What boat you ask? Whose boat? The boat is a story all by itself. It began like this.
In my role as Program Development Manager at Wellspring Calgary I had arranged to train leaders to facilitate The Healing Journey for our members. The Healing Journey is an evidenced based multi-level program that was designed by Dr. Alastair Cunningham and offered at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), Toronto, Canada for the last 25 years.
Dr. Claire Edmonds and Dr. Cathy Phillips arrived from Toronto on January 16th to offer the two-day, train-the-trainer program and I also attended the workshop at their request. Just before noon on the last day of the program, January 18th, we were taken through a guided visualization. The purpose of this visualization was to find inside ourselves an image that we could call on to give us strength and help heal and sustain us.
Not being the “visualization” type (whatever that is) and not being sick I nonetheless wanted to give my best effort to cooperate with the spirit of the request. Claire and Cathy are great facilitators and we all had appreciated their skill and hospitality throughout our time together. I wanted to see what it might be like for a participant going through the program, so I followed the instructions, with my eyes closed.
Since I had no illness or ache or pain to work with I chose to picture the challenges and difficulties I had faced throughout my life. As I reflected on these events four words came to me. You Are Not Alone. I knew this to be true. For every hardship I had ever encountered someone or something, seen or unseen, was there to lend a hand, an encouraging word and even financial support. I had sometimes felt overwhelmed but never alone.
At this point in the exercise we were asked to open our eyes and draw a representation of our reflection on a transparency that we would show to each other after lunch. My image was crystal clear, and although artist I am not, I drew my image quickly and confidently. The drawing was done in a childish hand yet it was clearly discernable to me and later on to others.
I drew a red boat, a blue sky, a bright yellow sun behind and storm clouds ahead. My boat was something like a large wooden east coast skiff, the kind with ribs. I named it You Are Not Alone. I placed it in the river of life - perhaps a tributary, leading out to sea. I represented myself sitting in the middle of the boat, on a raised wooden bench, so I could see. I gave myself oars and I was doing my part, but clearly I was not doing it all by myself. My job was to give direction and to adjust to the prevailing winds. At the front, there was a "look-out" scanning the horizon, looking for dead-heads, with head turning now and then in my direction to see how I was doing.
I crammed my boat full of people of all ages and sizes- friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and even strangers who were always popping up to accompany me at various times on my life’s journey. I was thinking that in all kinds of weather I have always been supported and at that moment I felt a tap on my shoulder.
When I looked up it was shortly after twelve, my colleagues were wandering off to lunch, and Gottfried was standing there with a note.
"Dr. Cote wants you to call him on his cell phone,” he said.
“That sounds ominous,” I said.
“Oh no,” he said, “He just needs to ask you something.”
I went upstairs, placed that call and got the news.
“Trudy, I am very sorry; you have breast cancer,” said Dr. Cote.
After apologizing for telling me on the phone, he explained that he couldn’t wait to see me in person. This was Friday at noon and he had already booked a biopsy (I learned that certain cancerous tumours can be identified before the biopsy) for Monday and an appointment with the surgeon.
The shock of that winter telephone call felt that it resounded throughout the building. I was sure that anyone within earshot could see my chest pounding and hear the thump of my heart. I could hardly believe my own ears.
Timing is everything. The training I had helped provide for cancer patients was already kicking in. I had just reflected on what would help heal and sustain me and even had an image to focus on. And now I too was a cancer patient with my own healing journey about to begin.
I will never forget that day. As it turned out I was fortunate that Gottfried was with me when I got the message, and a dear friend was also there to help steady me in those turbulent moments. After lunch I returned to my group and when it came time to share my experience I told my story. I was in the company of fine people, kindred spirits, and I wanted them to know from me, and I wanted and needed their support.
Thanks to Gottfried and another good artist friend, I now have a painting of my red boat and blue sky on a large sheet of canvas in our home library. The blue sky is full of photos of friends and family that represent all of the helping hands in my life. The name of the boat is I AM NOT ALONE.
When I sit in front of my boat each morning, I am overcome with wonder and gratitude for the life I have been given and the on-going never failing support that is offered me each and everyday. With heartfelt thanks to all of you, Trudy
So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. Helen Keller