Can­cer les­sons: How to pack for an un­ex­pected jour­ney

The Fresno Bee - - Valley Voices - BY S.M. HART

“It is char­ac­ter­is­tic of all deep hu­man prob­lems that they are not to be ap­proached with­out some hu­mor and some be­wil­der­ment.”

— Free­man Dyson, “Dis­turb­ing the Uni­verse”

Some­times we dis­turb the uni­verse; some­times it dis­turbs us when life takes us on an un­ex­pected jour­ney along an un­fa­mil­iar path to an un­known des­ti­na­tion. So how do you pack for an un­ex­pected jour­ney?

1) Take along a jour­nal. In July 2017, I was di­ag­nosed with non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma in my spleen. My spleen? Are you kid­ding me? Who the heck gets can­cer in their spleen? (Ap­par­ently I do.) Never hav­ing done can­cer, I de­cided to keep a jour­nal, which turned out to be a good idea. What I dis­cov­ered was a pat­tern — there were good days and bad days. The thing is the bad days can erase any mem­ory of good days, so on the bad days I read about the good days. A jour­nal keeps hope alive when ev­ery­thing seems hope­less.

2) Make ev­ery en­counter count. Two weeks be­fore my di­ag­no­sis, I vis­ited my grand­son Noah on his birth­day. It was the last time I would see him alive. On Jan. 17th, two days af­ter my last chemo in­fu­sion, Noah passed away. That was a farewell I had not an­tic­i­pated. The thing is, we don’t know how many farewells we have left in us. Mak­ing them count makes them last.

3) Bake bread for zom­bies. One of the things I dis­cov­ered on my jour­ney is that peo­ple are ex­traor­di­nar­ily kind My fam­ily, my friends, even strangers show­ered me with love and sup­port. Peo­ple un­der­stand that we all go on un­ex­pected jour­neys at one time or an­other, and they sym­pa­thize with fel­low trav­el­ers. So I sug­gest you bake bread for zom­bies. If any­one is suf­fer­ing through an un­ex­pected jour­ney, they are. Why bread? Well, the thing is, they need it. If zom­bies had a de­cent loaf of bread to eat, they prob­a­bly wouldn’t go af­ter your brain. Fur­ther­more, zom­bies move v-e-r-y slowly — this al­lows time for you to get to know them while you’re wait­ing for the dough to rise.

4) For­sake the suit­case. I had a lot of plans in the sum­mer of 2017 — things to do, places to go, peo­ple to meet. They all got swept out the door when Deep Hu­man Prob­lem showed up. I had a plan for life, but life didn’t want to go along. To bor­row from Vir­ginia Woolf, “Life es­caped.” The thing is, life is not all that fussed about the fu­ture; it is all about the now, and when you travel with life in the now, you travel light. The only thing you need to pack is your at­ti­tude.

In the novel “Out of the Silent Planet” by C. S. Lewis, a Mar­tian tells an Earth­man of the time he climbed to a moun­tain pool in which lived deadly marine crea­tures called hn­er­aki.

“I stood on the shore of Balki, which is the place of most awe in the world. Be­cause I have stood there alone, my heart has been higher, my song deeper all my days. But do you think it would have been so un­less I had known that in Balki hn­er­aki dwelled? There I drank life be­cause death was in the pool.”

I am not all that keen on un­ex­pected jour­neys; this last one re­ally fried my toast. How­ever, I have de­cided that what­ever the jour­ney, un­ex­pected or not, I want to go to a place where my heart will be higher and my song deeper. I do not know pre­cisely where that is or what it looks like, but that is my des­ti­na­tion.

Sharon Hart is a re­tired high school math teacher liv­ing in Kings­burg.

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