Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim and Others
When January 2015 emerged out from under the promise of New Year’s Eve resolutions, I knew I would be travelling a good part of the year and possibly into 2016. What I didn’t know was that the trip I was about to take would see me travelling along a circuitous highway of appointments, diagnoses, specialists, opinions, treatment options, definitive prognoses and life expectancy and reoccurrence percentages, and finally stages of recovery traversing over eighteen months or more.
People plan trips of a lifetime with detailed itineraries and romantic getaways stretching their budget, their commitment, and their stamina. Our adventure morphed into a trip for life with no map, no guide book, and luxurious lingerie of mouth guards, silicon scar repair bandages, and compression headgear to woo the romance out of any partnership. And yes it has stretched our budget, commitment, and stamina. 2015 has been a year to remember and we’re only halfway out of the gate.
I’ve experienced every emotion possible and just when I think I’ve disembarked from the roller coaster, I find out I bought another ticket and the ride starts all over again. I’ve lost weight and then put on some pounds but just when I’m starting to eat somewhat like the rest of the population of lovers of plant-based cuisine, my second round of treatment burns the inside of my mouth, numbs my taste buds, relegates me to bland pureed mush, and off comes the weight once again. This is one diet plan for which I’m not recommending nor providing recipes. All the while I wonder why do people insist on posting pictures of what they are eating on Facebook?
I’ve seen sights I never imagined I’d see in my lifetime. I also never expected the tourist attraction to be me. I do get that it is curious to see what a reconstructed tongue fabricated from the skin of one’s arm looks like. The miraculous ability of surgeons to manufacture a tongue from the skin of an appendage and then patch the graph from the skin of a thigh is wondrous and very futuristic. And to literally cut a person open from one ear to the other carving along the crease lines in order to remove 86 lymph nodes looks murderously bizarre. And yet I have lived to tell about it, though I now have souvenirs that I get to carry around with me, forever. I’ll always be reminded of this trip for life.
My constant companion and tour guide has been my devoted loving partner of 37 years. He keeps looking for a copy of The Lonely Planet on Cancer hoping there will be tips on maneuvering one’s emotions, self care side trip suggestions, and learning a new language of doctor/nurse jargon-speak. I wonder if my absolute reliance on this one individual is crippling his retirement goals. I also question if perhaps I’ve lost my independence and subjugated him to a role of lifetime caregiver, far ahead of what we thought were our advancing years. Let’s face it; neither of us pictured this to be the road to retirement bliss.
In all of this, I’ve had to look upon this next year and a half of travel as merely that. I am on a trip. I would have preferred some exotic locales, but the sterility and predictability of doctors’ offices, hospital surgical wards, and BC Cancer Agency radiation treatment rooms have their own variety of exoticism. While receiving radiation, I’m encased in a prefabricated cage of my likeness, fastened to the table that holds me taut while cosmic rays of love bombard my cells – both cancerous and healthy. In theory, there are no cancerous cells, seeing I already had the tumours removed. Precautionary approaches supersede logic at times when the high reoccurrence rates of this kind of cancer are recited.
Sometimes when people are on extended vacations they consider changing their whole lives so that they meld more with their holiday lifestyle. Some completely uproot and decide to live in a new country, give up their possessions, and adopt a more spiritual approach to life. Our trip has altered our lifestyle considerably. We are now back in a city we spent 30 years in previously. We rent a one-bedroom apartment. We have very few possessions from our former life. And I have viewed this health opportunity as a way to explore my spiritual side. There is something about being faced with a life threatening illness that causes one to contemplate, what it’s all about, what has it been about, and what is it about from this point moving forward. As with all trips, you don’t know the final destination until you get there.
My ticket to ride is a daily meditation practice. I know this is not revolutionary and something that many of you who are reading this blog have been doing for years. But as a novice I am exploring a whole new subdivision of thinking, or non-thinking. For years I would attempt to meditate. There was nothing that could still me long enough to make silence a daily habit, let alone an infrequent visitor. But when fear was overtaking me, I knew I needed to call upon some thing greater than myself to bring me a sense of calm and empowerment.
My biggest mistake in seeking mediation as a healing practice was to believe I could shrink my tumour simply by willing it away, along with four ounces of wheatgrass a day. Don’t we all want to be the ‘miracle’ – that one person who was able to reverse his or her disease? I’ve since realized it takes much more than visualization. There is a whole host of approaches and mindsets and emotions and beliefs and sense of being that govern our life. And even when we think we have figured it all out, there is still more to learn and sometimes not enough time, in this realm, in which to do it.
The harsh reality is that some people pass, despite all their healthy eating and living and realizations and understandings. None of us wants to believe it will be us, but the nearer one comes to the inevitable, the clearer the rules of engagement become. Live as you’ve been living and the end of the line will be your next stop. Wake up to some realities and your passport will be stamped and your visa extended for a while longer. Not to say I’m living on borrowed time, but I now know I have an opportunity to take the slow boat and cruise through some canals, sit more on the deck and watch the sun set, be governed by the clock less and listen to those around me more.
So how am I doing on this trip for life? Learning. I’ve been told I’m a ‘quick study’ – some days not so much when it comes to confronting my lifelong demons. Part of my writing is a way to declare I am intending to change/I am changing/I am holding myself accountable to my declarations. So in a word – evolving. And that’s what trips for a life are all about. When we returned from three weeks in France 10 years ago, we cancelled our cable, walked everywhere, and shopped at the local outdoor markets. When we returned from two months in Bali we had a richer and more profound appreciation for a simpler/slower/more spiritual relationship with our surroundings. After a two-week stint in hospital I was overwhelmingly appreciative of life, in fact happier than I’ve ever been.
So what are my takeaways? In no particular order:
- Appreciate more/complain less.
- Laugh longer and louder and more often.
- Take yourself less seriously.
- Shed a few pounds – body weight, emotional weight, destructive relationships, and superfluous possessions – anything that weighs you down.
- Walk/swim/practice yoga/run/cycle/hike/dance – in a word MOVE.
- Be mindful of what you consume – does it maintain and enrich your health and wellbeing or just sustain dis-ease?
- Reach out to others – people truly do want to be of service and to receive your love and kindness.
- Find a creative outlet – some thing that enriches your soul and gives your heart flight.
- Give yourself moments of silence everyday – unplugged, disconnected, wholly devoted to YOU.
- Have no regrets.
- Be amazed. There is so much wonder to behold in this life.
- Live. Anew. Everyday.