Sunshine and Shadows

Excerpt From Jane's world

I had a lovely drive home from work late this morning. The snow was glistening off the ice, a crisp blue sky above me. A murder of crows watched me from high on the telephone wires. There wasn’t another car or human in sight as the road wound along the ridgetop. Faint wisps of smoke rose from the chimneys of houses on either side. It was a gorgeous, cold, Wisconsin winter day.

My plans for this day are simple: a shower to wash off the chlorine from the morning’s workout in the pool, followed by an adventure with the pups and Dane in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We’ve been faithfully exploring the local ice caves for our winter enjoyment and exercise. Today the trail will be an easy mile-and-a-half round trip that includes four ice caves. Knowing these ice caves are practically in our backyard and easily accessible brings me such joy. I love hiking in any season, but winter hiking gets my top vote. No bugs, no ticks, and rarely any people. The woods are quiet. All their secrets show through the leafless trees.

Freshly showered and dressed in my warm clothes, I decide to check my email messages while I wait for Dane to arrive. This one stuns me.

“I have breast cancer. It came on fast. I started chemo last week.”

My heart falls as I let this sad news sink in. Sitting perfectly still at my computer, dressed too warmly for inside my house, I think of this friend and the challenges she now faces.

I think about my neighbor who sits in my exercise class with her beautiful bald head wrapped in a scarf while following along with the exercises. The scarf covers the incisions from her two brain surgeries. Her head has electrodes attached to it, and the cords run into a battery pack slung over her shoulder. She will wear this apparatus 24/7 for the rest of her life.

Last week another gal joined the same class and sits next to her. She is also wearing a scarf on her head. She has no hair underneath and is undergoing chemo and radiation for her cancer.

Earlier this week I called my old neighbor Pat. When I asked what she was doing, she said, “A puzzle to help distract me from my grief.” I asked her what was wrong, and she told me about her 42-year-old niece who had breast cancer two years ago. In August she had her annual MRI and was declared cancer free. In December, just four months later, she had difficulty breathing and was taken to the hospital. There she learned she was full of cancer. She died three weeks later. Her daughters are ten and eight years old.

I could go on. I know you could add to my list. Cancer has touched us all. Every minute someone is hearing the bone-chilling news that they have cancer.

I can see outside from where I’m sitting. Soon I will be walking on the ice-covered snow, hiking up hills, sliding down a few, and venturing into and out of caves. But for now, I’m frozen with today’s news of my friend’s cancer.

I have another friend who had breast cancer years ago. She went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. She also used countless “alternative” practices to support her traditional medical treatments. A chiropractor she went to for help told her that her breast cancer was caused by negative thinking. Remembering this, I’m suddenly filled with anger.

But mostly I feel fear. I fear for my friend who just learned of her cancer. I fear for my hairless friends who bravely come out in winter to exercise twice weekly. I fear for every single woman and man I know who has cancer.

I want to shout out, scream out, “No!” We are living in a world filled with toxins. Each of us has cancer cells inside us. No one is spared from hearing the C word. Not even if they eat 100 percent organic, 100 percent of the time. Not even if they practice meditation daily and are the most positive person we know. Not even if they are the fittest person in the world.

Thinking positively increases our level of well-being, as do making good food choices and exercising daily. But it doesn’t save us or make us invincible. How can I be so sure? I learned it when my friend, Carmen, died. She was the most delightful, funny, smart, and kind person I knew. She ate well, exercised daily, and even during her horrible disease, remained positive to her last breath. She also left two children and a loving husband behind. There wasn’t anything in the world, medical or alternative, that she didn’t try in order to be able to stay in this world with them.

We’re all a day away from hearing the C word ourselves if we haven’t already.

Dane arrives and we head outdoors with the dogs. The sun feels good on my face. I’m not cold, and there is the beauty of nature surrounding me. As I hike, I notice my legs feel heavier than usual. I’m carrying the weight of people I both know and don’t know who have survived, thrived, or died from cancer. I worry about my friends. I worry about our world.

And I wonder what I can do to make it better.

**Jane's share expert's from her weekly column on her Facebook page called, Not a Perfect Fit. Occasionally she shares a full story like today.

Originally Published January 19th, 2017 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout