“Stacey?” I heard the woman call out to me. “You are still alive?!” she exclaimed.
I glanced to the right, over the kale and strawberry plants sitting on the check-out counter of the Zhers outdoor garden centre, and landed my gaze on a woman who looked vaguely unfamiliar. I stared. I didn’t mean to stare. But I had no clue who this woman was – who clearly knew me – and knew my cancer story.
“Yes I am!” I replied – not knowing really what to say. “I am so sorry – I have no memory – who are you?”
The woman identified herself. She was a former student whom I had taught. I had also taught her daughter.
“My daughter was devastated when she heard you had cancer. She told me you had a year to live. She was so upset. I told her to have faith and that if anyone could beat cancer, it would be you. And look! I was right!”
I wish I had had that woman’s faith three and a half years ago.
It was a most unusual setting for an unusual encounter – which triggered a flood of memories and a wave a self-reflection which has lead me to this particular morning.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I guess it is because I haven’t felt that I had anything new to say. I’ve had no great revelations. No insights. No real struggles – no real accomplishments. But the truth of the matter is – I’ve been living. And living has meant being out there. Not here. And life has been flying by.
This revelation came to me yesterday during my walk with Jazz, my dog. I had just entered into the Bear Creek Wetland when I was gleefully awakened by the sights and smells of summer. I came out of my head and into the “now”. I became present in the day – in my life – in that moment. The green of the fresh growth along the path was crisp and fresh. The heat of the summer sun warmed the unripened raspberry bushes enough that their scent drifted only slightly away from the plant and permitted me to inhale it’s fragrant promise of fruit-to-come. There were promises everywhere: in the sun streaked woods, the shadowed nooks and crannies, and in the morning breeze. I felt alive. I touched the morning at the same time I touched the noon. I lived in the memories of my childhood as I walked in today’s shoes. Everything was complete and I was a part of it.
I am still alive. I am. I can hardly believe it sometimes. It has been a long journey through these past three and a half years living through, then with, then through, and once again and forever – with cancer. To think I knew I would die – to now when I think I will live – is a thought that never once occurred to me to be possible. Life is funny. It really has no story until it is lived. And then, if it is not enjoyed, then it has no purpose. And my life – if nothing else – I believe has had great purpose.
A bucket list? Someone asked me recently if I had a bucket list. I do. All my adult life I was busy giving myself to others. I was happy to do so. My teaching gave me great meaning and purpose. It was my way of helping others who, I believed, had no one to offer them a hand “up” and out of their circumstances. I gave and gave and gave. And I wanted to give more. I still do. But funny how Mother Nature/ Life/ God/ Whatever force it is – simply has a different plan. Thank God. Thank God because here I am with the ability to give now to my family. My life as a teacher in a school is over, but my life as a wife and a Mom is just beginning. My bucket list: my family. I want to “be here” for them. And I can be – as long as I continue to take my pills (my oral chemo-therapy), I take care of my health, and I have faith that I am where I most need to be.
I have my limitations. I am not as young as I once was. I am not as nimble, fit, or sound as I once was. I am stretching. I spend time stretching my soul, my mind, and sometimes even my body. Unlike being stretched thin before I was taken from my work as a teacher, I am now simply doing more of a reach. There is a big difference.
I have learned to live. I have slowed down and paused. I have so much more insight on people, what motivates them, what motivates me. I know when to back down from a fight. I know when to step up to fight. For the most part, at least. Life is too short to spend time in conflict. A life well lived is a life that is loved.
When I was first diagnosed, I thought there was no room in the world for me anymore. I lay awake at night wondering how the world could simply go on – sleep – wake – while I was dying. I was mad. I was scared. I was so very scared. What would it be like to die ? What would my death look like? All of these thoughts ran through my head – while the world outside my window slept.
As the days, months, and years have passed, I still remark on that feeling right after my diagnosis. I look from the same vantage point in my room – at the same tree outside my window, at the same dresser in my room, through the same eyes. Now, my lens has changed. I have a more focused vision – I have a different perspective. My experiences have given me more of a life net that I would never have developed without a cancer diagnosis.
Fighting cancer is a battle that is not understood until one is in the ring.
It is not a battle that ought to be fought alone – so many individuals lives are impacted by the fight. They are not always willing participants. Some are dragged in by circumstance/ geography. Some volunteer to get dirt on themselves and are forever changed by the experience.
Yes. I am alive. And so are my kale and strawberry plants!