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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Shape hope to match any struggle

Rika Kayama

I recently participated in a "women's mental health" study group with other female psychiatrists. The lecturer was Rie Akaho, an expert on caring for the mental wellbeing of cancer patients. How does a woman's mind change when she is diagnosed with cancer? What kind of support does she need from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals? Those were the topics that Akaho spoke about while sharing specific cases with us.

    During the question and answer session afterward, one female doctor asked, "Facing (the troubles of) cancer patients and their families, doesn't it get tough for you yourself?" Akaho answered like this:

    "When I visit patients in their hospital rooms, I make sure to bring as much 'hope' with me as possible. Depending on the time period or the symptoms, you can reframe (change the perspective or meaning of) hope. If the cancer is in its early stages, hope can mean 'let's make a full recovery.' After surgery, it can mean 'let's get back to work.' Even when the patient's cancer has relapsed or their symptoms have gotten worse, you can match hope to the situation. Ultimately, 'Let's live today to the fullest,' can become the hope for both the patient and the doctor."

    You can shape hope into what you need at any given time. Those words left a deep impression on me. We all carry hopes and dreams, and if they happen to not come true, we end up disappointed, and sometimes lose sight of our reason for living. But for a person whose dream it is to become the president of a company, for example, their focus may instead shift to wanting to put more effort into raising children once they have a family. People who think, "I want to be a track and field athlete" when they are young may reach old age without making it a reality, and end up simply hoping to enjoy the seasons through leisurely walks.

    Even if we can't make our first dream come true, we can think, "What can I do now?" and reset our goals to adjust for the new circumstances. It's not just the big dreams and hopes that have value. For someone suffering from a serious disease that requires them to be hospitalized, their hope may be to sleep in their own bed at home. Accomplishing that could provide the same joy -- or more -- as traveling abroad or having a meal at a famous restaurant.

    During the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, many people got excited and cheered for the success of Japan's athletes. Of course, the medalists are amazing, but even you and I, who cannot become Olympians, have hopes and dreams that have immeasurable meaning and value. "Modest dreams" and "minor goals" are more than good enough. Without saying, "because I'm sick" or "because I'm too old," I would encourage myself and others to foster the growth of hope in our hearts. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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