The benefits of meditation have been well documented in many studies and something that most of you already know. Meditation reduces stress, it helps control anxiety, and lengthens your attention span. One of its best features is boosting meditators’ emotional and mental health, something that is paramount for anyone dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Phebe Duff is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) facilitator and meditation practitioner based in Annapolis, MD. MBSR is an eight-week educational course based on mindfulness techniques. This course allows individuals a viewpoint that is separate from their thoughts about the stressful event. In these courses, people learn to examine their emotions without judgment to see them instead as mental events. Wellness House of Annapolis saw the potential benefits of MBSR and invited Phebe to pilot the course with its members.
Phebe taught MBSR for more than fifteen years and until three years ago, she was never involved in leading a group of people diagnosed with cancer. She noticed the stress of these individuals was more acute than any she experienced before as a practitioner.
“Wellness House was a unique experience for me at that time. These are people who have looked death and trauma in the face.”
What started out as an exercise became one of the programs offered at Wellness House of Annapolis. MBSR is an 8-week program, and the beauty of it is witnessing the change that occurs in members both physically and mentally. With any type of meditation, giving in and being able to let go of control is the key. This is challenging for almost anyone but can be especially difficult for those facing a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. However, the difficulty individuals undergo during this time is precisely why this program is so vital.
“Members come out the other end of MBSR as transformed people. What meditation and mindfulness bring to them is a way to feel more in control of their life. To be able to say, ‘Yes, this terrible thing has happened to me, but I do not have to let it define me. I can now relate to it in a completely different way.’”
One of the most exciting things for Phebe is watching the change in members as they progress through the program. “The first thing you notice is they begin to sleep better. The wrinkles lessen. All of a sudden, about halfway through, there becomes a joy, a release. They begin to see the results of this class. It becomes very clear and prominent.”
The result of MBSR is an understanding that while someone may be afflicted with a cancer diagnosis, they do not have to give in to their fear, they can still control their lives. As Phebe explains it, “You see it in their faces. Members go from being totally overwhelmed by their diagnosis, treatment and their future, to deciding this diagnosis would not define them or their lives. A philosophy takes over of: Ok. This is my life right now. I’m going to live the best life that I can.”
Through the process of the first MBSR program at Wellness House of Annapolis, and in subsequent programs, Phebe saw something she never experienced in other MBSR classes. She saw that even though these people went through different cancer diagnoses and procedures, they all experienced cancer together. It created a bond.
“I began to see people caring for others in the group. Not like a support group, but something more long term. A thought process of ‘We are going to support each other after this class ends.’” Friendships and bonds form and extend far past the end of the class and continue to be sources of intimate connection and support for members that participate.
Over the years, the MBSR program at Wellness House of Annapolis not only transformed the members, it transformed Phebe. “These people are amazing. They are so open to exploring every facet of their life. They are not the people they were before their cancer diagnosis. Through the class, Wellness House members go to a lot of places mentally and emotionally. I never experienced that with other meditation groups.”
Phebe Duff is a certified MBSR instructor with over 10 years of experience teaching this method and researching its benefits. She is a long-time meditator who has led sitting groups and meditation classes for 20 years. Currently, Phebe instructs online classes for the Wellness House of Annapolis every Monday.