

I’m hoping the waters can offset a horrible omen. On my first day of chemo, I went to take my pills, and the very first one fell out of my hand and landed on the floor. I stood there staring at it. In my religion, food or other items that fall through the air and hit the floor have passed through the realm of the living and are now with Hekate in Hades. To ingest something that has fallen on the floor is to literally eat death. I threw that pill away and took the other three. But the feeling of dread hasn’t left me. Was that an omen that chemo won’t work and my cancer will come back? Is it already back? How am I to deal with this? What should I do? Who can I turn to with these questions?

In this entire process, which will continue for a long time, I’ve had to muddle through, dig, guess, and make do with all the spiritual aspects of navigating a serious illness. People of all faiths have to do this. But Pagans, in particular, are at a disadvantage. When we are at our weakest, and most vulnerable, we have be our own anthropologist, clergy, and spiritual advocate. We lack the mundane services that the more mainstream religions enjoy.

There aren’t, for the most part, Pagan clergy and congregations that step in to help during times of serious, chronic, or terminal illness. There wasn’t a Pagan Chaplain or clergy visiting me to hold my hand the night before surgery; to pray out loud with me; to visit me during the long hours when I was at home alone, recovering and just happy to be alive . There wasn’t someone there while I openly wept over the death of the future I once had.

We don’t have any established systems to make offerings at significant places, or to even know where those places would even be. There is no community of co-religionists, as there would be in a church, to bring my exhausted husband meals after driving the two hours back and forth to the hospital while still trying to work a full time job and care for our cat.

It’s not just clergy or concentrated numbers of local Pagans that we lack. It’s a lack of cohesion. Mainstream churches, mosques, and synagogues are a true local-based community with a high degree of cohesion. Even small congregations, with an active clergy person, are able to mobilize and support members in need within hours. In talking with other cancer patients, several said they had casseroles delivered to their door before family could arrive. One related how their church arranged for their children to stay overnight with friends before she and her husband were even done at the colonoscopy center, in order that the parents could have a night to pull themselves together. That church has less than 25 members.

Yet, as a community, we are getting there. I was able to find people to make offerings for me. When I asked, people immediately stepped up to help. I’m pretty sure on the day I had surgery, there were enough candles lit that you could have seen them from the International Space Station. Boxes of snacks and treats, cards, restaurant gift cards, books, things to help with nausea and talismans have poured into my mailbox. And, when I have asked the tough spiritual questions, my friends have answered. Most often the answer was, “I love you.”

So yes, we are getting there. But we’re not there yet.  

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • sindarintech

    Much love and healing to you Cara. Thank you for sharing this with so many here.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Word!

  • David Salisbury

    Great people deserve great community. We got your back now and at all points ahead <3

  • Gus diZerega

    Beautifully written and moving. I hope to be reading your then current writings many years from now.

  • kadiera

    So very true. We’ve had similar experiences – in one case, when a chaplain asked if there was a clergy member he could call for me, I started laughing – *I* am the person they have on file to call for just those situations.

  • Hi Cara. That took some courage and strength to both share your story and call out our failing as a Pagan community. You’re very correct. I shall make offerings to Eir on your behalf. The rest of my Heathen gang too for good measure. Please try not seeing the dropped pill as an omen. Sometimes we are just weak and the fingers won’t cooperate, yeah? It happens.
    I’m a professional Hypnotist. I have some techniques that may help ease your suffering. It may help beyond. Only trying will tell. I can work with you over Skype. No charge. Absolutely free. Your work here enriches the lives of Pagans worldwide. I’m offering you my service as a gift in return for your gift. I’m very easy to find online. It’s your choice.
    Meanwhile, may you be blessed with health and healing. May the Gods and Goddesses see you and make you whole again. May your mind be at ease, your body heal with peace, and your life be renewed with vigor and strength. I ask the Lady Eir, the Healer of Asgard, Maiden of Frigga, to guide your doctors, to heal your hurts, free you from suffering and pain, bring you comfort and renewed strength for all your days. May you be surrounded by love, laughter, and health for all your years! May your years be many many more and safe from harm and illness.
    Be well, my friend.

  • RevAllyson

    Cara, there was so much going on at my home that I totally missed a lot of what happened to you. And I’m so very sorry, because I wish I could have done more than light a candle and say my prayers.

    You bring up a lot of interesting points. One that struck me the most is… how do we, as pagans, as polytheists, how do we deal with such things as omens and those “feelings” when we know something is just fated to happen? How do we share that with our own people? How do you tell someone you love, “I will be with you to the end, but I really believe the end is near, now.” I am in that place with family and coven members, and it’s shitty and hard and it’s one of the few things I hate about being a priestess.

    Nothing trains you to deal with this stuff! Funerals yeah, weddings and baby blessings, sure. Change of life, we gotcha. But dying? We hide from it… ritually we hide from it. We, the general populace, not anyone in particular. Especially in North America, there’s this NEED to strive so hard for life that we stop living… and can’t find the peace to die with dignity, or with hope of our own personal vision of afterlife in our minds. THAT is something we need… desperately.

    • MadGastronomer

      Death midwife programs do provide some of the training for those situations.

  • ELNIGMA

    Your friends and family sound so kind and helpful! Wishing you full recovery. 🙂
    Pagan practices and beliefs are generally a bit too myriad and individual to have a large general establishment, other than the ubiquitous-but-vague eclectic Wiccan-lite kind of thing.
    that’s not being down on the thing, just my observation.

    • Victory White

      I don’t think that is really true. How you worship or perform ritual doesn’t really affect the ability to drop off a casserole, (or in Minnesota “Hot dish”) to do a load of laundry, or even clean a bathroom, or even sit and watch a movie, or just visit and if needed sit with the person quietly. That is the thing, the true meaning of community.

      I look at it like this, Cara’s struggle is an acute form of something we are ALL going to face in chronic form. how are those who are elderly and alone going to get the support they are going to need?

      I am not trying to steal this thread, I’m just adding I hope, another layer to it. Like Cara says we have worked hard for a lot of the things we have achieved the right for instance for hospitals to even recognize our claim as any kind of Pagan and have that respected. for our fallen warriors to have the correct symbol on their tombs. Now we need to step it up a bit for one another and reach out and ask what do you need in the real world? I “ve made a batch of cookies, I can bring you some?”

      When we do these things automatically then we will have truly become community.

      • ELNIGMA

        I don’t disagree with you at all that it doesn’t have to be explicitly religious – if you look at other comments I previously made, you could probably see that. It can be organized very simply, as I also have seen done. (Even many mainstream churches lack this ability to actually help anyone past the extreme hospital visit, because they aren’t organized for it at all)
        A friend who’d had cancer, and the friend who organized the food support from amongst her friends, and myself and other volunteers to help cook, etc. were mostly all of different or none religions. But without a schedule and volunteer list and backup list, there wouldn’t have been enough and the family would have been exhausted or gone without.
        I don’t know how anybody can even do some of what’s required in a long disease without other people to help them. That’d be nice of any sort of community. (Particularly if in a nation that lets all sick people down in healthcare, fooling itself not everybody deserves it.)

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    In my case it was pancreatitis, and it would be three hospitals and a nursing home of over a year. And as you said there was no one to call, worse out here in New Mexico. So I did not even have the strength for ceremony of any kind and it was not until the end of my stay in the nursing home that I could have Farmer’s almanac brought to me and start trying to do in my head what I remembered of my ceremonies. In my case that was twenty two years ago.

    Meanwhile best of luck in this present battle with cancer. It is a more serious one than I went through. So yes the recovery time may take longer as well. We will get there. Maybe your story will inspire some to get there faster.

  • Patchouli Autumn

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry that you had to face that ordeal. I’m also sorry for the loss of your beloved cat. I’ve often wondered about this exact same thing, and even care for the elderly Pagans who need assisted living. You were extremely lucky to have not only a loving husband, but other Pagan friends to help you with some of your ritualistic offerings. There are so many of us who have no other Pagan friends to do any of the things others were able to help you with. I will tell you that not all mainstream congregations are as compassionate as you detailed. My mom went into a nursing home, and even though she was a lifetime member of her Jewish congregation, not one person, including the Rabbi ever made the effort to visit her. It was like, well, if the money isn’t there anymore, we can’t be bothered. It was very sad. It was one of the factors in my search that led me to Paganism.

    Continued best wishes on your recovery, and thank you for all the writing you do. You are an inspiration.

  • Tina

    What a powerful piece! I agree about the need for us to have the community support we need during struggles. I tend to think it’s really a big issue in our culture in general, not just with pagans. I used to be a labor doula and it seems like people just don’t know how to support each other anymore because people move often and aren’t deeply rooted in a community, regardless of whether or not they’re part of a religious community.

    I’m lucky and I have seen and experienced what you’re talking about lacking in pagan communities. I have four kids and had an emergency surgery just 5 months after my fourth child was born. We had meals delivered, people bringing our school-age kids to school, people coming to clean our house and do laundry. Recently, I discovered I have an autoimmune disease, which flared up just after the surgery and has been getting worse over the last two years. I’ve been feeling for years like I needed help but just kept trying to do things because needing as much help as I felt like I needed just seemed too much. I had a new complication come up in the last month that made it difficult to do most anything. I have friends at my house 3 times a week doing laundry and cooking, help making meal plans and taking my husband out on adventures or just to get out for the night so he can have some peace and fun in all the stress, people hanging out with my kids, a friend who’s willing to help me put the kids to bed when my husband does go out, my parents are watching the kids and helping with shopping, my husband’s parents watch the kids once a week and help offset costs of things while my husband takes time to be to make food and take care of the kids. Having community is a big deal.

    I’m also lucky in that I have a spiritual leader who is also a licensed counselor. I can call on her if I’m struggling and she can help me both as a professional counselor and as someone who understands my spirituality. That’s why I’m undertaking a master’s degree to also become a therapist. I’m a leader in my spiritual community but I feel we need more people like my counselor, who can understand where people are in their spiritual lives and in their life struggles.

    Final note, I’ve been working with Hekate since I became a pagan. For an incidence such as the pill dropping, I would have suggested leaving an offering for Hekate as a plea to keep any related curse away. Also, in some magical workings, if a grim omen comes, you can lessen the strength of it or negate it entirely by playing out an action that will allow the omen to come to pass without the damage that could happen if it played out on its own. For instance, doing a mock death and revival for a death omen, or doing a mock car accident and recovery for an omen of injury. An omen, dream or vision sometimes has no power until it is played out in the world of the living through some sort of action that brings it to life. Sometimes, you want to bring something to life under *your* terms instead of allowing it to play out on its own. If you don’t, you may be living in fear of the omen regardless of whether or not it might ever manifest in some way.

  • Soli

    I commend your bravery in sharing something so personal. It is a damn shame we’re not yet at the point of our communities having that level of support, mobilization, and just people nearby. Continued prayers for your healing and a ton of sympathies for Willow.

    • ELNIGMA

      We could be there, quickly, if we made an Inter-Pagan/Other network and I’ve seen people that made up chart/schedules that where volunteers/friends could fill-in/ volunteer for a particular day’s plan or items from that plan (or as backup volunteer/friend in case the other person got caught up that day) for an individual who was ill, leaving their contact information with said coordinator. f

  • MadGastronomer

    That was a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    This is just one of the many reasons we need infrastructure, despite the people who insist that we don’t.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Cara, thank you for sharing your story. As a cancer survivor, I can assure you that there is life beyond this. If you would like, I will leave an offering for you on my outdoor altar. Hecate comes there sometimes.

  • Christina Eckstine

    Thank you for writing this. I lost my High Priestess to cancer last February. She was such a beautiful vibrant person. I will keep you in my thoughts and I can’t wait to see you kick cancers butt.

  • mdyer

    Dear Cara,

    Your writing here at Wild Hunt is always informative, engaging and really wonderful. I don’t know you, and I’m not Hellenic, but I have a little “bas relief” plaque of Athena mourning. I’ll give her a nudge to fight a battle with you. Take care.

    matt

  • Tim, for the Temple of Hathor

    May you heal completely and quickly Cara. Your illness is one of the main reasons I am such a proponent of building functioning temple structures for our religious practices to use. No cast circle in the world can match the energy potential of a properly built temple. I know for a fact that if you had access to a nearby temple your emotional distress would have been greatly diminished. Communing as one with your Deities on their own sacred turf would have made a world of difference to you. Even with the temple I built being centered around the Egyptian Deities, specifically Hathor, any of the old Pagan Deities can be called upon in it, for they are all pretty much the same except in name and a few specific attributes that were given them by humans anyway. Best of wishes on your recovery and may I one day be able to give you a tour of Mother God Hathors home on American soil.

  • Ravenlyn Chthonioi

    Gwendolyn Reece is a true friend and a true priestess. I love her very much and am so glad she was able to facilitate your offering!

  • Steph NK

    Thank you for writing this. I recently completed treatment for stage II triple negative breast cancer, and a highly aggressive one that has a penchant for recurrence and a survivability rate much lower than other BCs. I live every day to the fullest, but can relate to the feelings of lacking full community support. There was some amazing support from certain pagan individuals, and one coven sent down a couple priestesses to be with me, but in terms of having people lining up to water my plants or hold my hand during the worst of it, those tasks befell my husband and immediate family. Unfortunately I’ve also found this just to be true of cancer in general, not so sure it is just a pagan community issue (although obviously ours could use some work). Even the word ‘cancer’ can invoke great fear in others since it is still medically mysterious and appears to relinquish some but extinguish others without rhyme or reason. People don’t like thinking about their mortality, and that seems to translate to some folks being clueless when one of their own comes down with a potentially fatal illness.
    But I am so, SO glad you wrote about this! It needed to be said. I honor you and the obstacles you face, and may you find that health, happiness, and love surround you.

  • Oh, Cara! Life and healing to you. Blessings, friend.

  • nastynancy20

    Dear Cara, As I read your story, my heart began pounding, and I felt the adrenaline surge, as it brought back memories of my own battle with Cancer, stage 3/4, Metatastic Papilary Thyroid Cancer, no one asked if I needed a clergy, no one asked if I had anyone to talk with, telling my parents, that their only child had Cancer, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, my Father, was great, never flinched, but stood by me and said, “Well lil girl, get ready for the fight of your life, and don’t even think about loseing”, my Mother said nothing, just stared at me,…hearing the words you have Cancer, stops you cold, your mind just stops, but having to tell friends is harder yet, because most don’t know what to say, or how to react, my surgery was complicated, since it had spread, and was now at the bade of my brain, and I had to be rushed back into surgery due to hemorrhage, on the Corroted Artery, I went through 5years of RAI, being hospitalized and isolated in the hospital until I wasn’t radioactive the first time, it worked, then in the seventh year it returned, and it was non operable, I was angry, really angry,I lit candles, prayed meditated and even lashed out, then one night something happened, it felt like I’d been hit by a bolt of electricity, all through my body, when I went for more testing, the Cancer was dead! I’m in year 11, now and have remained Cancer free, but it would have been wonderful to have had someone to talk with.
    On the day of my first surgery,my Mother was in another hospital in ICU in a coma, and my father’s health took a turn, I lost them both a month apart during that time…and my friends, well they had no idea how to help, this was a battle that I had to fight alone….

    Cara, I wish you well, and may your Cancer be gone, never to return again,
    You will remain in my prayers, and a candle will be lit in your name, thank you for sharing, as a community we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet…hopefully soon…

  • Lamyka L.

    We do what we can but the “community” is definitely more of a disappointment. It angers me to no end that I canʻt be there to help you–there needs to be less mamby-pamby bullshit light and love and more “Itʻs Friday, Iʻm coming to do your laundry.” or “Weʻll be there in 10min to do the weekly house cleaning for you.” FFS.

    • ELNIGMA

      Yes. All that. I have no idea how people with no one are supposed to be able to fix themselves all they need to eat with their drs special diets, etc. Or if they just have a couple people they know, how those friends can manage it without becoming too weary.
      I’ve seen people that made up chart/schedules that their friends could fill-in/ volunteer for a particular day’s meal plan. They left their phone numbers and would sign for days they’d also be as backup volunteers, in case the other person got caught up that day. Being able to freeze the meals in advance helps a lot. I would imagine schedules for distributing hospital and home visits would also be helpful. None of just being organized that much requires interpersonal religious agreements, just volunteering of some time. I hope everybody going through all this can feel better and perhaps Cara Shulz’s post motivate for more care in these ways.

  • Susan Arthen

    You have given me a lot of food for thought. I too had a tumor found during a routine colonoscopy but it was small and rectal. However, three days after an apparently successful surgery, the whole rectum fell apart, all kinds of stuff floating around inside me. I almost died. The also long story goes on and on. However, I had the kind of support most pagans do not, and this is what is making me thoughtful. I am part of an intentional family as well as a magical tradition and have a partner of over 20 years. I had a team made up of these folks as well as many other helpers from our larger circles. These people were fierce in their determination not to lose me and I am convinced it made a huge difference. When I went from the hospital (2 months) to rehab (another 2 months) I could not stand up or walk more than a few steps. It has now been six months since I came home and I still struggle every day- though every week I get more stamina. I hope when all is said and done I can turn this around to help others. What the hell do people do if they have “no one” and have no organized type church. My nightmare would have been ten times worse. Thank you for sharing.

  • Robert Patrick

    I read your blog post with much deep feeling and thought, Cara. Thank you. It also left me pondering how paganism in its many forms is still coming of age in the US and elsewhere. US versions have this strident individualism in common that makes forming lasting communities difficult. And, we find, as in your journey and struggle, that we do ourselves a deep injustice by not forming lasting communities. I am sharing your post with my Druid Grove. We have been able to maintain a community for the last 8 years. I hope that your story can help us step it up a bit and begin to think about how we will care for each other in the midst of serious and terminal illnesses.

  • Mary Frampton

    First off, good luck and well wishes to you on your difficult journey. I honor you for what you’ve been through and will continue to endure. You’re a strong, amazing person, and I’ll definitely be sending love and healing your way, to you and your family <3

    Secondly, I know exactly what you're talking about with a lack of Pagan Clergy to handle transitions through medical struggles, but from a bit different angle. I've been a part of Pagan groups as both private member and leadership for many years, and what I see is large numbers of Pagan clergy that want to be able to provide these kinds of services to their Tribes, as I also see many Tribe members that would love to contribute to such services.

    However, there's one thing that Christian ministry has that Pagan ministry doesn't, and that's money. Christian clergy are paid living wages. It is their paid profession to organize services of all kinds for their congregations and members. While I'm sure there are a few rare instances where Pagan clergy are the same (although I can't think of any off hand), most Pagan organization currently is executed by Pagan clergy and volunteers that are already holding full time jobs (sometimes more than one) to support themselves and their families, and simply aren't superhuman enough to take on another full time job. There are some that do just that, giving up huge amounts of sleep and self-care, and they are amazing, incredible people of strength, but yes they are few and understandably so.

    I think Pagans in general confuse the difference between organized religion and organized congregations. Organized religion structures the religion one follows, where organized congregations are about the leadership and work done to provide religious services for an establishment/congregation/tribe. They are not one in the same, but I think many Pagans general dislike for organized religions causes a resistance to want to do anything the same way as organized religions, which includes providing regular funds to support organized congregations. We do have choice in who we choose to place both our religious well fare and our hard earned cash, I think sometimes we Pagan folk forget that. 🙂

    I think Pagan community as a whole needs to realize that it takes money to have those services that they'd like to see offered for Pagan community and they need to actually start contributing in a sustainable fashion to their chosen clergy to see more of the services become a reality. Only then we will have the true level of clergy-power needed to have the same level of religious services seen in Christianity. I do see forward motion though as we grow as a religion, so there is hope 🙂

  • Gwendolyn Reece

    Dear Cara: Thank you so much for your courage and dedication in sharing your experience…and for your alchemical ability to transform your personal experience into a call for something that is really larger in the community. I strongly believe that one of the ways forward (and this is just for a piece of what you have said) is that we need to set up shrines where offerings can be made or sent – and shrines to the healing gods is one of the most obvious needs that will visit all of us at some point. In the Hellenic sanctuaries of Asklepios, they would also contain altars to Apollon and Artemis. In fact, in almost all sanctuaries there were shrines and temples and altars to many gods where you could go and make an offering. As Cara rightly points out, we don’t have cohesion within our communities. But it seems like if we set up a couple of places that had shrines in which a bunch of the healing gods had altars, it would be easier to visit and easier to have offerings made. I am so extremely grateful to my dear friend in Hellas who could make an offering on Cara’s behalf, but it would be great if we could build a couple of centers where we strengthen that healing contact here. It also seems like there should be some sort of economic model that could manage this. It isn’t free to take care of a shrine, but if we had some minimal amount of an offering that could be made that could go to the upkeep…I would gladly pay $5 or so to a sanctuary in addition to the cost of whatever my offering was to have someone pour a libation on my behalf. There are several areas in this country that have a strong current of healing and it would be great if we could get a shrine in those cities. Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, NIH, CDC. Anyway, this is the kind of infrastructure I would love to see us build. Not hierarchical and dogmatic – but places and services. That doesn’t help the other parts that Cara discusses – the lack of real support for a family that is in crisis…and that is harder.

  • Julaine Morin

    Dearest Cara, I am so sorry you had to go through all this without a helping community. I live in Lincoln, NE, and have ties with an Asatru group up there-and I will contact them and see if they can help you. Please stay strong and know that there are people who will help you. Please write me and let me know where in MN you are so I can coordinate something. I had to go through sudden kidney failure last year, that lasted nine weeks with dialysis three times a week, until by a miracle my kidneys kicked back in and now I am okay, although I do have some kidney damage and go for blood tests every two months…nothing like what you are going through, though; I had my companion and two grown children to help me and take care of me.

  • Julaine Morin

    Cara-I also follow the Greek Gods-I am eclectic that way-as well as the Celtic Druidic Path; I will pray to Hestia for help with your household needs, and Hecate for the magic to strengthen and help you as she helped Ceres-and to Apollo and Asclepius for swift and complete healing. Hera will also help you. Goddess Bless you..

  • Druidcub

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in a similar myself. I am an ordained Druid Priest with Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF). I live in Arkansas where there are very few open Pagans to start with and even fewer ADF members near. And I too am a fellow Hellenic. So much of what you expressed I find so similar to what my partner and I go through. And know that you have one more person making offerings to Asklepios and Hygia your behalf.

  • Cara, this is an excellent discussion. I think the lack of cohesion is key. I belong to several groups. My coven supported our coven mate all through his battle with leukemia and helped him cross in his time. OTO would organize the kind of response you are describing.

    I am thinking about the small Hellenic groups which formed around teachers and to do rituals. Wasn’t there a group of Orphic folk-memory gives me “thiasos”? What we need is a way to connect in real time around all these milestones. Bonding is what brings support.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    Wow, Cara, I had no idea you were going through all this. I want to see you make the pilgrimage to Hot Springs — I know that shrine well, it’s a special place. Be well!

  • I’ve been part of school and homeschool communities which care for
    members in need with the childcare, fixed dinners, housework, and
    driving help, so there can be other avenues for those things, depending
    on what kinds of communities one is plugged into. You are absolutely
    right though, Cara, about the lack of spiritual support being readily available, or having the daily support ready to hand through a cohesive spiritual community. In pondering ways in which we might take care of each other, spiritual community for these purposes is clearly ideal, and worth coming together for.

    Thank for your sharing your story, may it inspire us to be better community members for each other. Much love and healing to you. I will offer prayers and offering to Brigid for your healing and recovery.

  • Jen Rue

    Sincere condolences on Willow’s passing – your heartbreak is palpable – she was fortunate to have such a loving family.

    This is such an important topic, and you are speaking to it so beautifully from such a difficult space. You have all my deepest wishes for a full recovery and I have added your name to an altar I work with specifically for healing and protection.

    Blessings to you.

  • Angie Buchanan

    Cara, thank you for the mention. Illnesses like this come with their own versions of grief and to have lost a beloved four-legged family member in the middle of all that you’re going through seems a bit of a cruel twist. I’m so sorry. Death Midwives can be helpful in these kinds of situations, providing support and assistance to the grieving, for anticipatory grief as well actual loss, including pet death. Thank you for sharing your journey. I wish you the best in your recovery and healing.

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Cara. It resonates. So do your thoughts on community and infrastructure.