Stories touch lives

A reflection on writing in the face of hardship

Composite photo: Landscape Lars Wanberg / Viking Brian Kerns   The Viking spirit can be a source of strength.

Composite photo: Landscape Lars Wanberg / Viking Brian Kerns
The Viking spirit can be a source of strength.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Caring and sharing is what life is all about.

I’ve taken a break from feature writing recently to concentrate on my healing from an unexpected diagnosis of cancer of the bladder. Unfortunately, one in two males and one in three females will hear the diagnosis sometime in their lives—that is if they do not succumb to another leading causes of death, like heart disease or accidents.

But I haven’t stopped writing. Rather, I write meditative stories for myself to listen to with ear buds off my cell phone that bolster my “spirit” while taking chemo. At other times, I give bedtime instructions to my body to keep the “good cells” working while I sleep.

This method comes from my clinical years as a health care provider on an oncology ward in military hospitals, working with young children and teenagers who were experiencing cancer. The challenge was to help children create their own stories of hope.

While caring develops new communities of people with a common bond, it is sharing that generates the healing power among others.

For example, a Lutheran prayer circle in Illinois includes my name at services every Sunday. I’m told of similar circles in North Dakota and Minnesota. As I write this, an American group on an extended retreat in India chants for my healing. Individuals send me greetings and prayers. These extended networks of family, friends, and well-wishers come about from years of association in the health care field.

I truly believe that sharing meaningful stories helps people—and myself—heal.

I essentially learned storytelling from my father, who was a country pastor in one congregation for 45 years. His service included the historic Norway Lutheran Church out of Towner where he preached in Norwegian. He also lived into his 100th year of life, and he’s where I believe my “Viking spirit” comes from.

Take the story of Ava Brae (called by nursing staff as Ava the Brave) who at 13 months of age was diagnosed with a tumor at the brain stem, and today, after years of treatment, is collecting soccer trophies as a fourth grader. I have known this family over four generations and happily serve on an advisory board on the family’s non-profit. You can view her story at www.braveheartsforkids.org. and in the July 7, 2014, issue of NAW: A Storybook Journey in Space.

I share some meditative stories on two sites: thelanguageofcancer.tumblr.com and www.caringbridge.com.

From a most unexpected place, I realized the true value of sharing stories and the outreach of media, when a reader of the Weekly posts this comment on CaringBridge:

Dear Larrie,
I have been reading your columns in the Norwegian American Weekly for several years, and I enjoy them very much. I like your style and your approach to life. I just listened to your meditation, and it is beautiful. I’m a complete stranger, but thank you for brightening my life over the years and for sharing this segment of your life’s journey. I wish you all the best on the road to health.

You never know whose lives a story may touch.

This article originally appeared in the July 17, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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