Saturday, August 14, 2004

Survivors at the Summit

I didn't hesitate when Charlie inivited me to help haul donated Starbucks coffee up to Snowbird for Survivors at the Summit, an annual event of the Cancer Wellness House. It's hard to beat the combination of good company, mountain scenery, hotcakes for breakfast, live music from his son-in-law's band, and the chance to help out in a good cause.

Just before noon we boarded the tram, reached the summit of Hidden Peak, and helped staple a last line of yellow flags joining the dozens already in place. Each flag bore the name of a loved-one touched by cancer. Some carried the names of survivors. Many honored the memory those who lost their battle.

Guest speaker Steve Tempest expressed gratitude for his adoption into the fraternity of cancer survivors. When he first started chemo he didn't like the names of the poisons dripping into his bloodstream. The all ended with "cide" as in insecticide, homicide, genocide. Later when his tumors shrunk by 95%, he thought of this term: "life-saving wonder fluids that can extend or save life." His cancer has returned, but he says nothing could be as devastating as his first diagnosis. Now he says he'll go with the flow and do anything to extend time with his family.

He shared several observations about cancer and life.

  • Enjoy every sandwich.
  • Art, food and music came alive with his cancer diagnosis.
  • One life-threatening illness is worth 10,000 meditations.
  • Pain is God's megaphone to get our attention.
  • No one is promised tomorrow. Enjoy today's simple, tender moments.
  • We all have been born. We all will die. The gift of cancer is now. Why not enjoy now?
  • Don't limit yourself to, "I'll be happy when..."
  • Live in the now. Now is all we have.

    Two of the flags flying at the summit carried the names of my parents. Dad, who was likely a downwinder, died of lung cancer in 1963. A few years later mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has survived 33 years. She and my step-dad (who is also a cancer survivor) still live independently. He golfs and writes. She still makes time for bridge with the girls and a monthly piano lesson. I could have also placed flags there for my brother-in-law Dan who is in remission from multiple myeloma, or my grandfather who died of leukemia when my mom was a toddler.

    I wasn't prepared for the emotion of stepping off the tram, seeing those flags, knowing that each carried someone's story of struggle. I felt humble and proud, grateful and sad, connected to eternity and mortality. Sometimes I'm not comfortable with my own tears. This morning I just let 'em flow.

    Comment?

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