Yesterday Pete and I were having lunch at the Mall and the strangest thing happened….a woman at the next table came up to us to ask if I have cancer.
My initial thoughts were… I’m sure I don’t know this person!
I frantically wracked my brain trying to remember if I knew her from the cancer center, from my previous life as a recruitment consultant? Was she a family friend, a neighbour, did I know her from school, was she actually family??? (I don’t even joke – chemo brain is a real thing, Pete will attest to this)!
Within milliseconds the paranoia part of my brain really kicked in – had my expanders collapsed? Had my eyebrow (s) fallen onto the table? Was I emitting some kind of cancer odour? Then I remembered….I was wearing a giant beacon disguised as a headscarf around my head!
The terror must have shown on my face as she quickly added that she she was a cancer survivor and gave me a small beaded angel saying she carried these around with her handing them out to fellow fighters. That she was proof that you could survive and to really go on and live for each day….. I was beyond touched.
Some people may be a little offended by people coming up to them asking such a personal question, but I must say it was rather refreshing.
Many people I encounter avoid asking the question or attempt to avoid me altogether. Most either seem to not want to offend, or upset me (or themselves) or perhaps acknowledge their own immortality. But when your life has been so personally invaded by the realities of life and death, not to mention having your dignity physically and figuratively poked and prodded continuously; going up to someone you don’t know to give them some comfort and hope, doesn’t seem that difficult at all. I guess it may be the equivalent (and balance) of strangers going up to pregnant women and rubbing their tummies. At least we don’t rub each other’s bald heads 🙂 I guess it also may mean we are attracted to and more comfortable with potenial life than death.
So while I sit having chemo number 5 and the first of the new year, looking around at everyone here: men, women old and young of different religions and cultures; I wonder what more I can possibly do to offer similar encouragement? What could I possibly say or do for those sitting with drips in arms and ports, battles of life and death being fought right here on lazy boy chairs.
The realisation came quite quickly after listening vaguely to the conversations and silences happening around me. I realise that saying “the right things” is totally irrelevant, handing out tokens not neccessary. Acknowledging someone with a smile, meeting their eyes just for a second, treated them like the living and not brushing them over like the dead is the most important thing in the world for any wounded soldier.
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered…We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.” Elizabeth Edwards
“Why do we always begin to think about people when they die? I think we should think about people while they’re still alive! That way, they can know that we’re thinking about them! I always tell people when I’m thinking about them, or that I thought about them, or that I have been thinking about them and it almost always scares them away, but so what, I am practicing the art of life and if that is frightening to them then maybe they need to start living while they’re still alive!” C. JoyBell C
“The worst wounds, the deadliest of them, aren’t the ones people see on the outside. They’re the ones that make us bleed internally.” Sherrilyn Kenyon“
In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” Brennan Manning