Laurie Gaum: A spiritual journey of cancer survival
The biggest challenge for Laurie Gaum was learning to deal with the twists and turns of his cancer journey.
Laurie's diagnosis: Stage 3B lung cancer
He'd never smoked. When what Laurie thought was an occasional sinus cough, persisted for three months, he went to see his GP, who sent him for X-rays. They showed a spot on his lung. First there was an attempt to access the lump for a biopsy sample via his throat. That failed. He was warned that the only other option, accessing it via an incision in his back, had a 10 % chance of puncturing his lung. That made him realise things were quite serious. It was at this point that he let his friends and family know what was going on. The lung biopsy showed advanced Stage 3B Lung Cancer and that the growth itself could not be safely removed surgically - not with any real confidence of success. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment kicked in for five months, during which Laurie’s public profile elicited much support and advice, some of which added to the emotional burden he felt.
"The first few months were a difficult, introspective process for me, some of it very dark. Being a very symbolical person, I experienced the whole Easter weekend that April very intensely," he says. "Cancer is furthermore a deal-breaker for relationships," Laurie says. "The pressure brings the fault lines and strengths in any relationship into sharp focus."
The hardest physical challenges included the burning of his oesophagus (for treatment of a few spots in his throat area, which proved benign), his veins thinning and immunity challenges. "The support I got from my Medical Scheme Plan was fantastic," says Laurie. "It was very consoling not having to deal with the potential anxiety from financial stress as well as my diagnosis." The emotional turning point came when his oncologist told him that the chemo and radiation therapies were working. The tumour had begun to shrink.
Laurie finds his strength in his spirituality
Laurie tried to stay authentic in his spirituality: "I needed some kind of spiritual practice that I was familiar with - simple things like meditation or walking in the sun. I wasn't really asking Why me? or bargaining or struggling with God." The biggest learning for him was to flow with the twists and turns of his cancer journey. Laurie used his illness to encourage dialogue. "We can survive cancer," Laurie told the press and others. "We need to be positive and hopeful and learn from this illness as it can teach us to better cope with life and treat people with more love. It's part of what life has to offer. There will be many voices shouting from various sides but you need to keep calm amidst it all and breathe, despite the anxiety."
Both Laurie's mother and father were very supportive of his cancer ordeal. The journey strengthened his relationship with his parents and left him eating far more organically and walking more frequently along the seaside promenade close to his Muizenberg flat. Laurie still drinks the veggie-juice his mother got hold of during his treatment - a blend of mangosteen, apple & other fruits.
Laurie faces his post-treatment reality – a healthy life
As his immune system restored itself, Laurie found himself making an unexpected emotional adjustment. "I had post-treatment depression for a couple of months. I'd had the profound experience preparing for the possibility of death and all of a sudden I had to contemplate a change in direction - I was going to live. It was difficult," he recalls.
In remission since May 2013, Laurie undergoes annual check-ups and is fully engaged in his inter-ministerial theological work. "I guess I'd describe myself as something of an activist theologian with an artist's heart, working towards equality for all," he says. "I no longer waste too much time on things I don't want. I think I'm more effective now in working out what's necessary and where to make the most impact with my precious life."
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