Michael Eselun, BCC
As a chaplain, I bring a unique dimension to complement the myriad of professional services the Center offers—spiritual care. I’ve found that many folks have misconceptions about who or what a chaplain is and what a chaplain does, or even what the term “spiritual care” means. Many equate the term with religion and religious rituals or proselytizing, or presume that this is only a Christian minister’s role to other Christians. While a chaplain may be all those things, inter-faith spiritual care is not nearly so narrowly focused or limited in scope.
Increasingly I hear more and more folks say, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” I do believe there’s a difference between the two, and certainly there is an overlap as well. I would define spirituality as that which gives your life meaning… what makes you get up and face the day, makes life worth fighting for. For some that would be religious community or ritual or a relationship to God or a higher power, and for some it might be their family, their work or a good round of golf! And when we are in crisis, or disease has altered our relationship to that thing or our capacity to connect to it, whatever it is—well then, that becomes a spiritual crisis as well. Cancer not only invades the physical body but it can invade our spirit, our soul, our very identities, and the relationships that keep us connected to life or even to our sense of higher power or God.
I am here to offer support, to perhaps walk a short piece of that journey with you… patients, families, loved ones, caregivers. (And one needn’t be in crisis to have a little friendly support along the way!) I visit patients and families primarily at the Santa Monica clinics and at the treatment clinic in the 100 Med Plaza at UCLA. But I am also available for more private one-on-one support in person or over the phone. I also offer a popular monthly support group, Circle of Reflection at the Center. Each month we reflect on a different theme as we explore the spiritual journey that cancer has carved out for us. As a part of the Simms/Mann Center’s mission as a training site for future professionals, I serve as mentor and site coordinator for a chaplain intern as well.
Insights Into Cancer Lectures
I am a Board Certified Clinical Chaplain, under the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. I come to chaplaincy and to the Simms/Mann Center by a circuitous route indeed. I graduated with a BA in Design from UCLA in 1978 and have had a multi-faceted professional life. I completed a 2-year chaplaincy internship at UCLA Medical Center in 2003 (Clinical Pastoral Education) with a focus on hematology-oncology. In 2008 I was also accepted into the City of Hope/ACE Project – Course 3 (Advocating for Clinical Excellence-Transdisciplinary Palliative Care Education)—a multi-year, nationwide training initiative to improve the culture and effectiveness of palliative healthcare in the US.
As a young man, I had a 10-year career in as a professional dancer, and had a 20 year career as a self-employed interior designer/architect. Volunteering for a fledgling AIDS hospice project in 1991 sparked the beginning of the journey that led me to chaplaincy and to UCLA these many years later. After completing my chaplaincy internship at UCLA, I was the chaplain for a local hospice for two years before being hired by Santa Monica-UCLA Hospital to be the chaplain for the Palliative Care Program from 2005-2009. I also served as the chaplain for the Acute Adult Partial Hospitalization Program, at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA from 2003 to 2011. I served as the unit chaplain for the inpatient hematology-oncology unit at UCLA from 2003-2008.
Having served as the staff oncology chaplain at the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology since 2009, I am also highly regarded as a keynote speaker and speak extensively to healthcare professionals, patient populations and faith communities across the country about my work. I speak from deep personal experience while also sharing the experiences of my patients with vulnerability, insight and humor—making connections between seemingly disparate life journeys. I have given four of the Simms/Mann Insights into Cancer lectures over the years—you can find links to those videos on this website. Widely published in journals, I also have 2 TED talks available via YouTube.
Personal Interests /Perspectives
What might at first read like a disjointed resume, from where I stand now, mine looks instead like a more accurate depiction of life—as it is. Twists, turns, sudden drops, unexpected detours that lead to new places we never could have anticipated and certainly never aimed for. And along the way, crisis, sometimes devastation… and sometimes redemption and profound healing. A new understanding of who we are and what life is, what it all means. From what I’ve observed, that is an image of the cancer journey as well. My affinity for this work was really born out of my volunteer hospice work in the early days of the AIDS pandemic. That work demanded that one come to peace with unanswerable questions, while holding the space open for more exploration of what it all means. It also demands creating a safe and sacred place to tell one’s truth. These are hallmarks of my work as I see it.
Friendships and family (including animals) are like oxygen to me. As one of my mentors reminds me, “Relationships are primary, EVERYTHING else is derivative.” I swim every day and get cranky if I don’t. I still have the soul of a dancer and take dance class weekly. I am an avid theatergoer and would spend my last nickel on a trip to some exotic place.