Valley Voices

Cancer lessons: How to pack for an unexpected journey

“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.

sharon hart
S.M. Hart Contributed

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.