When I was going through treatment for Stage IIIC fallopian tube cancer earlier this year, I asked my oncologist if I could skip one of my weekly lab checks in order to take a trip with my husband and our daughter. She said yes without hesitation.
Now, I had half-expected her to say no, but chose not to look a gift physician in the mouth. We happily took our trip to visit my husband’s family halfway across the country and had a great time.
I later heard of other cancer patients being given permission to take trips during treatment, even if it meant postponing an actual chemo session and later adding it back on at the tail end of their treatment schedule.
It didn’t take long for it to dawn on me that of course these cancer treatment teams would not want to deny a patient the right to do something fun or special unless doing so would seriously compromise his or her health. Not to be morbid, but it could be the patient’s last chance to see out-of-town family. Or swim with dolphins. Or see a part of the world he or she had always wanted to see.
Plus, and even more importantly, these soul-satisfying experiences of being immersed in love and beauty and adventure can do nothing but bolster a patient’s morale and strengthen their resolve to beat their disease. Right?
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, all I wanted to do was hole up with my husband and newborn baby. But after a few weeks, I started to peek out of my hole. Then I stuck out a toe. Then I started reaching out to others who had gone through similar experiences, asking questions and seeking guidance. Then I started letting in my close and trusted circle more and more. And then the circle expanded and grew.
And as my trusted circle grew, so did my strength.
Being surrounded by love and positive energy, in my opinion, can do nothing but infuse a person — especially a person battling serious illness — with the strength necessary to continue to fight. And sometimes even provide them with the will to live.
What I found is that the right people — those safe, nurturing, comforting people who constitute one’s soul family — are extraordinary medicine.
Now, we’ve all wallowed at times, haven’t we? Stayed in our pjs all day with unwashed hair and unbrushed teeth, watching bad television, eating junk food, and refusing to answer the phone or the door. Feeling sorry for ourselves. Looking at our sad faces in the mirror, maybe even crying a little, and taking some sort of strange satisfaction in how very pitiful we are in that moment. (Hopefully that’s not just me.)
And sometimes those days our necessary. To get out of our system the grief or sadness or loneliness we are feeling.
But then, once we get up and take a shower and brush our teeth and return our calls (and maybe put on a little lipstick, for God’s sake), we feel better, don’t we?
And a night of gathering with my girls and maybe drinking a little too much wine and belly laughing ’til our stomachs hurt? I can’t imagine a much more effective treatment.
This is why it is hard for me to see some folks fighting illness being isolated, not by choice, but by their well-meaning loved ones. To see them literally shrink in size and spirit by being sheltered to the point of sequestration.
I am watching this happen in a couple of situations, and it’s amazing to me the difference I see in my isolated friends and the ones given — or taking — more freedom. There’s a vibrancy in those patients I see who are surrounded by friends and family and laughter, even in the chemo ward. Even if they’re wearing a surgical mask for protection … the laughter is there in their eyes.
Being immuno-compromised is one thing. I’ve lived the past 9 months in that state. But I know it’s possible to protect my immune system while not smothering my joy.
I see young children fighting cancer and other serious disease as well. And as brutally frightening as that is, I still see many of them laughing and experiencing loads of joy when given the opportunity.
If my little girl happened to draw the cancer card or contract some other life-threatening disease, I know it would be tempting to make her the girl in the plastic bubble. But knowing what I know, and having been where I’ve been, I don’t think I could do it.
No, I’d have to find a way to allow her to live her life to it’s fullest, while still protecting her as much as I could within reason. I’d want to see that open-mouthed smile and hear that laugh as long as I could. And a life lived in isolation and solitude isn’t much of a life.
And for those of you with friends or loved ones fighting disease? Even if they are isolating themselves or allowing themselves to be sequestered, do what you can to let them know they are surrounded with love. Send fun care packages and funny cards. Leave a hot apple pie on the porch. Make and drop off for them a scrapbook filled with funny memories and old photos.
Help them find the joy. Make them laugh.
Laughter can cure a variety of ills, mark my words.
And even it doesn’t bring a cure, I’d rather be laughing ’til the end, wouldn’t you?
Image via Erica Montgomery Photography