Ep.14 Kosu Boudreau – Exploring Compassion with a Cancer Survivor

Tune in to hear Kosu’s story of overcoming cancer, supporting others and how compassion can assist individuals during and after an illness.

Transcript

Gissele: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of the Love and Compassion podcast with Gissele. If you’re listening to the podcast, don’t forget to write a review. And if you’re watching us on YouTube, please like, and subscribe to our channel for more exciting content. Today we’re going to be chatting about the power of compassion during an illness.

If you or someone, you know, is currently dealing with an illness, stay tuned to learn about how compassion can assist you through this difficult time. My guest is a biracial African Canadian registered psychotherapist who specializes in grief, trauma, spirituality and is ordained as a Buddhist chaplain and is also a yoga teacher as well as a mother of a 25 year old daughter.

 As well as a stage three breast cancer survivor. Please join me in welcoming my friend Kosu Boudreau. Thank you so much for being on our show. I mean, we’ve known each other for a little while because of our MSW, friendship, I know that you yourself have practice Buddhism as well as became a clergy. I was wondering if you could share what you learned from this practice is about the power of compassion and love.

Kosu: [00:01:04] Well, I mean, I’ve never worked as a community clergy. I’ve worked in spiritual care in healthcare for about 20 years or so. So I did do training in Buddhism. Buddhist practice was a big piece of my own spiritual formation. I started, I was introduced to Buddhist practice really in grade 12 in a world religions class.

And I was really captivated by this sort of a systematic way of learning how to live out this idea of loving your neighbor as yourself, which is so central to Christian theology. I’d been raised in a liberal Christian environment. Um, but that how to now I’d say, you know, the, the idea of how to actually live out compassion.

To embody that I turn to Buddhist practice to give me some of those tools. So I, I feel like, like over the years I’m going to be 58 soon another month or so.

Gissele: [00:02:11] Congrats.

Kosu: [00:02:12] , yeah. So, so that was, uh, it was a few yeah decades ago. And, um, I think that my understanding of compassion and what it means and what it looks like in my life and my understanding of compassion has evolved morphed and changed and continues to change.

Gissele: [00:02:33] Can you share a little bit about how it’s different? How has changed.

Kosu: [00:02:38] Yeah. So it’s interesting. You know, when I, you asked for me to give you a little bit of a bio and you sort of come up with a checklist of all of these different identities. And in, in, in many ways, you know, we all have intersections of identities that impact each other.

So my experience being mixed race black Canadian is, a key part of my experience in the world. And even I know today, we’re focusing on, um, my journey with breast cancer within health care, as a patient, as I’m looking at what’s happening right now with COVID and how it’s impacting different communities in different ways.

I’m reminded once again, that we can’t look at any one identity without recognizing the impact of others as well, that’s in that shapes our experience. So I think my understanding of compassion now, um, is, strongly influenced by social justice, striped by ideas of  fierce, compassion, we talk about sometimes in Buddhism, that there is a sense of, of showing up and finding my voice, finding a voice to not only be a supportive presence, which is very innate in the work that I do is in spiritual care and as a psychotherapist, but also to stand with.

To show compassion for the pain and challenges we face with inequity and racism. And, uh, and you know, I know you come from the child welfare sector. And so I was in foster homes for a period of time in my teens. And I, I feel that there is a voice that doesn’t often get heard, and that there’s a place for me to step into that by stepping into that part of my identity, which has an invisible identity that I can walk with others in their journey.

Gissele: [00:04:57] Thank you very much for sharing that in for sharing the fact that compassion isn’t weak or fluffy.  I think people tend to have that misconception about it, where there is a real fierce component to compassion around boundaries and around the social justice piece. In terms of our shared responsibility to fight for those who have not had a seat at the table because of our common humanity and our shared experience.

And I think that’s what we’re lacking right now. We’re so focused on ourselves that we don’t see. We don’t notice the suffering of our, of our brothers and sisters.

Kosu: [00:05:32] Yeah. And I think an acknowledgement that that’s going to look different for each of us. And so how we manifest our understanding of compassion, which I do think has to come out of self-compassion.

And self-compassion, I see about as a process of learning to really see and accept ourselves fully as we are, which is hard work and, uh, requires quite a bit of humility and, to be kind to ourselves, to really be able to look at all of the parts of ourselves, even though the ones that we sometimes don’t want to be seen on Facebook, or don’t want to be known as in the world, as you know, the angry parts or are jealous parts or scared parts.

And yet, uh, self-compassion is making space for all of that. And when we can make space for that within ourselves, then we can make space for that in others, we have a better understanding. We’re less likely to become reactive. And the quality of our relationships with, with others, including others that are, are challenging for us because they hold very different worldview, different world experience can be, um, that we can make space for those, those conversations, those relationships a little bit more easily.

Gissele: [00:06:59] Mmhmm, yeah, and what you said is so spot on, and I’ve been thinking about how compassionate work is equity work from my perspective, and I’m interested in yours in the sense that I think one of the challenges in us having kind of those lean in conversations is that. Especially with people who are non racialized.

There’s a lot of shame that comes up in terms of some of the privilege and some of the issues. And then the wall of resistance goes up. And I think through the practice of self-compassion, I think people can hold themselves with nurturance, while they’re leaning in while they’re engaging in the dialogue while they deal with the shame of the ancestors and in terms of everything that has been done to marginalized people, racialized people, indigenous people. People are so defensive that they get, they can’t get past the emotions in order to be able to kind of lean in and listen.

Kosu: [00:07:51] Yeah, I’ve had a, quite a profound experience of that over the last number of months during COVID.

I made a intentional decision to deepen my relationship with my birth mother. So I, I was adopted as a baby, um, and had, had met my birth mother about 20 years or so, but it was very, very challenging to, uh, establish that relationship. She’s deeply wounded from her own experience. My conception came out of, um, an encounter that was not pleasant for her and that she, she, she really didn’t want to have to remember.

And so we had maintained a, a very distant relationship. And, and then I think part of this reflection through the last year through the pandemic has been really for me and probably for many of us, it’s, re-evaluating our relationships and thinking, you know, what really is meaningful.  What’s longstanding, what are the relationships that are really going to matter at the end of the day?

You know, and where, where can I really invest my energy in a way that will help me grow and be able to contribute back? And so my, my, my birth mother is 78 years old and I made a decision that I would start to use the zoom technology that we’re all so much more comfortable with now as is she to start having a weekly conversation and that we would take this time to get to know each other.

And it has been a really fruitful process, uh, far, far more connecting and bonding than I imagined at the beginning. I didn’t want to have a lot of expectations, but I knew it would be something that, that would be helpful for both of us or could be. And I’ve discovered that taking this time, having this regular consistent commitment to taking this time together has really helped us to start to, to build a genuine connection and start to reach out toward each other.

And this is, you know, I’m late, I’m in midlife, she’s in her senior year and to form of family relationship is, is building. So there is an element I think, in terms of what if I frame that up within this idea of compassion, there’s an intentionality behind it to, to show up, you know, continue, even when it’s hard to recognize the value in the connection and to be willing to have a little discomfort, to allow something genuine, to build.

Gissele: [00:11:01] I applaud your willingness to actually do the work, to, to want to understand the story. Um, a lot of us have our pains for our childhood. And one of the things that I found, I was able to forgive my parents later in life and understand that their behavior. was based on kind of their own beliefs and their own experiences and they were doing the best they can.

And I’m sure I’m going to make lots of mistakes with my kids and I, but I’m doing the best I can to, but that forgiveness is so important because it’s for ourselves. Right, what kind of relationship have you developed with forgiveness around this very challenging relationship that you have?

Kosu: [00:11:34] Yeah, I don’t, I don’t think about forgiveness a lot to tell you the truth.

I think that, um, and I think because it’s such a challenging concept and maybe working in the spiritual care community, I find that it can be sort of overlaid with this righteous, moral stance.

Gissele: [00:12:01] I understand.

Kosu: [00:12:02] But I think it’s like compassion. You know, we can have compassion practices that feel very rote that really kind of lack the robust depth complexity that, um, I think that any kind of deeper practice is going to call out.

So in a case with my relationship with my birth mother, I entered into it with the understanding that not that I was doing it to achieve a specific outcome, but that there was value in the relationship in itself that having a meaningful connection with someone who is part of my ancestry that painful or not, we share a narrative together.

Beyond whatever DNA is in place you know, from a scientific stance, the significance of DNA, there’s, you know, there’s all sorts of interesting thoughts on that, on the level of, um, commonality that might breed. But, but I do believe that relationship is built with part of that is a shared story and a willingness to build trust and to show up.

So I think it was, uh, I’d say it was an act of self-compassion for me. I recognize the importance of this relationship and making resolution of a sense of, of this is part of who I am and to be able to turn towards it, rather than denying that history and denying that this part of my, my ancestry and I knew that the relationship would matter to her that it was not something that she would take lightly either.

And that was one of my criteria that I came out of post COVID. And while we’re still in COVID, was that, uh, that relationships are not that matter are relationships where there’s an investment.

There is an investment and a willingness to, to, uh, withstand the inevitable ups and downs and struggles. And, and that’s where I wanted to put my energy in terms of building a stronger community, stronger relationships.

Gissele: [00:14:18] For those who may be kind of wanting to engage in a dialogue and maybe struggling.

What sort of processes or tools have helped you be able to navigate this journey with your mom? Like what have you found helpful?

Kosu: [00:14:34] Well, I think, I think that it’s, it’s definitely a process and I think that, in terms of building any relationship, I, I certainly years just aging and making peace within myself, around my own limitations, my own mistakes along the way, and recognizing just how, how it is a struggle. You know, it is the, as the Buddhist adage goes, you know, there is suffering in life.

It’s sort of endemic in how our cultural and our need for survival is going to manifest in different types of suffering. And so as I made peace with my own suffering and accepted my own limitations, it made it much easier for me to be open, to having a relationship with her without the judgments, that editable feelings of feeling abandoned and rejected.

In the earlier years, when I first met her, I have a daughter who’s 25. And when I first met her, my daughter was only a few years old. And at that point I was still looking to have my needs to be mothered met. There is still a very strong, frozen need and my birth mother because of her own woundedness, and her own fears was not able to really connect with either my daughter and I, and in what felt like a very warm.

Heart to heart way. And so I would often feel really hurt by that because I, I had this, this, this need, and that’s not to say that that need ever goes away. I think though, that there are a number of ways that we can feed our need for intimacy and feed our need for, to be seen and feel valued. And that’s where self compassion is a very powerful practice to be able to really, hold our vulnerable places and, and then look at how can we meet those needs.

So the quality of other relationships in my life and a sense of meaning and the work that I do in connection, all of those things. Helped me to, to develop a more grounded place to then be able to connect with my mother more as an adult, I would say, and less from a place of a child wanting a parent to take the lead.

We can now meet. I can meet her more eye to eye, uh, adult to adult.

Gissele: [00:17:16] Wow. Thank you for sharing that. It was very clear how the connection between self-compassion and compassion for others, we’re able to better understand their behavior and kind of hold the space for them. But like you said, sometimes when we have our own unmet needs, as hard to do that for other people,

Kosu: [00:17:32] Yeah, and you mentioned practices, so there are, there are many different types of ways of, of cultivating self-compassion. There are formal practices. Yeah, different types of meditations to different types of um, active, practices such as writing gratitude, journals, things like that. I think that any of these.

Practices that we develop need to come out of a natural extension of who we are and how we engage with the world. So I always encourage people to create your own patchwork of things that work for you. There’s no one formula. And in fact, as soon as we start to get into a formulaic approach, for instance, loving kindness, meditations can, after a while you’re reciting, you know, may you be happy and free, maybe free from suffering.

It can, it can lose its meaning unless we find words and find ways of, of doing, uh, kind of loving kindness practice, that really resonates and feels authentic to us. So I feel very fortunate that I surround myself with some really wonderful teachers who basically challenged me to be as authentically myself as possible.

And that’s that, that’s the, that’s the ground from which everything else arises is growing more and more deeply into that sense of who am I and how can I bring that into the world in a way that feels authentic and contributing in some way?

Gissele: [00:19:26] Thank you.

I was wondering if you can share a little bit about your cancer journey, um, sometimes an illness for someone, it can be sort of a bit of a wake up call in terms of them understanding kind of their own needs. What you learned from that journey and that maybe you had wished you had known before you kind of embarked on it and what, um, what your experiences were.

Kosu: [00:19:50] Yeah. You know, it’s interesting in that, the idea of, of what I wish I had known in some ways, I think it’s, it’s like embarking on any journey of the unknowns. The, what comes to mind is Parenthood. You know, when you first you have your first child, uh, and you have no idea, uh, how much your life is going to change.

And so much of that depends on the child that you have and where you’re living and, you know, your relationship and other factors. So my experience with breast cancer, which was now 15 years ago, was, in some ways it’s. It came at an interesting time in my life. I was already very involved in Buddhist practice.

And so had these ideas and concepts around working with impermanence and in a Buddhist practice, we talk about, you know, living as if death is peering over your left shoulder. So, you know, this, this, this sort of this, again, that strong kind of lip service to this recognition of, you know, all things will and including my life.

And yet the reality when the diagnosis arose. I remember thinking, looking at all the many books that I have on my bookshelf and thinking the answer isn’t in any of those books, feeling at a bit of a loss, because I had such an intellectualized idea of spiritual reality and living that I felt ill-prepared world.

So that was a, that was definitely a big wake up call for me. I would say that, you know, 15 years later I am a much more embodied person. I, uh, really feel that, uh, I have a better understanding of the, you know, the, the nervous system and how working with the body, the body mind is a much more full way of being alive.

And so, you know, once I got beyond the initial fears and scares of if I was going to live at all, which I think is common for anybody, when they first get the diagnosis, I then started to think about, you know, what quality of life. So now that I’ve got a recognition that at any time, my life may end the reality of how precarious that can be the focus on the quality and what was important.

What I really felt that I wanted to contribute and to be in this world. So I find with myself, and also having worked in hospitals for many years, relationships always come out near the top of that,  list of priorities. My own daughter at the time was only around seven years old.

Gissele: [00:23:03] Oh my God.

Kosu: [00:23:04] Um, maybe a bit older. She’s 25 now it’s 15 years. So yeah, about 10 years old. And. It was just unthinkable to imagine leaving her at that point when there’s still so much guidance and support and presence that I wanted to offer in her life. I think that sort of the sense of priorities and yeah, it, it, uh, any kind of disease diagnosis gets you real, really fast.

Gissele: [00:23:38] Mmhmm, yeah, it’s do or die.

Kosu: [00:23:41] All the superfluous things suddenly fall away and seem really silly.

Gissele: [00:23:48] it’s funny. I was just thinking about how that’s very similar to COVID in that, you know, here we are in another situation again, where people have had to really realize, okay, what. What’s our priority, but globally our global priorities. And I think that’s one of the things that has come out is that real awareness. So I do think yet again, we’re kind of in that state of greater awareness.

Kosu: [00:24:10] Yes. And, and that, that recognition of vulnerability, the vulnerability was always there, but we talk sometimes that we’re a death denying culture that we’re, we’re invested in this image of ourselves as omnipotent and being, you know, appearing very competent and strong.

There’s a lot invested in that. And yet, as you know, the work of Brene Brown has so beautifully illustrated the real power of connection, real courage lies in acknowledging, embracing our vulnerability. So COVID or a cancer diagnosis or the, you know, a loss, in your life, a significant loss

completely pulls back the veil of the illusion of self-reliance and of, kind of a false sense of strength. The strength that I found through my cancer journey, it definitely was the incredible relationships. I made, as I joined support groups with other women who had similar diagnosis and similar stage, and that kind of, you know, naked vulnerability and honesty and support, we brought each other was, was incredibly powerful.

And I’ve been involved in groups throughout my life, through my psychotherapy journey. I’ve done a lot of group work. I still do group work and I encourage people to do group work for that reason, for that experience of really being seen which is a, a powerful healer in itself, there’s a loneliness.

You know, the idea that I am suddenly I’m alone. I’m no longer part of what I perceived was the norm, the normal, and now an outsider, whatever, whatever the tragedy is that has suddenly changed her identity. And to have that shaken up it’s it’s, it allows us to, dig to the core and find a more essential identity and realize the present in every person.

And, uh, so that’s the gift of illness. I think it’s sort of a superhighway in terms of this spiritual growth.

Gissele: [00:26:41] Wow. I was pondering what you said, which I think is so powerful, which I don’t think people realize what a lonely journey it is like or can be and when I think about mental illness, people feel very lonely.

So when something happens to you, it can be very lonely. And so. I totally see the power in bringing people together who are sharing those same experiences that may not be part of the perceived larger norm. Right?

Kosu: [00:27:10] Mmhmm, Yes.

Gissele: [00:27:11] Very powerful.

Kosu: [00:27:12] Yes. I think about that with death too, as I looked at the possibility of my death coming much sooner than, I anticipated and, and I have to say I had stage three cancer, so it wasn’t stage four palliative, but it was significant enough that, you know, it was a diagnosis that there was a possibility that it could lead to a less favorable outcome than I had.

I did at different times. I think as most people do when they encounter any kind of serious illness diagnosis, and all of us, at some point as we age and, and, uh, encounter the reality of our own mortality, I did reflect on, on death and the reality that no matter how many loved ones you have around you on the journey, that’s, that’s a portal that you go through alone.

I mean, some of that will depend on what your spiritual beliefs are. Um, but at that, that moment of stepping through the portal to whatever happens after this life, it just as when, you come through that portal and you arrive in this world, you know, it’s one place you have to step in alone.

That was frightening for me. You know, that was a really, um, in that moment as I was looking at it, I, at the time I was in my, um, 15 years ago, so yeah, 40, early, 40, so still pretty young to be, to be thinking about that. So, you know, one of the things I’m involved with now is I’m, I’m very interested in, psychedelic integrated therapies.

And there’s been a lot of work with the use of psychedelics in around end of life to work exactly with those kinds of thoughts. To experience a kind of ego death? So you talked about, you know, that again, that dropping away of everything that we think we are and, you know, connecting with the essence.

And so that a lot of research has shown that those, that is sort of a, kind of experience of recognizing that what is what is left and when all the extraneous has peeled away is, is something that’s, uh, essential. And it seems for many people that alleviates the fear, that fear of that journey to the unknown through death.

Gissele: Thank you for sharing that, that was a really powerful, I have heard a lot about, psychedelics and how that’s an up-and-coming intervention. I did want to talk a little bit about spirituality. I, myself, I’m a believer that we don’t necessarily die.

That death is a transition in terms of our soul. Our soul kind of goes on, but we leave this physical body. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on that kind of this spiritual piece around kind of like the difference between the soul and the body, considering the journey you went through in terms of really kind of getting in your body and understanding its limitations.

Kosu: [00:30:33] Well, yeah, that’s hard for me to answer because I’ve spent so many years working as a psycho-spiritual therapist that I have, become very attuned to recognizing what, I don’t know, more of what I don’t know than what I do know. I don’t really have, any definitive sense of, you know, what w what, what we mean when we talk about, for instance, the idea of soul.

I mean, I, it’s interesting. I have been, looking at a work of, um, an African American, psychologist who has actually done a thesis on soulfulness, and she’s a contemplative have to look up what her name is. So in, in mindfulness, in the world of mindfulness, we, we talk a lot about awareness, which tends to be sort of locating looking at the mind what’s happening in the mind.

And, and then we have, have increasingly looked at heartfulness, which are the compassion practices and loving kindness and Metta. The soulfulness piece is really interesting because she did a thesis looking at the soulfulness, which, you know, it comes out of somewhat of the African American tradition, but I think we could define it as a, you know, it’s a sort of a deep sense of essence, a deep, deep sense of, of sort of the ground from which we draw on.

And, and it’s often manifest in creativity, in the arts, in music, in, spontaneous expression. In beauty of nature. I have been working recently with a therapeutic modality called internal family systems, which is, with Dick Schwartz where he, he also talks about S self-capital S self, which is really aligned with this essential, essence that we all carry that is, that is whole and unbreakable and unwounded.

And so all of these other parts, all of our experiences, all of the, you know, the habits we have and identities and the, uh, behaviors good or bad that they are all parts of us finding ways to function in the world. But underneath that, there is this essential. I’ll call it an energy. I, for lack of better description, I tend to think of it energetically.

And what I really love about that modality is that it appeals to all of the faith traditions. I, I’ve been training students who are primarily Christian and I’m myself very involved in the Buddhist community. And both of those communities have embraced IFS as therapeutic modalities that work well with spiritual values.

And it’s also can be understood from a very secular, from a, you know, from a, a non-spiritual place. And I think so when we talk about spirituality or, or soul or the, these kinds of conversations, I think that when we find universal concepts, that appeal across the board and are relevant, to all people, regardless of culture, regardless of where you were born, regardless of, the, social political, economic environment that helps to shape our, our human institutions that, that this essential truth feels applicable in all circumstances to me, then we have touched something that is essential.

That is true. It’s, it’s like for me, it’s my kind of evidence-based litmus test, right? If this is going to be as relevant, To, you know, uh, a woman in Rwanda who is recovering after the genocide and in healing with her family, as it is to, you know, an American military person who is, trying to come to terms with their identity after having spent the time in the gulf war., if, if, if those, if that concept of soul or self is equally applicable, then it feels to me that, that that’s, that’s starting to capture well, I mean, when we’re talking about soul,

Gissele: [00:35:17] thank you for that.

That was beautifully said, I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about the journey after you were cleared from cancer, because there isn’t a lot of information about what happens after do you return to your regular life or does it look very different?

Kosu: [00:35:35] Yeah. I think that any experience we go through has phased different kinds of periods sort of has a developmental phase. And I do think that post-treatment can actually be a very challenging time if you’re no longer in active treatment. So you don’t have all the supports in place you’re no longer maybe identified as.

Somebody who’s in cancer treatment, which is an identity in itself, and it can become central for a period of time. And then it’s, who am I? Who am I now? Uh, I think that in my case, I definitely felt for the first five years. And that’s probably because of the way the research is done. There’s a lot of data around the first five years after cancer treatment and then data up to about 10 years and then very, very little, you know, in 10 years.

So there is this marker it’s, it might be a bit of an illusion, depending on the nature of your cancer, but five years seems to be viewed as a kind of litmus test. If you make it to five years, then. You know, that, that that’s a, that’s a good, that’s a good indicator. In reality, I think every year that you survive is an indicator, a positive, but five years seems to be a magic number that many cancer survivors hold on to.

And so I do remember that the first five or so years, and I did continue with active treatment. I had breast cancer, so I was on Tamoxifen for 10 years. And so even with that, with, you know, a one small pill, it’s an estrogen suppressant, one small pill taken every day. There’s still something symbolic.

You’re still in treatment. You know, you still linked something actively. And so I think that there is something around that sense of, you know, I I’m still involved somehow proactively I have some control in this. Once that stopped. And I would say even earlier after five years or so, when I seriously started to think I could start making longer term plans again, then I think for me I started to take over the treatment.

So I think that some of that hopefully has happened much sooner. You look at what you’re eating. You look at your exercise, your overall health, your, your social, emotional, all those things, but then the focus on if no one else is treating me now, so I kind of need to take over this. So, so, so what’s going to be my regime that I need to do to, to try to manage my health.

So I would say that, at this point 15 years, plus the, the cancer is no longer living as close to me as it was it’s it’s I probably have, just as much of a likelihood as getting a completely different cancer or one of the myriad other diseases we get when we’re aging at this point as our recurrence from the original cancer.

Gissele: [00:38:51] Yeah.

Kosu: [00:38:52] So yeah. So there’s the efficacy piece. Right. Um, how, you know, what can I do? What kind of power and agency do I have in managing or trying to prevent a recurrence? And, you know, I had a colleague at one point who was quite health conscious and I remember her asking me, so do you know, what, do you think is the reason that you survived and, you know, other people don’t, they, you know, I’ve known people who unfortunately had gotten cancer very similar diagnosis and have had very different experience with it.

And I say in all honesty, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t believe that I’m better. I don’t believe that I’ve got any kind of magic recipe or that there’s something special about me. I think there are many, you know, very beautiful. Talented kind people that haven’t been given this gift that I have.

But the one piece I would say that I think that intuitively and scientifically we know that is worth, really taken on as part of our self treatment is around stress. Yeah. There is  just very conclusive evidence that. There’s all sorts of detrimental effects and wear and tear on the body.

And to me, addressing stress means addressing quality of life. you know returning to, I don’t know if I’ve got a year or I have 10 years or I have more, but. How do I want to be living my life? What do I really care about? What what’s important. And, and I think that is addressing the core of stress rather than,

you know, I do yoga and I eat well and I go for walks in nature. Those are all great, but there’s something deeper, more fundamental. If you’re like really angry, you’re going out in nature, you’re getting 10 minutes maybe reprieve but in the larger scheme of things, better to deal with the anger, better to deal with the deeper emotional pain that’s constructing your body and farming some space and some joy.

Gissele: [00:41:02] Mmhmm, thank you for sharing that. I had a conversation with somebody. she is a personal coach as well as a nutritionist, and she was talking about how the emotions are so important in terms of when you’re engaging in an activity. So for example, if you are really resentful and eat while eating that salad, you might as well have the cheeseburger because that’s not going to be positive for your body.

Kosu: [00:41:23] Yeah.

Gissele: [00:41:24] So I was, I was contemplating that as you were talking, I was also thinking about, a book I read, you know, Viktor Frankl who talked about the experiences of surviving the Holocaust.

Kosu: [00:41:35] Absolutely.

Gissele: [00:41:35] And one of the things that I remember reading in that book was the fact that those individuals who saw themselves past the experience who are able to see beyond their experience were the ones who are more likely to survive.

I was wondering, how you thought that the impact of thoughts on individual’s ability to be able to overcome such a challenging time?

Kosu: [00:41:58] Yes. And I remember too, he spoke about, he had a picture of his wife and he used to meditate on that and think about how he was going to join her and they would be together.

And that was, a really key piece of, of hope that he hung on to. Yeah. So the whole idea of, of hope and what, what gives us hope? I think it’s a very, very powerful force. What, what does stir our, our energy, if we’re talking essentially about this energetic force that animates us.

Okay. Uh, without a sense of channel channeling that towards something I think it’s easy for it to become stagnant and to feel stuck and to not, feel that feel mobilized, to keep moving forward. So, I think our hope and what we are looking towards for hope changes all the time. And it’s really important to evaluate that.

Like when I think back to 15 years, I remember looking at my young daughter at the time and, and wanting to be there wanting to see her graduate from high school, wanting to know that she was, going to be a young adult who would be able to be self-sufficient and, you know, was, on her way in life with, with some sense of competence and also feeling there are things that I know that are left to do.

Gissele: [00:43:30] Yeah.

Kosu: [00:43:31] And on the one hand, knowing I might have to let go of some of those, but if I live, I’m going to really take that on that’s important. That’s what it’s about. That will be, that will be my, my guiding force as we get older, as they move into midlife, you know, we go through a stage where we are taking care of our families and nurturing, you know, our, our sort of immediate family and community. And then as they get older, which is the position I’m in now, and we’re freed up.

We have the resources in place. It really becomes about what can I give, what can I contribute? I think that that sense of, of wanting to feel that we have something to contribute. You know, I think about studies that they’re doing as, as, as people are getting older and this idea of retiring, you know, now this idea, retirement age at any particular age is under question.

Whether that even make sense. And a lot of studies show that for many people, it’s, it’s best to work as long as you’re able to work that that’s, it hugely inspiring and meaningful activity for people. You know, we know that the frequency, when people lose that sense of, meaning in their life or, or ability to, to feel valued that, often they age very quickly and, don’t fair as well in terms of emotional and physical health.

Now that’s not to say that it’s only the work that defines us, right? you know, the body mind spirit, takes many forms. And I think that the more varied kind of experience we have, then the, broader ways we can feel satisfied and feel, a sense of, of getting some, nurturance from what we’re doing in life.

You know, one of the things I really wanted to do was go back and do my masters of social work and to re-engage with that social justice piece, as the mature adult, from a different perspective than, you know, a young person who’s doing more street level activism and protesting, wanting to do it from this place of, you know, sort of privilege of having some education and some awareness and, little bit more experience in the world with systems.

So how, how do I make, uh, how can I make use of everything that I have now, and still address the negative inequity as we’ve talked about. And support younger people coming up as well and mentor them. And then my work in, psychotherapy and, and, uh, working towards transformation and healing and looking at, moving out of the box, some of the more sort of traditional modalities, but working in a way that is more intuitive and body centered, I’m less concerned about sort of the, evidence-based more traditional recognition, but being able to be more flexible and look at, uh, alternative experiences, like for instance, psychedelic integration with, therapy.

Gissele: [00:46:59] Yeah, for sure.

Thank you for mentioning systems you know, you and I have worked in different systems and could see the benefit of how compassion could be integrated. I’m wondering how compassion could have been integrated in terms of your journey with the medical system.

Kosu: [00:47:15] Yeah, so I work, I’ve worked in healthcare in hospitals for most of my career over the last 20 years. And so I have the benefit of multiple perspectives. So as an insider, as a staff person, of course my journey as a patient and in my journey with cancer, it was the first time I’d ever been significantly ill and really had to make use of hospital resources.

So I remember going in for my first MRIs and just being taken aback at the sophistication of equipment that was available. That was very quickly available to me, gratefulness of, of being in a country with national health care, where I didn’t have to worry about the cost attached and so I think that the journey is, we’re part of a system.

And yet we are all individuals within a system as well. And so a lot of the experience is framed through the lens that we bring. That doesn’t mean that they’re not structural issues. And one of the, the long standing and ongoing issues, I believe in cancer care is that, you know, people are going through treatment, have to go to a lot of appointments, whether it’s going through the chemo or radiation, as well as the regular ongoing, appointments with your care providers.

And, and often they’re long waits. And there are, these are busy clinics and the way the scheduling works, there are often very long wait. I remember when I was doing, I was doing my chemo treatments at princess Margaret hospital in Toronto. And, they would give you a, it’s like a little pager that they would, so you could go, you could go off site and then you would be paged when your time came up to have, uh, the infusion, which I thought was brilliant.

I go down the street to winners and go shopping. So when I think about compassion, I think that as a healthcare provider, I know, I know that the stress that people working within healthcare system face, and I know that, the ideology that, that brings people generally into those kinds of profession is one that’s based on compassion and care.

Gissele: [00:49:33] Mmhmm.

Kosu: [00:49:34] and so the human touch that I experienced as I, in the early days, I went for biopsy. And then, ultrasound and technicians are not allowed to give you your results. It has to come from the doctor, but in subtle and nuanced ways. I felt that the, the technicians were they were trying to prepare me and what they saw was compelling enough that I could almost feel their desire to want to cushion what was going to come.

And so by the time I got the actual diagnosis, I mean, I, I knew I already knew. And I think that those very human encounters that happen. I after my treatment was finished, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. One of my doctors at princess Margaret. And, again, the, the clinic was busy.

The wait was long, and my patience had reached its limit. And so I went to the receptionist, said I’m not staying, no longer held hostage by the need to be here for a treatment. And I’m done I’m outta here. And that oncologist, who I remember by name Dr.

Natasha Leighl at princess Margaret, I don’t know if she’s still there. She sent me a handwritten note of apology, and I have never forgotten that. I haven’t forgotten that on a personal level,  in terms of how touched I was, but also as I continued in my own career in healthcare and, and as I’ve encountered patients, and as well as, as staff struggling with in their own moments of challenge, I’ve never forgotten what a difference that made that she saw me. I hear your frustration and I’m helpless with this, but,

Gissele: [00:51:37] Mmhmm.

Kosu: [00:51:38] But I want to acknowledge that I’m part of the system and I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. It was, very, very beautiful.

Gissele: [00:51:45] It’s amazing, sometimes, it’s very small things, right?

It’s small things that have a significant impact when my son was going through a journey where he was not terribly, well, I remember going to McMaster children’s hospital I was beside myself and I was like, you know, I’m not leaving until my son sees a gastroenterologist.

And I kind of like you yourself said enough. I, I’m, you know, I’m here. Somebody is going to help me do something. And I remember this one doctor who came and held my hand, and he answered all my questions and he just sat with me as if I was the only person in the world. And he’s like, what do you want to know?

And he went through everything and I always remembered that. And I remember getting much later or a review, like, you know, when they give you those questionnaires in terms of how was your care? I wrote pages and pages about how that impact that. And it wasn’t long that he sat with me, but it was enough to see my suffering.

So, what you said is so important.  What would you like to share with the audience that you’re working on before we conclude our beautiful, beautiful conversation?

Kosu: [00:52:46] Yeah, I, um, well I think, our discussion around wanting to connect, it was sort of coming back to ancestral.

Connections is really impacting me these days. So for me, part of that, that history is having been involved with child welfare and this desire to look at supporting. Young adults as they are aging out of the system. And this whole idea of developmental trauma. I focus in on trauma in my, my psychotherapy practice.

And in particular, I’m really drawn to working around this complex developmental trauma. Because I’m excited by the fact that with the, our understanding now of, sematically oriented kinds of therapies to reprocess embedded memories in the body, that that healing is possible.

And I would like to contribute to healing, which is a kind of a liberation and to people who like myself experienced significant trauma as, as young children, early in life.  who had no control at the time to be able to avoid that and yet can heal those wounds. I do believe trauma can be healed and then have the possibility to experience rich, full and meaningful lives.

So that’s a very big piece of my focus right now in my work I’ve been working for the last couple of years with Gabor Mate he has developed a training program based on his own approach to trauma-based therapy called compassionate inquiry. And so I have been involved with that training and I’m going to continue on in that community and doing work, using that framework as I move forward.

So my, my it’s interesting, my, my spiritual journey, which, you know, came out, many people came in at a more sort of a more structured traditional form is now moving increasingly has been on this trajectory. It feels like it’s a much more open and connected with the, you know, the vibrancy of, of, of being alive now in this body, you know, in this place.

And, uh, and, and just really celebrating that and, and wanting, wanting for all of us to be able to be liberated, to really be alive together. I feel like that, that, that is my, my, my mission.

Gissele: [00:55:41] thank you so much. Thank you for sharing all of your experiences as well. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Kosu: [00:55:49] Thank you. My friend. Lovely. To be able to be here and be part of this, this wonderful thing. You’re creating this wonderful space, this wonderful, opportunity for community that is just so valuable and so close to my heart.

So, I feel that this was a definitely heart to heart, soul to soul conversation. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Gissele: [00:56:18] And thank you to those who tuned in to listen to us. If you would like transcripts of this conversation, they’re available on our website.

Www.maitricentre.com/blog. Thanks friend. See you soon.

Kosu: [00:56:32] Thank you, thank you.

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