What is it like to work with patients who have cancer?
How do you offer emotional support to those struggling through one of the scariest phases in life?
What do you do in this line of work to maintain a positive attitude?
Monday, I sat down with Ceceley Chambers, and got to hear all about her job as an interfaith chaplain. Ceceley uses PeaceLove workshops at a cancer center in Massachusetts, working with adults who have cancer that can range anywhere from curable to chronic, and even with those who are in remission.
In 2017 alone, Ceceley estimates having worked with around 600 patients. Ceceley offers a group workshop called “Coping Creatively With Cancer”, as well as individual meetings, and retreats. As we began the interview, she opened right away with how excited she was to talk about her job. With her line of work, there’s a common misconception that it will be sad. “It’s the opposite,” she claims. Ceceley describes the work she does as beautiful and uplifting, and that interacting with patients every day energizes her and fills her with hope.
Ceceley was already working as a chaplain when she heard about PeaceLove. It was referred to her by a colleague when she mentioned she was looking for a more creative and expressive way to interact with patients. Ceceley has now been a CREATOR for a year, and loves what the program has to offer her patients. The biggest thing, she says, is that the workshops offer a sense of autonomy for patients. In a stage of their life that has very little control, they get to decide if they want to participate, what they will create, and decide if they want to share anything about their cancer at all. For some, talking about it constantly can be tiring. The workshops provide a space for them to channel what they’re feeling onto paper, and not have to teach, explain, or relive their experiences.
As Ceceley shifts through some of the artwork patients have made over the year, I watch her face light up. The work Ceceley does is powerful, but it is even more powerful to see the way it impacts her. Ceceley remembers every artist and their story. In a job like this, it is nearly impossible to not develop an emotional connection to the patients. Ceceley talked frequently about how much she cares for those she has worked with, and how the memory of certain patients is something she carries with her everyday.
As she shows me the work created in these workshops, I begin to understand what she means when she says her job is beautiful. I’ve been lucky enough in my personal life to have no relationship with cancer, yet looking at the artwork moved me in a way I was not prepared for. For a moment, I began to understand a little bit of what that experience must be like. Some pieces are harmonious and tranquil, while others perfectly express the feeling of being overwhelmed.
(Above: A piece of mandala poetry created to express feeling overwhelmed by all the new medications)
(Above: A mandala representing a patient’s body and mind while receiving cancer treatments)
The key to this line of work, Ceceley shares, is balance and a strong support system. Having faith, fulfilling work, and a supportive family keep her centered. To unwind, Ceceley enjoys cooking meals for her family. “About 60% of my job is talking about food,” Ceceley jokes, but I think this pastime reflects a lot about Ceceley. What is more personal and more compassionate than cooking? Than nourishing? Than creating something you love, and sharing it with those you love even more?
Over the course of our hour and a half together, Ceceley defined her job in the most humble of words. Chaplain doesn’t begin to define the work she does with her patients. Ceceley is a handhold in one of the hardest moments life can throw at you. She’s a friend and a confidant. She is an ear ready to listen when someone needs to talk, or a ukulele player when someone doesn’t feel like talking today. What Ceceley does is compassion. It’s care. It’s PeaceLove.