I had a delightful afternoon with my childhood friend Beverly yesterday. We hadn’t seen each other face to face in many, many years. However, over the past few, we have bonded on Facebook through our shared Cancerland experiences. It was good to finally get to hug her neck long and hard, and to catch up on life with her and those who came out to see her while she is in town. Memory lane. Always a fun place to visit.
On my way home I remembered a story from long ago, somewhere around 1979, at Camp Waco. (Which we pronounced Wacko.) We always went to youth camp in the summer, and Georgia, in the summer, is a very hot place, especially without air conditioning in camp cabins. It is so hot, in fact, that you never cool off. One afternoon, a few girls were determined to try. We took cold showers. We dried our hair for 3 minutes at a time, which took an exceptionally long time since all of us had long and thick hair. We stayed on our bunks under the fans for a bit to avoid moving too much. We dowsed ourselves in baby powder to absorb the inevitable sweat that would return as soon as we stepped out the door back into the sun. It kind of worked. We were cool for the first time in a week. Eventually, we decided to go back down to WATCH the shaving cream battle that was scheduled for the afternoon.
We were standing there laughing at the shenanigans, when suddenly we were grabbed and pulled into the fight against our will. I do not remember who, I only remember grabbing hold of a tree to try to avoid being drawn in. At some point, resisting was futile and we joined in completely, knowing that all the work to stay cool would be lost. We hoped the hose to wash off the shaving cream would at least be cold water, but alas, it had been sitting in the sun all day, so a hot water rinse was all we got. The moral of the story: Often in life, the unexpected happens and disrupts your plans, but you just have to go with it and find the fun despite the discomfort.
There was no way, at that time, that Bev and I could have known that in the future we would once again be pulled into another battle against our will. Now, rather than our desire to be clean and dry, our desire to live bonds us. We have walked through Cancerland from our different regions of the country and are walking still, because once you are a citizen in this place you remain one. Whether treatment is passive or active you will always be a cancer patient. Bev has been in the active battle for 4 years and fought hard, with the help of 9 chemicals and radiation, for the remission she now possesses. Treatment to retain this state is a constant in her life. Maintenance chemo they call it. Daily, weekly, and monthly. Three chemicals. I call it torture. Yet, she has such a positive countenance that she glows. All that effort keeps her alive, and that fact makes it bearable. Her eyes sparkle with love of life and her smile lights up the room.
She recently turned 50, and is overjoyed to have made it. Living fully has become her priority. That is the silver lining of Cancerland…new priorities. She set herself a goal to backpack into 5 national parks and camp for a week, all within her 50th year. She has two under her belt already, and her photos are stunning in their detail. The wilderness is alive, and when you go there you feel alive too, which is something we cancer survivors like to feel. The life draws you to go deeper in because it pours hope into your soul. Breathing in fresh mountain air is the way breathing was intended to be, or so it seems. In any case, the freedom to go and to breathe, is a gift. One fully embraced by my friend, Bev. She is an amazing woman. She inspires me. She may kill me for writing this, but it takes a heroic effort to do what she is doing. The courage, the tenacity, the ability to laugh, and the peace that hovers over her are testaments to her love of life and of God.
The battleground has changed since 1979, we are no longer playing with shaving cream in the hot Georgia summer…but the moral remains the same: Often in life, the unexpected happens and disrupts your plans, but you just have to go with it and find the fun despite the discomfort. Beverly Stripling is my survivor sister and she is kicking Cancer’s butt!