Guest Column

Simple Things in Life Matter

The first thing prisoners want to see after they are released from jail is the entire blue sky and the sunset. Never have they  valued something they took for granted more. It is the same for people who receive a diagnosis of cancer. Suddenly, the ordinary life looks appealing.

I remember feeling like a captive when I was told I had cancer and while I was undergoing  treatments. In a matter of minutes, cancer had robbed me of my past with no promise of a better tomorrow. The fear it evoked held me firmly in its grip and I did not dare to dream, even breathing was an effort. All I could do was mourn for a time that had been and that I had not fully appreciated.

I soon realised that the only way I could release myself from captivity was if I wilfully recreated a new present which would give every minute from now on added meaning and urgency. This meant regarding all that I saw around me and felt within me with a heightened sense of awareness. Among other things, I still had the trees, the grass, flowers, butterflies, birds and the sky, and a loving and concerned circle of family and friends to support and comfort me. More than anything, I still had myself, albeit a rather frightened version.

Constructing anything new is absorbing and exhilarating . When it comes to your own life, even more so. It requires picking up every piece of an earlier past, examining it carefully, and deciding whether you want to keep it or not. I found myself slowly and then with a rising sense of urgency getting rid of packages marked “past grudges”, “self pity”, “mindless ambition” and the like. They cluttered my life and weighed me down unnecessarily. This was an opportunity for me to experience the “unbearable lightness of being”. One which I had saddled over the years with a thousand deceptions and aspirations. It was time to break free and become childlike again.

It is small wonder that children meet bad news in a very different way than adults. This is evident when you look at the reaction of a child diagnosed with cancer and that of the parents. While for the child it is certainly an unwelcome bother, for the parents it is the end of the road. It seems to me the divergence lies in the differing time horizons each has. While for the child hope rests in the here and now, for the parents it exists only in the future. So, while the child can be easily distracted by school, play, companions and outings, the parents constantly punish themselves with thoughts such as “who will marry her now?”, “will this affect future job prospects?”, etc. They have no time to enjoy what life still has to offer. In fact, there are instances where children end up protecting parents who they can see are having a hard time coping.

We must learn from children. They travel light and can therefore walk on the road less travelled much easier than we can as adults. They wonder only about what each turn in the road is going to bring. They are not concerned about where the road leads. That will be revealed in time.

So my advice to anyone starting out on their cancer journey is: do not forget to stop along the way and smell the roses. For all you know, there might be a butterfly trapped in the petals waiting to be released by you!

Harmala Gupta
Founder-President, CanSupport
harmalagupta@cansupport.org
www.cansupport.org

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