Guest post by David Moriah
"Now is the time to commit ourselves to waging a war against cancer as aggressive as the war cancer wages against us.” President Barack Obama, 2016
You see it everywhere when you enter this new universe as a patient. It’s the language of a military campaign.
“She died after a long battle” reads the obituary.
“You need to be a fighter!” urged my first oncologist.
For some reason the image of warfare never occurred to me when I received my diagnosis. It was a blow to the gut of course. My inevitable death stared me coldly in the face. It was a very bad day.
But it wasn’t long before I began thinking of the journey I was about to begin, a journey of indeterminate length causing massive changes in my life, as something of an adventure.
Why do some people react to grim news calmly and others frantically? Why do some live out their days in dread of the end, or give up completely, while others grab every moment with a fierce determination to go on living?
These questions intrigue me. They lead me to wonder whether my instinct to frame the situation as adventure rather than warfare is rooted in my experience as a wilderness guide and outdoor educator. Now in my 70s, my days as a hard-core outdoor adventurer are behind me, yet the lessons I learned at Outward Bound, Cornell University and other outdoor programs are always there for me to draw upon.
Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
Embrace the adventure. Denial is not an option. You’re on this road even though you didn’t choose it, but now it is your choice as to how you will travel on it.
It’s natural to struggle with the question “Why me?”. You look around at a world full of people living with apparent lack of concern about their eventual death, unbothered by the inconvenience and discomfort of treatment.
I choose to ponder the “Why me?” question with a sense of wonder and appreciation. Why was I born into an age where medicine has progressed to include life-extending treatments like chemo and immunotherapy? Why have I been given this gift of time to prepare for the end stage of life, to express love and to receive it from friends and family before the curtain descends?
My excursions into the wilderness included days when the rain was relentless and cold winds chilled me to the bone, but also moments when the sun burst out unexpectedly and sweeping mountain vistas took my breath away.
I learned to accept it all and embrace it as the harvest of my adventure. My hope is that you will also come to accept and embrace the path you find yourself on today.
Lean on your crew. I recently read of someone who died after a long illness who never told his friends what he was going through until the end. While it would be wrong for me to judge or criticize his decision - everyone is entitled to their own way of coping with their diagnosis - I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the person for what he missed.
An Outward Bound wilderness trip involves a team traveling together, and its success or failure is determined by how well its members look out for each other. The climber counts on a partner to hold fast to the safety rope. On a hike if one is injured or their energy flags someone comes alongside them and takes on some of their weight.
I choose to share my situation with friends and family (see my Caring Bridge blog here) and they’ve become a team that encourages me and supports me. They lighten my load in a thousand ways.
Yesterday I witnessed a woman trip and fall on an escalator. Immediately a crowd of strangers snapped into action and rescued her. It was a remarkable sight.
If strangers could mobilize and be there for someone in need, how much more will your friends and loved ones be there for you? I hope you will lean on them without shame or embarrassment.
We are all connected.
This too shall pass.
I have learned to take comfort and solace in the wisdom embodied in this ancient Persian adage. Abraham Lincoln referred to it in 1859 thusly,
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”
Eventually for me, the rain would stop and even the most grueling and exhausting expedition would come to an end. I had a ritual of devouring a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream as soon as I returned to civilization.
It was glorious!
I live with a fervent hope, if not a certainty, that God will greet me with a smile and a pint of Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche when the next adventure begins!
I don’t know about you, but I plan to sneak a spoon in with me when I go.