The future is one of the sneaky things cancer steals from you once you are diagnosed. Everything becomes about the present. Things happen quickly. Decisions need to be made fast and without benefit of certainty. Often, your physical body consumes your thoughts. Pain, fatigue, nausea, discomfort- it’s often hard to think about anything else. So there you are, really just living through survival from moment to moment.
When you do get a chance to poke your head above the crashing waves, usually all you get is the sight of another wave descending down on you. The landscape of your life is filled with wave after wave of surviving crisis after crisis. Trauma after trauma. The Macy’s sized parade of horribles. It’s obviously exhausting, scary, and depressing.
It’s never a place I mastered. I get sucked up in the storm. Although I can logically think through thoughts of “this is temporary” in my mind, the panic of “THIS WILL NEVER END” or worse, “THIS WILL BE THE END” always caught me up short. I could never get the rational to stick. Instead, it slid right off like butter on a hot skillet because I hadn’t ever been down this path. I had never rounded the corner. I didn’t know if life or hope or opportunity would return to me.
Simply put, I didn’t know if I would have a future or what that future would look like.
It is a surprise to no one (here) that for a while I believed my future would be hell. I was completely beaten down mentally, physically and emotionally. I could not catch a break. I lost hope because I was simply unable to see my world as anything different from the unyielding pain and defeat that life kept serving up to me. I could not turn things around into something warm and comforting or enjoyable. It seemed those days were over and it all felt like just. too. much.
But then a few days ago I went for a hike with Tom before work. I usually walk to work, enjoying the space a summer morning in Montana creates in my brain. Lately, I’ve been stepping up my effort, trying to regain some strength and conditioning. As we started uphill I got the idea to try to push to the top without stopping- something I haven’t been able to do since the Spring of 2016. I still get really winded going up the flight of stairs at my office, so going up such a steep climb was questionable.
Without really thinking about it, I asked Tom to film us as we made the final push to the top. I had two thoughts about that idea:
- If people are watching me, I will have too much pride to quit, and
- Someone needs to see this.
The first rationalization is obvious, but the second may not be immediately apparent if you’ve never fallen out of the Safe Tree and hit every branch on the way down.
I survived my hopeless, futureless days because someone I trusted promised me my ship would right itself. Someone stood on the edge of the rocky cliff in the storm and shone a light so that I might make it safely home. I was offered a small glimpse of life beyond suffering and something clicked over in my brain. That was the turning point for me. Even though I was slow and wobbly and out of shape on that hill, I wanted to show someone that there was a future. I wanted to show someone who needed it that life gets better.
Up we went. It took about twice as long as I was expecting. I wanted to quit several times. But we made it.
I made it because I knew people who loved me were rooting for me -even if they weren’t currently watching. That’s the power of the special brand of love I have been extended. I feel deeply and unconditionally grounded in the current of love that has been shared with me and it carries me through everything I do.
I was also able to summit the hill because my heart craved it. The climb meant I got to put out into the world a little piece of what had ultimately saved me. In my life, there is no greater gift than that.
What all this really reduces to is this: my future is coming back to me. I see it rising on the horizon and it feels like being bathed in glowing, healing light. It encourages me to raise my chin and lift my eyes to a new day. There will be storms, yes. There will be waves, of course. But there will also be hills to climb and views from the top and I am oh so happy about that.
Give ‘Em Hell