with Vicky Benoit
by Nicole LaCour
When she walked into her first MilesStrong* meeting, Vicky Benoit had been secluded in her home for months. “I never would have chosen the program, had the MPCS outreach person not been there, at the radiologist’s office.” Until then, she had not reached out to other people fighting cancer. “People like me are not eager to get help,” she admitted. “It’s a group you’d rather never join.” As the group of four women told their stories, Vicky realized how much she had been holding inside. “It was big to me. I had been bunched up. There I was in this room filled with this energy and emotion, it was so real. It was overwhelming but really good. I needed it so much. And we laughed a lot. I asked questions about my hair and how to handle my grandchildren and silly, practical things. I had been unconnected and these women reminded me of the value of connection and it really helped.”
It took her about a week after that first meeting to let herself feel the raw emotions she had been keeping at bay; feelings not just for herself but also for the courageous women she had met that day. She was struck by the common challenge of strong women, fighting cancer: to allow yourself to be cared for. Always the caretaker, it’s difficult to ask for and receive care and absolve yourself of the responsibility of always being the strong, caring person.
Vicky spent most of her life studying the human mind. With a master’s degree in psychology, she’s counseled people from a variety of backgrounds. She’s studied the affects of tumors and strokes on the brain, helping patients find their strengths and abilities. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that her experience with cancer and its treatments brought her extraordinary insight into her own psyche.
Vicky always considered herself a strong person, so after her first chemotherapy treatment, she thought, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” and carried on with life, taking her dog to the vet. Then the affects hit her and she could barely get herself home. She would need a new kind of strength now. “I had my own way of dealing with it,” she remembered. “When I was a little girl I used to have a dream, that I would build a mountain around myself and go into it and decorate it. That’s what I did through treatment. I went into my mountain.”
She drew upon her training and used positive visualization. “I would have talks with my body. I would tell it, ‘You’ve been such a good body all these years. You’re doing a good job. You can get through this.’” She wished for peace and harmony for her blood cells. She saw them calming down and it helped her to stay calm and endure what is often harsh treatment. “I saw my body as a castle and the chemicals helped to keep the house in order.”
Ever the psychologist, Vicky studied her own mind and found the bombardment of aggressive chemicals and radiation brought her a heightened insight. “Your self is brought to the edge,” she said. “You’re going through so many changes, that it makes you more intuitive, like a magical gift. You scrape all the layers; all the ways you thought you knew how to cope. And with all that gone, it’s just your raw self because that’s all you can deal with. It was pretty cool.”
Long before cancer, Vicky was forced to find her sea legs when she was hit, head-on by a truck in 1998. Plagued with chronic pain, she searched for someone to heal her. It became a full time job and she developed a healthy skepticism towards doctors. It was a time when she realized that being strong was important to her, that she was resilient and had the capacity to overcome major set backs.
Then along came cancer. In July of 2014, only a year after losing her sister, a doctor informed her that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “I didn’t hear a thing after that. It was so unreal to me.” Vicky sat in the office saying, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” She remembered a nurse saying, “Would you like us to call your husband?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” she replied.
Facing treatment, Vicky had to let go of her feelings about doctors. She had to trust in her healer. She remembered saying to herself, “I’m just going to have to trust this doctor, which was not easy, trust the process, and buy into it 100%. With cancer, it was about letting go.” Vicky had to learn to let others be strong for her. It was difficult to watch her family deal with the stress. She found herself the recipient of care she would not have asked for on her own. “A whole network of friends and family didn’t let me stay alone,” she said. Her daughter sent care packages of health food and others brought her healing talismans. Vicky learned to augment her own strength with the love and kindness of others.
And then she found MPCS. “It was a wonderful gateway for re-socialization and coming back to the world.”
Recently turning 63, Vicky said, “I’m a young girl. I have lots of plans. Cancer was just another hurtle in the race of life.”
*MilesStrong is an eight week program that specializes in exercise, education and support for cancer patients in treatment.