Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Jake and me start out on our walk at 8:00 a.m. at least an hour later than I prefer. On day seven of a transit strike, the cars are already bumper-to-bumper and the sidewalks full of walkers. Still, it’s hovering around the freezing mark with no wind and the sky is blue. Good walking weather. More importantly, if I don’t walk when I get up, I’ll fritter around until a book calls my name or the phone rings and then suddenly, it’s late afternoon, Jake is still hanging in the closet and I’ve lost the will to leave the apartment.

Highlights of the morning: an orange tabby cat lolling on it’s back while a small toffee-colored boy in a snowsuit rubs his belly; a break in the over-development of my neighborhood – a patch of untouched woods with a stream running through it. I stand for a few minutes, listening to the water gurgle over rocks and under patches of ice. I pass a gray weathered wooden fence with a wild rose bush growing against it. A few rosehips, orange against gray, still cling to its’ branches. Small treasures.

Up until last Friday, I had been numb for a long time. The routine of travelling to the hospital every day was gone, I had no idea how successful (or not) treatment had been. Briefly, I felt relief that there was no more chemo or radiation to face, no more steroids, no more changing into Johnny shirts, sitting in waiting rooms.
But relief morphed into uncertainty. Uncertainty morphed into freezing in place. If I began to plan or do something creative, if I felt optimism, I would remember that the verdict wasn’t in. I couldn’t let myself hope because that sword of Damocles was still there, would always be there. If I’m happy, I thought, bad news will hammer me all the harder. And I balanced in the middle, still upright and walking around, but already gone from the world for all intents and purposes.

You can’t stay in that place. It’s change or die. And on Friday, at exactly 10:00 a.m., I looked around me and thought, Why am I still here? Where did my life go? Then I did the sensible thing – I forced myself to sleep. For most of the rest of the day. But I couldn’t sleep those terrifying questions off and in the evening, I cried for hours.

Wendy has this radar when it comes to me and she called, sensing that something was wrong. And I just didn’t have the will or strength to put on a brave face. Poor Wendy, her empathy levels are off the scale so when I’m feeling that low, she hits the bottom with me.

Saturday, Heather (with a word from Wendy about my current state) dragged me out of my vividly imagined coffin and drove me out to Peggy’s Cove. Peggy’s Cove is a wild place, all huge gray rocks and a 180 degree view of ocean. Long ago, glaciers deposited huge boulders sheered off at odd angles. They sit on barren, moss and scrub covered hills, perched like impossible, gravity-defying sentinels for miles around the fishing village. You can’t stay locked in your own head when you’re there. My mood began to shift from despair to a kind of empty quiet.

Sunday, I had lunch at the local with Jan – and we lingered for hours talking and drinking too much coffee. I called Wendy later and she said, “What if this was the last three weeks of your life? How would you want to spend it? Enjoying your friends and things you like to do or just giving in and thinking constantly, three more weeks?” She added, “I don’t mean to be flip.”

A simple thing like that, said at the right time, coming from someone who’s been where you are, makes a big difference.

More than 10 years ago, after grieving the breakup of my marriage for three long months, I decided, on my birthday, that grief and sadness was not where I wanted to live. This year, I did the same. And it takes enormous force of will to stay out of the dark places cancer leads you to in your life. 

But today I woke up a room full of flowers. Today is an orange tabby cat, delighted by a little boy. Today is rose hips defying gray.


Cynthia Newcomer Daniel said...

I'm so glad.

NEDbeads said...

I'm so glad, too. I'm so happy that the universe threw those out there for you; and that you were able to *see* them.

Howpublic said...

It's that "able to see them" thing that's the hard trick. All those treasures are always there - if you choose to see them. I constantly forget that you can actually choose to be happy. That it comes from in you and not outside...

Roberta said...

Freezing in place is oh so easy to do isn't it? I find when I do that I have to force myself to get up and go outside. No matter what the weather. it always seems to help. Not sure why. Maybe just the change of air in our lungs.........glad it helped. Whatever it takes to keep you moving....