Finding the right words to talk about cancer isn't easy for Rick Lengacher. He is living with a history of cancer since his diagnosis of stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma in November 2012.
Rick's story is one of conflict. He feels blessed and guilty every day.
"I feel blessed that I am in a better place physically, emotionally and spiritually," Rick said. "And I feel conflicted about my joy and others’ sorrow and pain in treatment outcomes."
As Rick, 57, leans into reaching his 10-year milestone, he is searching for ways to connect with others and offer hope. That's one reason he decided to share his story on the Goshen Cancer Survivor Network.
Rick, who lives with his family in Goshen, is quick to recognize the circles of influence that have surrounded him since his diagnosis. Neighbors, church members, co-workers and family have played important roles in boosting his spirit and caring for his well-being.
Healthcare providers at Goshen Center for Cancer Care who cared for him during a year of active treatment now offer encouragement and support as Rick navigates how to live a vibrant life.
Natural therapies and lifestyle changes help with healing and recovery
A mind-body counselor, dietitian and naturopathic doctor checked in with Rick every day during his chemotherapy treatments. They introduced a host of natural therapies that could help Rick cope with chronic pain, reduce stress and manage compromised bodily functions.
"Initially, I didn't think my diet or emotional health had anything to do with my physical health," he said. "The Integrative Care Team gave me the space to figure it out on my own."
Beyond the physical changes to his health, Rick began to re-examine his life. The weight of emotional and spiritual baggage he carried around was adding stressors to his life and causing autoimmune disorders. That meant he needed to take a close look at his relationships with family, the way he took care of himself – even his job.
"I slowly understood that my immune system was compromised and confused by unaddressed, constant stressors," Rick said.
Terms like autoimmune protocol, metabolic hangover and autophagy became a part of his daily vocabulary. He experimented with intermittent fasting until he found a pattern that helped to rebalance a leaky gut and reduce painful inflammatory flares.
Rick left a job he loved teaching first graders at York Elementary School in Middlebury, Indiana, to help lower his stress levels. He returned to Everence Financial where he had worked in the early 2000s. The daily tasks as a branch compliance manager proved a better fit for his new rhythm of life.
In another leap of faith, Rick took up mindful meditation and yoga, two concepts he initially resisted and could not believe he would ever find helpful. He and his wife, Jan, also sought help from a counselor to repair their frayed relationship.
Running became a part of Rick's regular routine, even though he never had the slightest interest in it earlier in his life. His oncologist had encouraged him to not sit on the couch all day and be as active as possible.
"My wife heard those words and invited me on short walks – just 100 yards," Rick said. "That turned into a mile jog and now longer runs."
Two takeaways come to mind when Rick thinks about his devotion to his morning runs. First, it's better to do something small than nothing. He may never have walked the first steps if the goal had been to run long distances. Now he uses the time to nourish his physical, emotional and spiritual health.
A second revelation is the powerful healing that comes from support of family, friends, even strangers who cross paths with Rick every day. He has learned to depend on others to help him heal.
"We never know what words or actions will have a positive – or negative – impact on those around us," Rick said.
Today, Rick follows a diet, exercise and meditation routine that relieves pain and gives him energy to serve others in need of support and comfort. He also continues to search for ways to express a message that goes beyond the physical brokenness. For Rick, the takeaway is about the interdependence of physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Each time Rick shares his story, he gains clarity in his beliefs and accepts the challenge of living with a history of cancer.
"It feels like part of the healing process," Rick said.