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This last week I have been watching the fires in Santa Rosa, CA, where my sister lives, rage through her city. For so many of us, these are times of great uncertainty and at times, chaos. The lack of balance that we witness daily in leaders, the craziness of random violence, and the fear that comes with the fomenting of separateness, and of divisiveness, may leave one feeling at a loss, or perhaps not even knowing what to feel. The natural world too, seems to be demonstrating some fury with floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and fires. These events can leave us feeling alone, scared, traumatized, unsure of the way forward and not sure of where to turn. The best that occurs from these events is people coming together.
I think in many ways cancer has a lot of similarities to a natural disaster. It can take away everything including one’s life. It can rob you of so very much and leave you fearful and uncertain of what comes next and how to move forward. Some folks survive cancer and some do not. Some folks seem to be able to weather the challenges with ease while others struggle with anxiety, fear, depression and PTSD. Some withdraw from others and from an active life because they feel alone and different; too tired to deal with much and perhaps separate and separated from what they once knew. Some are good at gathering friends and resources around them to help them through the difficult days and others are more hesitant to ask for help. Many feel misunderstood and without words to describe what they are experiencing.
I was reminded once again of the power of and importance of community while volunteering for a First Descents program in Montana this summer. First Descents is an outdoor program for young adults that have experienced cancer. But oh, it is so much more! It is a group of people coming together, many with reservations about doing so, and yes for many even fear of participating. They walk the path of “sorting out this cancer shit” together. The week includes laughter and fear, music and food, often dancing, sometimes tears, great people from so many different walks of life, new friends, new community, and of course, the awe of this magical world that we live in. My week was blessed by watching the solar eclipse in Montana (yes, 93% totality) with lovely and fun-loving people, multiple viewings of soaring bald eagles, and viewing a night sky that danced with stars (Big Sky Country).
But what truly keeps me awestruck was the fantastic group of people who were facing their fears, some facing their mortality, and many living with great uncertainty, but all acknowledging the importance of walking together. They were trying to figure “this cancer shit out” and took the risk to feel vulnerable, to try something new, to feel the power of something difficult that connects them. And the power of sharing experiences as a means of deepening connection, whether that be “swimming-while kayaking” or having gone through cancer.
While so much in life may have us feeling off-kilter or off-balance, so much can also bring us “home”. Back to the place where we value ourselves and others, where we experience compassion towards those experiencing difficulties and challenges and ourselves, and yes, we can experience gratitude and connection. Good friends, good food, beautiful places, poetry, music, nature, movement, sunshine, sleep, compassion towards myself, gratitude for the love I feel and knowing that sometimes life is joyful and sometimes life is just plain hard, help to guide me through my days. It is about connecting with myself, with others, with the environment and with what brings me clarity and strength.
I wish for all of you, connection and community to weather these difficult times. Know that you are not alone. If it seems right for you, strive to find gratitude about something at least once a day. Be brave in exploring what is important to you and follow the path. If you would like help connecting to resources in the cancer community, get in touch with me.
I was recently inspired, and found myself in awe, after listening to an interview with Krista Tippett and John O’Donohue. He was a poet and a master of words. I leave you with one of his blessings: “Beannacht” from his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.
This article was originally posted by Elizabeth “Zil” Sherwood on her website about charting your way with cancer: elizabethsherwood.com. Zil is a long-time First Descents medical volunteer and an active FD Medical Advisory Board member.