Hugs Are Important for Cancer Survivors

March 26, 2021
Jane Biehl Ph.D.
Jane Biehl Ph.D.

Jane is a ten-year survivor of a very rare form of cancer Myelodysplastic Syndrome. She has enjoyed several exciting careers including a librarian, counselor, teacher, and writer. She loves to write about surviving cancer, overcoming hearing loss, and her hearing ear service dog, Sita.

A cancer survivor yearns for the “touch starvation” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. She writes about how just one hug can make a huge difference for people.

I never cease to be amazed at the long arm that extends from CURE® readers to readers across the United States and the world. Here, I share a fantastic example.

I have written several articles throughout the past few years on the importance of touch, with my most recent one being, “The Loss of a Healing Touch During COVID-19.” This describes how difficult it is for staff treating cancer survivors not to be able to touch or hug their patients undergoing treatment.

Recently, I was contacted by a wonderful musician about a fantastic video on the absence of touch because of COVID-19; and the rejoicing when we can touch again. The video is called “George and Greta,” and the lyrics and music are produced by Katie McGrath and Rick Jensen. It is written to anticipate the end of the “other pandemic,” which they call “touch starvation.”

This video is based on a LIFE magazine cover featuring a young sailor, George Mendonsa, who embraces and kisses a total stranger, who is a nurse named Greta Zimmer. They are in Times Square celebrating the coveted end of World War II. A chance photograph made its way into the history books. Tears filled my eyes as I saw the natural hugging of two strangers, and I hope this happens again.

Katie then asked me to write a paragraph on touch for the release of the video. This is what I wrote:

“Human beings basically survive with five senses: hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell. The loss of one of these senses means the other ones compensate such as in people who experience vision or hearing loss sharpening the remaining sense. Touch is the connection with other human beings. Honestly, there is nothing to say when someone has been diagnosed with cancer, lost a loved one, or has their home destroyed. A hug can give that message that another human being cares. During COVID-19, many people have missed this immensely. We should never underestimate a hug, putting our hands on top of another person, or a pat on the shoulder. It is what connects us and is the most basic of the senses.”

I want to add that we do not have another sense that can compensate for touch, and that is why it is so important.

But the story gets even better. Katie contacted me about a nonprofit organization called Music on the Inside, or MOTI. Their mission is to bring music classes to prisons in New York, but due to COVID-19 concerns they’re unable to do it. For now, every Sunday night a free concert is produced (although of course donations are always welcome). What is so unique is that these artists are comprised of groups of formerly incarcerated people who used music to get them through some tough times. Now that they are out of prison, they have joined with other musicians to produce these uplifting concerts. All proceeds from the donations go to MOTI. I end up swaying to the music.

Across the U.S., musicians are helping one another through a wonderful program. I was especially intrigued because my service dog was trained in the prison program, and she changed the handler’s life by teaching him unconditional love.

I cannot wait to hug again. I have received my second vaccination and the chance to touch someone will be here soon. I would love to embrace someone in the street but that just might get me into trouble today. However, I can hug relatives, friends and people I love. “Touch starvation” will be over and we can celebrate again. I think that is why we have been so attached to our pets because they are safe to touch.

There are two important themes for both cancer survivors and the rest of the world. We never know how one article, one word or even one hug can affect other people. The idea of Katie reading my article, reaching out, sending me the video, writing the release, and then introducing me to this wonderful musical group is much more than coincidence. The story began with a simple article and ended up with musicians reaching out to each other. It demonstrates how we are all interconnected and can influence each other.

The second idea is the power of a hug. The author, Ann Hood, said it best: “I have learned there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words.”

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