Lighted to Lighten-Ms.Michelle Normen

Lighted to Lighten
(Inspired by my Alma Mater)
Michelle Normen

Visual - MN

Curiosity killed the cat!

In my case Curiosity found my passion for Psycho-Oncology.

As a young Psychology graduate I found myself struggling to make a profession out of the many popular fields of psychology while I was approaching the end of my Master’s degree.

The thought about making a choice found me going back memory lane to my college days and specifically thinking of some not so pleasant experiences of specifically two friends. One who had lost her mother to cancer while she was in school, and another friend whose mother was diagnosed with advanced cancer and later went on to loosing her while we were completing our undergraduate studies. Both these friends coped very differently to their loss. One was almost numb about the feelings for her mother as many years had passed, while the other was completely shattered, because of the recent news of the diagnosis and the fact that it was an advanced disease.
At this juncture with only a basic understanding of Psychology I contemplated on, if the field ever focussed on lending a helping hand to those who underwent distress, both for the person undergoing the disease but also for the families whose lives were torn apart as a result of it.

Our lives had changed back in college after my friend lost her mother. Almost a whole lot of fun activities always cantered on the comfort and acceptability of the bereaved friend, jokes were contemplated upon, and any word of death put everyone into much rumination and despair along with other friends who tip-toed between awkward silences to not knowing how to start conversations.At the family front despite being from a large family everyone seemed to be bereaving in silos and my friend bitterly managed to cope with the loss of her beloved mother.
I remember wondering back then about if I could have helped, whether words would suffice but then was unsure about the outcome, and let time take its course, thinking then that Time heals all wounds.

Talking about psychological concerns have been a taboo for many decades and when it comes to taking about Cancer or the common parlance, the Big C, the first thought is it equals death.

This myth in itself deters many from approaching healthcare centres for an assessment of symptoms and even so for treatment. There are others who attribute it to fate or destiny and some others whose fears make them vulnerable and hence stay away from acting upon their deteriorating health. There are a myriad of reasons as to why people don’t act upon the disease which is presented in a study conducted by Tiwari V, (2015) (Tiwari, V., Yogi, V., Ghori, H. U., Singh, O. P., Peepre, K., Yadav, S., & Mohare, C. (2015).Identifying the Factors Causing Delayed Presentation of Cancer Patients to a Government Medical College of Central India. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 9(9), XC09-XC12).

No denying that there are costs that are involved for the treatment of cancer but like any other chronic illness this requires experts who can help patients and families understand and process information so as to help them make the best decisions.

When I finally did embark on taking up Psycho-oncology, what surprised me were the reactions of others. Some said
“Wow! What a noble profession!”;
Its service to humanity”;
others said, “Oh! Isn’t it depressing, or aren’t you depressed?”.

All these reactions made me realize that there are many extreme responses like awe, fear, negativity and grim associated with the disease.

There is a grave lack of awareness about the illness and about early detection.

I realised that to have to spend time counselling meant to have to Listen.. and then listen some more because our world is in need of ears. I understood that these patients and their families who I met were all normal people with hopes and dreams no matter their age.

So why then the stigma with cancer?

Why then do so many relationships break down, self-esteem sink, finances run dry, loss happen during cancer?

I feel much has to do with how we think and the impact our thinking has on our behaviour- individually and collectively.

I realize that there is a reason why we are all put on this Earth and that while we are here, we can make a difference, however little it might be to touch someone’s life, and that’s when despite the newness of the profession and dearth of manpower in the field.

I still chose to pursue the degree. I realized that my love for the field grew stronger with each passing person who touched my life even if all I did was say greet them with a smile, a few words, listened and maybe kept silent at times while they poured out their anger, sadness, frustration with their state of affairs.
Cancer has taught me lessons for life, has taught me about how my patients and their families have been heroes, villians, warriors and have played multiple roles during their fight against cancer which most of us may face only during our entire lifespan.

I have personally seen how many patients have benefited from a professional listening ear especially since it brings out perspectives and thoughts which unfortunately are hard to voice when the entire families system is caught up with dealing with cancer.

The ability to navigate and encourage individuals and their loved ones to achieve a sense of purpose and direction come from professionally understanding and seeing beyond, being non-judgemental, showing empathy, and providing assurance based on medical information after thorough discussions with fellow medical health professionals.

This field envisages to helping persons through evidence based practices and strategies that is purely person- centered.

Through my brief time in Psycho-oncology, which is now soon to be touching a decade, I have seen that the struggles are real but those who decide to make changes and improve themselves are the real winners and Psycho-oncology as a field even though in its infancy in India hopes to touch lives and make a difference by bringing out the genuine selves of those who have been affected by cancer.

Michelle Normen
Senior Psychologist (Psycho-Oncologist)
Cytecare Cancer Hospitals
You can reach me at

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