Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Happiness is a Choice

Do genuinely happy people really exist in the world today? Hmmm? Yes, they do. Happiness is a choice, and you can chose to be happy in spite of circumstances. Pain in this life is inevitable, but misery is optional. It is up to you.

In the past three years I have spent many hours in the cancer clinic, hospital labs, chemo rooms, doctor’s offices, O.R. waiting rooms and finally the Palliative care unit, while I watched a family member valiantly fight cancer. In April of last year this latest fight ended as a spring storm raged outside. We stood in the darkened hospital room and listened to the laboured breathing mingle with the sound of rain pelting against the hospital window. Our hearts felt wind swept and battered too. At 3am the storm had past. The rain and the breathing stopped. All was silent – inside and out. What a painful time this was for the whole family. We wanted the suffering to end, but not the life.

Oh, it is such a struggle to go from life to death. Much like the birthing process. Each is a transition from one world to another and both are a laborious journey into the unknown.

You see TV programs depicting people dying, and they just close their eyes and drift off. Well, it might happen like that sometimes, but not in my experience. I have stood by three hospital beds watching a loved one die - congestive heart failure, bone cancer and liver cancer- and each one was a struggle, a battle to the absolute end to keep breathing. Even when the person went into a coma, the body continued to fight to breathe. In and out, in and out!

We went through this last trauma in April and in August I was hearing these words spoken to me by my family doctor – “You need a biopsy right away. It could be cancer.” I was knocked off my feet. This couldn’t be happening to me. I had just spent the past three years in the “cancer” world and it was all too fresh in my memory. It couldn’t be happening to me. Not now. Not so soon. I needed time to catch my breath. Please God, not this, not now.

I cried, I sat and stared into space, I talked to friends and I cried some more. I waited for the specialist’s appointment, then I waited for the biopsy procedure and then I waited for the results. Six weeks from the time I first heard those words – It could be cancer, we need to do a biopsy – till I heard the results. Every day was 10 years long. One minute I was sure I didn’t have cancer, but the next I was sure that I did. I had walked this path with so many others, and I knew that bad diagnosis came all the time, to young and old alike.

“Death is the sugar you add to life to make it sweeter!”
I heard a terminal cancer patient utter these words on a documentary program about living with cancer, and I never forgot them. They became real to me during this time. I was staring in the face, the very real possibility of my own death from this cancer, and that reality did make every minute of every day sweeter.

I would get up in the morning and be so thankful that I didn’t have any pain. I could breathe without pain; I could move without pain; I could eat without pain; I could get outside for a walk or visit with friends, without pain. Life was good. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, but for that day, that hour that minute I was ok and I was going to enjoy it and feel it and taste it and smell it. I didn’t have to go to the cancer clinic that day. I didn’t have to face chemo that day – it was a good day. Let tomorrow take care of itself, I had today.

I read poetry, I walked in the park, I sat in my garden, I talked to friends and family and I wrote and wrote and wrote. The day finally came when I went for my biopsy results. My husband came with me, because I didn’t know if I would be able to remember what the doctor said, or if I could even process the words spoken to me.

We walked into the hospital like two automatons. Going through the same doors we walked through in April on our way up to the Palliative care unit. This time we got off on a different floor and walked to the doctor’s office, but our minds were still three floors up and in the room at the end of the hall. Had it really only been 6 months since we sat through that stormy night in April? Seemed like a lifetime ago and only yesterday – both at the same time. Funny how time shrinks and expands like that, when you are going through extreme joy or extreme sorrow. They are two sides of the same coin really.

We walked into the doctor’s office, braced for the bad news. My knees buckled and I cried when I heard the words “Everything is fine. The tests came back negative for Cancer. We are not sure what the problem is, but we know it isn’t cancer, so we will go forward from here.” Other things were talked about concerning more tests and follow up visits and treatment, but it wasn’t cancer and I didn’t hear much past that. I walked out of the hospital in tears and didn’t even try to stop them. I had dodged the bullet this time. One day I won’t, but for now I had, and I was free to go. Ah, that first breath of fresh air outside the hospital doors was delicious.

Choose happiness everyday no matter what the circumstances. In the middle of pain and sorrow, go down deep for that inner wellspring of joy. It is there. You can find it. Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.


Butterfly said...

Wow. What a though provoking post. I forwarded your blog on to a friend who is a cancer survivor.

It's hard to remember those times. For instance, I don't even remember that it was raining that night.

Alianora said...

I first stumbled across your daughter's page when I was simply browsing blogs. Not only did I begin reading her blog, but both those of you and your husband, because it isn't very often that one or more people from so far away can touch someone's soul with a word or thought, or prayer.