I drew open the curtains this morning to see a slight frost had nipped the rooftop. I breathed it in. I thanked God for the day. I had no pain.
“Good- morning, Stacey.” greeted Kevin with the coffee he made me in his hand.
Ah, Kevin. My favorite time of the day is when I see my husband of nearly 24 years now. It’s hard to believe we have been married for that long. “You’ll have to get up and at ’em quickly this morning if we are going to walk since I have to be to work early today.”
“Kevin – I have NO PAIN! I am so ready for a walk,” I spewed.
“That’s amazing, Stacey”, Kevin sighed with a much relieved exhale.
And off Kevin went to prepare for our morning walk.
I sat back down on my bed, wrapped my quilt around me to keep warm, and took a long sip of my coffee. The quilt, was one of two that my colleagues had made for me at the beginning of my journey with cancer. I imagined the quilters’ thoughts as they stitched the pieces together one by one. Each stitch, to me, represented a prayer, a wish, a quiet moment of contemplation. Each stitch, alone, was tiny and practical – but missed the big picture. It was only when all the stitches and pieces came together that the quilt was able to serve a greater purpose to warm the body and the spirit. The pieces of the quilt were like individuals in a community – a community that worked collectively for a single purpose. I thanked God for giving me the community of people I worked with at the Barrie Learning Centre – whose arms were symbolically wrapped around me every morning in support.
I breathed in the morning air. I thanked God once more. How was it possible that the drug that had caused me such excrutiating pain in previous administrations had no impact on me this time? Of course, being a person who prefers to use IQ before EQ, I had to find a logical reason. Knowing nothing, my logic was quite bereft. “Do I have no bone marrow left? Was it what I ate? Is it the weather?” And my thoughts went so on….
Beside me on the floor sat a gift bag in which there was a hand-knit pair of mittens and a beautiful hat. These gifts were hand-made for my neighbour and good friend, Barb, on the occasion of her 50th birthday. Really. It was Barb’s birthday and her sister knit ME a pair of mittens. Barb, of course, received a matching pair. These were the mitts that I would wear that morning. These mittens had been made with love and care for both Barb and I. They represented the web of community that had grown around Barb to support HER through MY illness.
I put the mittens on and breathed in their earthy newness. Back at me lashed a hint of garlic. It wasn’t from the mittens. It was the tapenade that I had eaten the night before. Colleen, a friend of my daughter Katya, had made me a bowl of that olive paste each time I had chemo. It was a bit of a tradition that had developed over the course of my cancer journey – one that seemed to promise good results for the chemo I received the next day. I had talked her into that notion as the tapenade was so delicious! Who knows – maybe it did help? Olive oil is supposed to be good for you – as are tomatoes. I think, though, the gesture and the effort were more nourishing than anything. How thoughtful to have remembered to make it and deliver it the day before chemo – EVERY time. My daughter’s friend and her family gave us their support and consequently – the power to heal.
I have always affirmed that cancer is more difficult on those who support than those who suffer. At least in my case. My path has always been well laid out: get better. I simply had to do what needed to be done and everyone else’s job was to enable my healing. Enabling is much more complex. There is the debate as to whether to “talk about things” or not, the question about what to do to show support, and the ultimate personal grieving that must happen. Cancer robs people of their innocence and that is something that must be grieved. It takes a very strong person to come to terms with a loved one who is battling cancer. It is not for the weak of heart.
Furthermore, if I didn’t get better, then those who watched had to suffer the consequences long after I was gone. They would need to create a life “after” me. They would need to “deal with” my clothes, my toothbrush, their memories. I remember experiencing these consequences after my parents passed away. Having been their care-giver for so many years, I also had the task of trying to figure out how to fill the hole that was creating when my responsibilities of care-giving for them were over. It was not easy.
Quilts, mittens, and tapenade: together they represent the undeniable power of community.
(Final quote inspired by a website, created by my colleagues and supported by my former students, to nominate me for an award! Check it out at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1568591453412739/?fref=nf)