A match is struck and a hope candle is lit. A sacred space is created where those struggling with cancer can discover and develop their inner strength. Patti Brown, right, gently tends this space. She guides the women in a soothing meditation where the unconscious mind is free to flourish and the spirit is nourished.
Brown is the founder of Wellness Within, a Roseville center offering free mind-body healing classes for cancer patients and survivors. It provides classes in nutrition, yoga, meditation and individual counseling.
"For people to allow you into a very raw vulnerable time is and honor," says Brown. "I am completely awe-inspired by people's stories. I don't think I've ever witnessed so much bravery and courage in my life since I started this work."
When Brown was 18-years-old she was diagnosed with ovarian tumors. Fortunately, they were not cancerous, but before she found that out she was terrified and was afraid that she might die. At that time there wasn't a lot known about cancer and she felt that it was treated like a leperousy. She didn't have anyone to turn to for support and didn't possess the tools within to deal with her fear.
"I was pulled to want to be there for people," she said. In her 20s she obtained her degree as a marriage and family therapist and began her own practice. She began to notice, as the years went by that many people in her practice were dealing with cancer. She felt a certain comfort level with the subject and felt drawn to help. A few years ago she made a declaration to her family while sitting at the kitchen table. "I'm going to open a wellness center," she said. She went on to explain that her vision included serving cancer patients, it would be a non-profit where the services would be free and it would focus on mind-body healing. She would compile a team of volunteers who would help her run the center. In the fall of 2010 she did exactly that. The Wellness Center is growing. She hopes to begin paying her volunteers soon so that they can work with her full-time. She'll pay them before she pays herself.
While day-by-day she is learning the ropes of running a non-profit she keeps her work with cancer patients personal. She conducts the 6-week mind-body class and the individual counseling herself. She is there for people when they ask for her, even visiting people in the hospital when they call.
Below, she hugs Allie Northern after a counseling session. Northern has struggled with thyroid cancer. "Every week it was an honor to be in the presence of the women I'm around," she said about the mind-body class. "It's given me a different way of viewing the world, completely different lenses. Being authentic and seeing all the love around me."
Brown prefers to call those dealing with cancer "cancer thrivers" rather than cancer survivors, meaning that given the right tools they can thrive within regardless of where on their journey with cancer they may be or what their prognosis is.
"Cancer thriver" Barbara Swenson Goodwin, below, at left, writes what she saw in a guided visualization where the group was lead to envision their inner guide.
"I felt that I was given tools that allow me to go to a place that's whole beyond cancer and deepens my spiritual connection," she says. "And that's what really sustains me."
Swensen Goodwin appreciates all that Brown puts into her work. "Her grace and her love and her respect for people wherever they're at is just amazing," she says.
Brown is grateful to all the "cancer thrivers" she serves. "When you think you could die you're more awake and ready to actively do something to improve the inner life experience," she says. "I'm very aware of how precious life is."
To learn more about Wellness Within please visit www.wellnesswithin.org.
If you know someone who dedicates their lives to helping others please email suggestions for the I Care column to Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org