In the fall of 2008, the same weekend that I went on a retreat for women cancer survivors, the beginning of a ten-week journey with this group of women, my region felt the effects of Hurricane Ike. I was a year out of chemo and still shell-shocked from what I'd experienced as a person with cancer. This is what I wrote not long after that storm.
I wonder what the woods sounded like when the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through this area, toppling great trees. It must have been a great din. I walk the paths now, mourning the loss of giants among the forest system, touching the huge trunks gently, thanking them for having been. The gashes distress me. Unbelievably dense root systems now lie at right angles to the ground that supported them.
“That’s like what cancer can do,” I think. Some days it seems as if my root system has also been through an upheaval that has changed everything. I grieve as I see other women back in treatment or dying—women so alive it doesn’t seem possible they could die.
My life outwardly doesn’t look much different than it was before I experienced the first pain of a tumor. I still sit here at the keyboard and try to get words to make the sense I am seeking. I still don’t deal with dishes or piles of paper in a timely way. I’ve kept most of my routines, because I still like them and they’re comforting. I walk in the woods, still, glad for the strength to do so.
But everything is different. I know a woman who says she doesn’t think about having had cancer. Her surgery was less than a year ago. Though I don’t doubt her word, I don’t understand how she can say that.
I was so not going to be changed by having cancer. I was willing to become nicer, which hasn’t happened to any appreciable degree. But I am now constantly aware of life’s fleeting nature, of how all flesh, as the Bible says, is as grass in its brevity. And that makes it all so much more precious to me now.
Today in the grocery store, a small boy suddenly stared at me (he’d been watching his feet on the linoleum tiles) and then greeted me with a smile, “Hi, Dude.” His father began to explain that Dude was what he could call Dad; it was their special way of talking, but one didn’t use it on other people. “Good luck,” I thought, as I passed them. I smiled, because the boy was charming, because life was there in the paper goods aisle.
The trees don’t get another chance. I do. More than ever, I want to live wisely and to be kind. It’s all any of us have to give.