Elizabeth and I sat down recently and decided on this: we will not allow my disease to consume our lives. Practically, this means that we will attend to this cancer in those times and in those hours when we must. The rest of the time, we will try in every way to spend our days living as richly and fully as possible.
It’s the antidote to having your life taken over by your malady. In the course of trying to manage everything from physician and medical testing appointments to the multifarious effects of chemotherapy on my body and on our lives, we’ve noticed that it’s easy to start thinking of yourself and your relationship as if you were the disease, as if you are your cancer. That is something we have decided to resist with all our might.
The strategy is a simple one: first, do what you must to feel better: insist on getting that nap, attend to that rash, take that walk, even when you’d rather not. Then, get up and get out. Plan on doing one special thing together each day. In the past few summer days, we’ve attended concerts featuring Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Hayden’s Seven Last Words of Christ and the music of the Beatles. We’ve been out with friends at ‘from farm to table’ dinners, at favorite diners and at iconic Downeast restaurants. We have staged a number of art gallery crawls and I spent a morning recently, courtesy of kind friends, learning to fly fish. Family visits in the coming weeks are something we anticipate with joy.
Elizabeth and I are also looking forward to my serving as chaplain on a Christmas cruise from San Diego to Hawaii and Mexico this December and January. After we return from visiting family on the West Coast, I can expect to go back to managing a new round of chemotherapy beginning in February. That’s our horizon for now, looking about six months ahead. My oncologist and we agree above all on this, however: always having something to look forward to is a healing encouragement to both body and soul.
One other practice that keeps me out of the “poor me, I’m so sick” mode is making sure I’ve taken my daily dose from the biblical book of Psalms. In the morning, I read through a psalm until I find a phrase that resonates in my heart. Today’s versicle, for example, is “Sing to to the Lord a new song, sing [with] all the earth.” (Psalm 96) I ‘learn by heart‘ the short passage and carry it with me into the day, repeating it from time to time as often as I remember to. In the evening as the light is falling, I sit for a few moments with that day’s antiphon and quietly give thanks, ask forgiveness and cultivate hope.
Is this what I should be doing, is this the way I should be looking at my life just now? I think so: I feel strong enough to be future-oriented while being grounded in the present moment. I’m grateful for the time I’ve been given and hopeful about what still lies ahead. Things to be thankful for and things to look forward to — while managing the cancer when you have to — that’s what keeps us going and growing these days.
© Edward R. Dufresne 2019