“It’s like you are white – water rafting, Stacey. There are rapids surrounding you and it is difficult to stay afloat. It seems what you need is a little less white-water and a little more of some flat-water to just take a break right now.”
And she was so right. My therapist, Kelly, was right. She knew exactly how I felt. And that analogy gave me the insight I needed to understand where I was at. I have been in the rapids of cancer, paddling as fast as I can in an effort to gain some control or to slow down. I can’t. I end chemo and am thrown into a new drug regime that scares me. I know how my body responds to chemo, but I have no idea how it will respond to this new biological warfare. I just need to find some flat water so I can take time to process what it is that I just went through. I need time to learn from my experience so that I can be more prepared for the next set of rocks and waves: the doctors, the blood tests, the CT scans… And now that I have begun my new tests for “high risk” breast cancer, there are even more hurdles to jump. I need a paddle. I need a better life-jacket. I need some nice, smooth, flat water. I been in the rapids too long. I haven’t been able to grasp a moment to preserve it. I try. I pause when I see or feel something that is an “in the moment” kind of experience – but I just can’t quite grab it. I’ve been coursing down those rapids so quickly that I cannot seem to landmark the banks to see what they look like.
It was a perfect analogy. It was one with which I could relate. Many, many years ago before Kevin and I were married Kevin took me to the Petawawa River for a canoe ride. The river was high, the rapids fast, and the canoe very old. Not only was it old, it was made by a group of high school students and stored in a cottage for 20 some-odd years. I was young – I was in love – I didn’t question when Kevin suggested a canoe ride. My friend Mary, however, knew better. “Pack some dry clothes, Stacey, in case the canoe tips.”
That scared me, but not enough to stay off the river.
I had never canoed before. “Don’t worry, Stacey, I’ll do all the work”, said Kevin. “Just do what I tell you to do and you will be fine.”
I heard the rapids before I could see them. Their thunder made my heart race. I was nervous, but not willing to quite. I trusted Kevin. We pulled in beside the river and I saw how fast the water was moving. My heart beat faster. Into the water we set the canoe. I was shaking at this point – but didn’t want to show my fear. Not me. Not a young me in love. Our friends went down the river first. They were experts. They did some fancy paddling as their canoe raised high into the air and then down between the protruding rocks. They had control over their canoe – they were both working together. They backed into a safe spot along the shore and waited for us.
“No”, I replied.
Off we went anyhow. I was useless. Paddle in hand meant nothing as I didn’t even know how or where to hold it. But, we caught up with our friends. I had some breathing time. I recovered for a short while and had time to look further down river. It did not reassure me. There were more rapids and much, much more fast flowing water. I could go on about how the next set was more challenging and the canoe Kevin and I were in took on water and capsized. I could go on about how terrified I was floating down the river trying desperately to hook my foot on something on the bottom to stop myself. I could go on about how angry I was after I was “saved” and tossed to the shore, or how I refused to get back into a canoe to cross the river to go home, or how my extra set of clothes did come in handy – but I think I’ve made my point: we were not prepared.
I feel, sometimes, like I am back in that river. I can’t get control. I want some flat water where I can find some semblance of a safe haven.
I love my therapist. Funny how once she gave me the verbiage and the analogy, I found comfort. I feel like I now know my boat and I know the river and I know that there WILL be flat-water ahead somewhere. I have to just hold on until I get there. It’s okay to float. It’s okay to paddle. I may take on water and it is scary. But it will end. There will be a time to rest and to recharge for the next set of rapids. The more experience I have in them, the more of an expert I will become. She got it right. My therapist got it right. Talking about the fear helped me understand it. And understanding it helps me to “navigate” the waters better to live with purpose.
It is vital to live with purpose and I can either sink or swim. Knowing how to paddle makes a world of difference.