Do you remember the days as a young kid when you went back to school after the summer holiday, and one of the first assignments would be to write a short story on "what you did this summer"? Well, with the summer of 2010 now officially over, it’s something I started thinking about. "What DID I do this summer"? I would like to think … I made lemonade.
Of course, it's a metaphor and it certainly wasn't quite easy as that -- far from it. However, thankfully and surprisingly, I can say there ARE some positive things to come from this journey -- some things I have embraced, and am extremely grateful for. I feel I need to explain but just don't know how.
I'm not, in anyway, applauding this disease, but it has forced me to travel across a bridge that I have never crossed before. I have opened my eyes to things that one typically experiences from a comfortably safe distance. We all assume that situations like this happen to "someone else." Well this past summer I became the ‘someone else’, and perhaps you, reading this right now, have too.
Admittedly, each person, each patient, each outcome is unique. Regardless, for me, it's very important to focus on the fact that no matter what situation you're dealing with there is always something that will echo, at the very least, a feeling of comfort. No matter how small the triumph or victory, search for it and celebrate it. I don't believe there are rules to healing. Simply do what makes you feel good. Over the last several months, I have tried to do just that. In a small way it was a blessing to recover in the warm summer sun, resting in my own backyard, (something that would certainly not be possible had this all occurred in November). I also discovered and now rely on, a previously unknown pleasure -- writing. This blog has been somewhat therapeutic, and more rewarding than I would have ever imagined. I chose to share my journey with the hope of, perhaps, helping someone in some small way. As it turns out, you have helped me.
My journey is not over yet, who knows if it will really ever be over. That's why I've come to praise even the slightest sense of "normalcy." For example, I recently wrapped up a couple of relaxing days with my dog-in-law, Casey. (Animal lovers, you know, pets are family too.) She's a Rhodesian Ridgeback and Labrador-mix, a kind-spirited dog belonging to my wife's family who live near Stratford, in rural Ontario.
Heading to the rural rendezvous is always a nice escape. Lately it tends to nurture moments of reflection. This wasn't an intentional quest, but there's no doubt, it's awfully beneficial. Farm country always offers a refreshing new landscape, lingering barn smells not withstanding, with very little distraction, unlike the city. There are no congested exhaust-filled intersections, no traffic at all really, no coffee shop on every corner, no large crowds, no jet planes roaring above. What you get instead, a somewhat soothing calm that wraps you up like a blanket. On this visit I took Casey out for a long walk -- a rural afternoon adventure down a gravel road to, well, we weren't sure -- it was an adventure after all.
Casey loves walking, even though she has dozens of acres of her very own to play on. She is always excited to explore new territory. Her nose, no doubt, goes into overdrive as she picks up a Mandarin buffet-sized variety of smells. So off we went along this almost deserted road where there are rows and rows of corn growing. I could not help but notice the 2-metre high stocks doing what looked like a dance from the gentle fall breeze. They rustled and swayed in unison, like a carefully choreographed performance. I'm thankful that I am able to acknowledge something as simple as this.
I suppose anyone who deals with a journey similar to mine can't help but think of their mortality. It's probably something we all, on a rare occasion give thought to, but it becomes a little more front and centre when an illness enters the picture. It sounds cliché, but it really is true -- you do appreciate things more, even something like a countryside walk along a field of corn. I know that sounds silly, but I think it's a wonderful thing. Maybe its the fresh country air, the different sounds and smells, they wake up your senses -- kind of a "I'm still here and you know what -- I'm doing okay" sort of thing.
With all the scheduled treatments now finally over and the side effects slowly waning, it's time for me now to try and concentrate on the next chapter. It’s hard though, because there is an expectation that you will get this immediate seal of "healthiness" from the doctors when treatment ends. They don't tend to do that right away, especially with c_n_er. That, of course, only feeds your anxiety metre. You now become acutely aware of every imperfection that your body exhibits. For a moment or two, in your mind, everything and anything feels like it’s a part of the next shoe to drop. From minor aches, to sniffles and even, what's that? -- heaven forbid -- (insert dramatic music here), is that a new potentially dangerous mole? It's all apart of the "what if?" phase. "What if the treatment didn't work? What if it comes back? What if my life will never really be normal again?" I'm hoping and praying it will be, while trying to keep things in perspective. I never lose sight of the fact that, despite my diagnosis,
I am indeed still very lucky. I know that, and will always be grateful for it.
Back to our walk, with the gravel under our feet, I noticed an occasional small pocket of dust trailing behind us as we continue our countryside stroll. We were about 3 km down the road when Casey froze and started to growl. Her eyes locked onto a herd of cattle on one of the neighbours' farms. The larger ones stood motionless while the calves quickly ran behind their mothers. I remember once a farmer telling me during a school field trip to the Royal Winter Fair, that cows actually don't mooo -- rather the sound they make mimics more of a "low." Hmmm, this was too tempting for this city slicker, how often do you get to pretend you're a Cow Whisperer (and with no witnesses)? So, after calming Casey down, I cupped my mouth in an effort to project more loudly and tested out the theory. "Looooooooooooooooowww".
While I'm sure you're thinking at this point, the weather weenie has lost it, I proceeded to call a few more times and guess what, my friends? The team of ¼-pounders (I'm talking over a dozen) then trotted intensely to the corner of the fence with extreme interest. Their attempt, or so I believe, was to get closer to the 2-legged Holstein and his four-legged, furry friend.
I wanted to approach the fence too, but Casey wouldn't have it. At this point I really didn't want to push it. So, taking a page from the Dog Whisperer, I snapped Casey's collar, and gently motioned to her. It was time to head back to where we started. As we wandered back toward the house, I realized that's the next phase of my journey... getting back to where I started... A day in the country does the body, and mind, good.
- Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow. - Dorothy Thompson