Leaning Into it Once Again

Bad Luck Good Luck

I have been thinking about March 2020, when all hell broke loose, at least in Ottawa. Yet, that is when I received the wonderful gift of facilitating weekly webinars for Wellspring Alberta. All in-person programs ground to a sudden halt, and we went online. Four years later, I still do this wonderful work with wonderful people. How fortunate! I am blown away when I think of how the Wellspring staff and program leaders “leaned in” to that new reality and transitioned overnight.

What was an emergency intervention has become a beloved and vital part of the Wellspring Community, with many unexpected benefits for its members.

And because I have a mind that looks at dates, patterns, and memories, I remembered an article I wrote back in 2008 called Leaning Into It.  The timeline goes like this. Sixteen years ago this week, I began my first round of chemotherapy at 61.  Sixteen years before that, I learned to ski in Switzerland at 45.  Learning to ski at the age of 45 gave me an approach to my cancer diagnosis and treatment that I called “leaning into it.” On a magnificent slope in the Swiss Alps, with blue sky and the best snow in 50 years, I was an eager and reluctant novice skier (yes, we can indeed be many things at once) Often shaking with fear, and tears streaming down my face, my spouse and ski instructor gave me advice that served me well then, served me during cancer and is serving me well now as I am well into my late 70’s – lean into it, he kept saying. You will have more control if you lean into it.

Lean Into It

When you learn to ski at 45 the fear factor is high. I would watch three year old Swiss children barrelling down the mountain while I stood frozen to the spot. My natural reaction when I got scared was to pull back and what happened, as all skiers know, my speed would increase and I would lose control and crash. Learning to lean into the mountain and staying over my boots slowed me down and gave me a modicum of control. And so I learned by falling down and getting up again and again so that by the end of the season I was even able to make perfect eights in my instructor’s tracks.

When I received a different “winter shock” in January of 2008 – another sixteen years had passed. When I learned I had cancer my first reaction was to pull back. The fear factor was high and my entire life spun out of control. All of a sudden, there was a steep learning curve rather than a steep slope, and this time the vocabulary consisted of words and terms like “grade of tumour” not to be confused with “stage,” mastectomy, risk of recurrence, bone scans, MRI, ultra-sounds, Her2, ER and PR and yes, the dreaded chemo. All of a sudden, I went from rarely seeing a Doctor to having several and armed with copies of reports and tons of literature; it occurred to me that since I was setting out on a new, unexpected, and even dangerous journey my best bet (for me) was to “lean into it.”

Looking Back

Looking back, however, I chose to  “blog” it out rather than slog it out.  Every day, I got up, posted a photo, and wrote a short post about what I was learning and what was still working, surprisingly well. I intended to post for 100 days to help myself and, hopefully, others living with illness might find some encouraging words,  humour,  beauty, and quiet space., along with the challenges of cancer, in particular.  And as I became adept, perhaps links to other wonderful and glorious sites.

Patti Digh inspired me at 37 Days and my friend Patricia Ryan Madson at Improv Wisdom to take up blogging. When you get a cancer diagnosis it is not a death sentence but it is a reminder that all of our days are numbered. Patti Digh asks, what would you do if you only had 37 days to live since one day that will be true for all of us?

With that in mind, I began writing a 100-day blog primarily for my children and grandchildren and, of course, for the rest of my amazing family, friends and colleagues and members at Wellspring. Writing down what matters. Weaving that golden thread through it all so that they will have something to pick up and move forward with, and so that I would not lose track of where I had been and where I want to go.

The End Zone

Now, I have entered a new terrain of life in the end zone. I like that expression from a palliative care physician at Harvard – Dr. Muriel Gillick, And I am “leaning into it” even now as I write after the passage of another sixteen years.

Two  important points in one of her  blog posts, which fit with my experience:

“Without regular exercise, Jane Brody opines, “you can expect to experience a loss of muscle strength and endurance, coordination and balance, flexibility and mobility, bone strength and cardiovascular and respiratory function.”  Translated into geriatric lingo, what she is saying is that to preserve function, the ability to walk, to do errands, even to dress and bathe without help, regular exercise is important.” Jane Brody on her 80th birthday, quoted in “The End Zone.

The idea of successful aging has been the subject of both intense criticism and passionate enthusiasm. One problem is that we all want to lead a “good life,” but we may have very different ideas of what that looks like. Sometimes, what we think we need for a good life turns out not to be what we need at all: people who have a life-altering medical condition, whether Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may wish they hadn’t developed that disorder but find that they are nonetheless able to lead rich, enjoyable lives. Dr Muriel Gillick in her early 70’s

Still, I find it a learning curve because I am fully aware that I am not 77 with a 50-year-old body and excess energy, no matter what the ads imply. Furthurmore, I am learning to treasure the quiet spaces. I no longer want to be on the go all the time, and I find my interests gravitate more to the contemplative life: nature, poetry, beauty, friends and family  and zentangles. And, of course, my webinars and blog. I feel so very fortunate to be able to do these things that I love. Plus, learning to let go of things I no longer want or need.

A new Country

This, too, is a new country, and we can learn to navigate it one step at a time. It helps to pay close attention to what enhances our daily lives and what detracts from them. We then learn what to do more of and what to do less of.
These are just a few musings as we come to the close of March. Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. See you next week. For those of you who celebrate Easter, may you have a lovely weekend.  Warmly, Trudy

Notes

1:) There was an interesting interview on CBC this week for those who may be interested in a provocative and important conversation about common sense oncology and why some people choose to end cancer treatment. If this sounds like something you don’t want to listen to, please don’t. Common Sense Oncology

 

 

 

 

8 replies
  1. Val Proffitt
    Val Proffitt says:

    Heartfelt thanks and a deep bow. Your thoughts and the interview on Common Sense Oncology are so very healing. I could not have put into words what it is that I needed until this gift.

    Reply
  2. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Bless you for all of this Trudy.
    Although I know, you’re not a mind reader, sometimes you seem to tell me exactly what I need to hear. Just like this post!!

    Reply
  3. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    You are such a fine example of leaning into life dear Trudy, and your learning to ski metaphor for learning to navigate your cancer journey is so perfect. I heard Matt’s interview with Alicia and found it instructive and moving. Glad to be in the end zone with you m’dear! xoxoxox

    Reply
    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      thank you dear Janice. The end zone has many benefits and wonderful possibilities. Happy to have your company too. Hugs, Trudy

      Reply

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