Cancer survivor Ruth Bachman raises money by inspiring others
Ruth Bachman had never been afraid of public speaking. In her roles as educator, travel guide, and volunteer coordinator, she’d spoken to dozens of groups and organizations.
But her speech before a University of Minnesota audience in 2004 differed from any she’d given in the past. This time, she was telling her personal story — about how she lost her left hand and how the experience changed her.
That story began a year and a half earlier, when Bachman noticed a soft, painless lump on her left wrist. After an MRI revealed a six-inch mass hand to forearm, Bachman’s doctor referred her to Denis Clohisy, M.D., a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Minnesota and Masonic Cancer Center researcher. He performed a biopsy and diagnosed an aggressive soft tissue sarcoma, an uncommon cancer that affects connective and supportive tissues.
Because of the risk that the cancer would spread rapidly to the rest of her body, Clohisy recommended treatment that included chemotherapy and then amputation of her hand and part of her forearm. As a lefty, Bachman couldn’t imagine how she would cook, write, do yoga, and accomplish the innumerable other tasks of everyday life. Still, faced with a drastic alternative — death — she had the surgery, in June 2003. Within a year, she was cooking, writing, practicing yoga, and doing strength training using a prosthetic device of her own design.
The narrow spot in the hourglass
Bachman felt grateful to be alive and thankful for the care she received from Clohisy. “I always felt like I was his only patient,” she says. “I never felt rushed. He answered every question.
“After receiving remarkable, skillful, compassionate care, I went to Denis and said, ‘What can I do to help the Masonic Cancer Center?’” He invited her to join the center’s Community Advisory Board and put her well-honed speaking skills to use. One of her first audiences was a group of estate lawyers.
Speaking of healing Cancer survivor Ruth Bachman raises money by inspiring others “I silenced a roomful of estate lawyers, which I’m told is quite rare,” Bachman recalls. She knew she was onto something.
She’d begun to view her cancer as the “narrow spot in an hourglass.” Like the sand at the bottom, she had emerged from the experience the same person, differently arranged. She used the metaphor to refine her speaking themes: confronting fear, being transformed by the narrow spots, relying on faith and a sense of humor.
Practices such as yoga and meditation helped her move through the fears and uncertainty of cancer. During her cancer treatment, she’d attended a workshop on mindfulness-based stress reduction at the University’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. Bachman believes both complementary and traditional approaches have a place in cancer treatment.
“I would not have been a person who would not have chemotherapy or surgery for cancer,” she says. “But I know that what I had in place in terms of mind-body-spirit awareness made a significant difference in my surviving and thriving.”
Speaking for a purpose
Bachman has brought her inspirational talks to a variety of business, community, and religious organizations. In a lightbulb moment last year, she decided to donate her speaking fees to the Masonic Cancer Center and the Center for Spirituality and Healing. Her goal for the “Hourglass Fund” is to raise $1 million for collaborative research on integrative cancer care.
“My goal in telling my story is to encourage and inspire others to live life — every day — experiencing all of life’s moments as they contribute to the authenticity we all long for,” Bachman writes in her blog. “Life is full of issues and challenges not of our choosing. What we do get to choose is our attitude and how we respond to those moments. That is where bravery shines.”
By Lee Engfer