After the winter shock of a cancer diagnosis, I soon discovered that I was now co-existing in my daily life with anxiety, fear, what if’s, and all manner of unknowns that come to pass when you are facing a serious illness.
As I went through examinations and tests of all kinds, keeping track of one appointment after the other, waiting for results that seemed interminable even if it was only a day, attending pre-surgery workshops, having the surgery and hoping that with surgery all will be well, I generally felt beat up. In fact there were many times I felt like a wreck.
On the other hand I was and am full of gratitude. A sense of how fortunate I am to have had my cancer found, by chance, in time to do something about it. How lucky I was to have had such an amazing GP who took skilful care on my first visit to him.
And then to have been moved through the system so efficiently, competently and tenderly, I might add, with amazing people like my surgeon and his clinical assistant Ann, who kindly kept me in the loop at every turn with the good, the bad and the ugly.
And the wellspring of support that came my way from colleagues, friends, family and people whom I barely new. I have been continually overwhelmed by the kindnesses and generosity of others. It is beyond words! So when people began asking me how I was doing, I would say, “on the worst days I am a joyful wreck.”
Soon, however, I began noticing that I was meeting many “joyful wrecks.” People living with chronic and life-threatening conditions, who were living fully, spreading joy, and contributing to the lives of others. These folks aren’t expecting to be cured. There is no cure for many at this time. But they are living every moment they have as well as possible. And they want to change how they are viewed. They don’t necessarily think of the model of recovery as the only answer, but that there are other answers about how to live within their continuing illness. “Suffering and loss are not incompatible with life,” are the words of Arthur Frank.
In fact, Dr. Art Frank whom I have mentioned in another post, writes "the ill and impaired may, in the sense of fulfilling life, be far more free than healthy people. The healthy require health as an affirmation that their will is still effective and they must continually prove this effectiveness. The ill accept their vulnerability as an affirmation that the world is perfect without any exercise of their will, and this acceptance is their freedom…we are free only when we no longer require health, however much we may prefer it."
Being a joyful wreck, at least how I see it, is appreciating all of the outstanding, loving and truly unexpected support that has come my way along with cancer. It is not forgetting to notice the ordinary everyday beautiful moments while still co-existing with the fears, uncertainty and real challenges that accompany serious illness. I now relish a perfect cup of coffee, on those days that coffee tastes like coffee again. I am even more aware of the way the light streams in the window at breakfast and I take delight in seeing the jack rabbit loping across the lawn and, yikes, there is a little baby rabbit too. I am fully aware of the extra information I get from Camellia, my oncology nurse, that helps to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy. And the postman. Did I mention my mail box? It is always full. I who love mail get mail every single day from friends and acquaintances far and near and I treasure every word they write. It gives me inspiration and courage.
I also notice and admire the courage and joie de vivre in those wonderful people I meet that have far more on their plate than I do. They inspire me. I see the vulnerability of everyday lives and life, my own and others, and like all joyful wrecks, we still put one foot in front of the other and say YES to it all.