When I was going through my cancer treatment I kept a blog called Joyful Wrecks. I decided on the name to illustrate my experience that although I would be looking for joyful moments, and working to create them, I recognized that there would also be moments when I felt shipwrecked.
At that time my granddaughter Sophie was two years old, she had a book that we both loved called Grumpy Bird. (by Jeremy Tankard) The book began like this:
When Bird woke up, he was grumpy
He was too grumpy to eat.
He was too grumpy to play.
In fact he was too grumpy to fly.
“Looks like I’m walking today,” said Bird.
One morning when I was feeling down I remembered the book and on that day when my spouse asked me how things were going I answered like this:
“Looks like I’m walking today”
What I loved about the metaphor, however, was that I could still walk (do something) just like Bird.
Part of being a joyful wreck was that there were and still are times when we all feel wrecked. I remember a time when my right arm was painful because of my “wrecked’ veins from multiple attempts to insert an IV. In fact, one of the chemo nurse’s looked at my veins and said, “I see we are doing what we do best around here, ruining veins.” And we both laughed.
It’s not always easy to co-exist with discomfort and still perceive that today is a precious gift, especially since we are conditioned to retreat from what we don’t like or fear. Yet it makes all the difference to the quality of our everyday life. Right now. In this minute.
There were times my arm hurt; I felt nauseated and I wished I felt differently. I wished I didn’t have cancer. Yet, I still woke up. How good was that! I got up on two wobbly legs. I sat down with my spouse and had a bowl of cereal with a sliced banana. The birch tree outside the dining room window was wearing a beautiful leafy green dress and the birds were singing. The air smelled sweet and had a quality of spring exuberance that was almost palpable. In that very moment life was perfect.
Dr. Morita told his patients, “When climbing a mountain you can give up a hundred times a day, but keep your feet pointed up hill.”
Living well with illness is not about consistently feeling great and simply overlooking the difficulties. It is about not falling in a hole, staying there and allowing your illness to define your life. It means not putting our lives on hold or wrapping ourselves in the cloak of victim mentality. That mentality says: “life is hopeless and I can do nothing.”
Living well with illness is about taking action, small steps, even when not in the mood. We keep our feet moving and pointed uphill.
In the midst of our illness, we’re finding funny stories, learning, resting, moving, creating, helping, questioning, weeping, smiling, loving, caring, showing up, saying yes, saying no, getting another opinion, getting things done, enjoying, appreciating, taking a nap, and finding meaning and purpose while we can. Come to think of it, this sounds like what everyone is doing, including those who don’t have cancer.
Why not live with outstretched arms? What do we have to lose? We are all going to die one day.
Why not use these living breathing moments to say YES to life! Discover your talents and cultivate them; remember your dreams and act on them; use your gifts to cheer another on. We never know our impact on the lives of others. We do know that when we live fully, we are more alive.
Trudy Boyle writes and facilitates workshops for people affected by cancer. Her work is based on Japanese Psychology and in particular the work of Dr. Jinroh Itami and his Meaningful Life Therapy program.
Keep on putting one foot in front of the other and notice the shoes that help us walk.