Sunday morning I woke up dizzy and prayed. Please God, I said, let it be allergies. And that’s how it goes when you have metastatic cancer; you pray your symptoms, which in a worse case scenario could point to cancer progression, point to something else instead. Like dizziness, a symptom I’ve had on and off for much of my life, usually at the change of seasons, usually because I’m having some kind of allergy fit that creates sinus pressure that creates vertigo. Or…something else? If I didn’t have a cancer diagnosis, I’d be cursing my allergies instead of praying to have them. It’s all a matter of perspective, eh?
So this is to say that after some lovely self care and a lymphatic massage by my very gifted healer stepdaughter, the dizziness is subsiding, which means it probably was the all-too-familiar vertigo caused by allergies and not the brain tumor I fear. Relief. But many lung cancer patients I know think this way: Please let this symptom (pain, dizziness, balance issues, swelling, etc.) which could mean disease progression, actually mean something else.
I do other things beside think about cancer all the time, though. Like this past summer, husband and I got ourselves across the pond (yes during a pandemic), and, with the considerable help of our good friend Ivan, trekked around Holland, France, Spain, and Portugal. Me and my dear ones and my cancer diagnosis. The best part of that trip was, of course, being with husband and dear friends along the way. The second best part was that I got to do a few long walks from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Pamplona, Spain, three stages along the holy pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago, through the Pyrenees. How kind people were on the route—hospitable, chatty, gracious, glad to see pilgrims returning and walking through their gorgeous little villages, stopping for coffee or a leisurely Spanish lunch and hostel bunk. The small kindesses of the trail, a passing greeting “buen camino!” spectacular mountain views, a traffic jam of sheep and goats, sore feet, weary bones, deep sleeps and early rising for more, all lovely, soul-nourishing stuff. Being a pilgrim is humbling. We really do depend on the kindness and hospitality of strangers. We walk with and are welcomed by compassion.
I won’t say that I forgot about having cancer on that trip, because I didn’t. But as I walked on the Camino in Navarre and visited more of its landmark cathedrals in other cities in Northern Spain, I carried hopes and prayers for all the people I know who are dealing with some form of cancer. If you’ve ever sat in a packed oncology clinic waiting room (and they are always, always, shockingly, packed) you begin to sense how many people’s lives are affected by this thief of joy. In some ways the commonness of cancer makes it seem not even worth noting. Everyone either has cancer, has had cancer, or loves someone who has, has had, or died of cancer. It’s so ordinary that it’s practically banal. Having cancer isn’t special; it’s typical. But perhaps that’s what makes it feel so tragic; the scope of this ordinary human experience of illness is stunning. And it’s brutal. Those who have cancer find themselves pilgrims in a strange land of diagnosis and treatment, hope and fear, pain and pain and pain. We depend on the kindness, compassion, and skill of others to care for our bodies. Sometimes we come to rely on others for a little help with our souls. That’s what this cancer pilgrim was up to in Europe this past summer, and what she’s working on now…the soul part. More on that in future posts. For now, I wish all my fellow travellers un buen camino and hope you’ll wish this sojourner the same.
|White Ribbon for Lung Cancer Awareness at La Playa de la Cueva|