When my oldest son, Alec, was three years old, he called me into his room one night, a little scared, and said, “Mom, will you turn off the dark?”
It took me a second to realize that he was asking me to turn on the light. I don’t know if he imagined there was a switch on the wall that said, “dark”, and we switched it on at night and off when we wanted to illuminate the room. I guess no one had ever explained it to him before.
Another time, when he was about the same age, we were driving in the car, and Alec got super excited about a dog he saw outside running ahead of his owner on a leash.
“Mom!”, he shouted, “look at that dog! He’s taking his lady for a walk.”
I laughed so hard about that one. That really was what it looked like, and is probably exactly what the dog thought was happening.
As adults, it’s sometimes funny to us when kids see things differently. Often we think there is only one “right” perspective. I don’t mean to muddy the waters here. There are things that really are either true or false. Facts are facts, but if we are looking at the same set of true facts, how we see those facts can change everything. Sometimes we can misinterpret facts to come up with conclusions that are not accurate, but often we just interpret facts differently than someone else, and both perspectives are equally true and valuable. Making meaning of the world is personal, and as varied as all the people on this earth.
For the past nearly seven years I have been battling cancer. It’s the kind that will not go away unless there is some new breakthrough. I am being treated to extend my life, and try to maintain quality of life in the process. I’m a mother of four young children, and I have done my best to do my part. I exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and my husband and I have navigated and researched my treatment options diligently. For most of the past few years I have felt quite well, and I’m grateful to have far exceeded my original prognosis of about two years. I have completed several half marathons, and even one full. Other times I have been hospitalized, or otherwise dealing with side effects from treatment. I have kind of prided myself on keeping things fairly normal for my family, but recently things have gotten a lot tougher.
For the past year, my cancer has been in attack mode. We have not been able to stabilize it as before. For years I have gone from one treatment to the next, with close observation, and each treatment has given me some time to live my life before losing its effectiveness. Since the cancer spread to my liver, just over a year ago, it has spiraled out of control. I have not found anything that has worked longer than a couple of months. We decided I needed to get back into IV chemotherapy last May. I am now on my third chemotherapy drug, because the first two have already failed me.
The drug I am currently taking seems to be working so far, but it is rough. I got so extremely sick from it after my first dose that I was vomiting, unable to eat for a couple of weeks, and was constantly nauseous and tired. After a few weeks off to recover, I started again at only half dose. Even at half dose it’s a challenge for me to handle the side effects.
I am not someone who gets discouraged easily. I don’t give up easily either. I will admit that I’m adjusting to losing that bounce in my step though. I have been frustrated about how I feel, and often wonder what that means for the future. It’s easier to be strong when there is a finish line, but my current treatment options are all chemo options, and there is no finish line in sight except for the end of my mortal life. I’m not ready for that yet, and so I need to be willing to endure the treatment options available to me.
Truthfully, I don’t want to just be enduring life, I want to enjoy it. So, the question I ask myself is, “how do I find happiness right here and now?”
I don’t know a lot of things, but I have learned a thing or two from battling for my life these past seven years. First, some things do just need to be endured for a while. That is part of life. We are not always going to be happy about how things are going, but we can still move forward each day with some hope that tomorrow will be better.
Second, I feel the most sorrow when I am thinking of myself. When I think of others more, I am excited or happy for opportunities in their life, and it motivates me to look forward to seeing their happiness and success. If I need to cheer someone up, that focus on what I can do for them somehow lifts me. Spending time with my husband or children is my best way to gain perspective and put aside my complaints, with the added benefit of enjoying the ones I love the most.
Third, when my energy is limited, I need to be more thoughtful about how I use my time. If my body needs a two hour nap in the middle of the day, then when I am awake, I need to get the important stuff done first. Sometimes that involves everyday chores to keep our family functioning, but it can’t be just that. I need to make time to write, play piano, walk on my treadmill while listening to uplifting talks or music, or meet up with a friend. If I am trying to accomplish something, like submitting my book to publishers, or working on a project, I feel good when I make time for those things on a regular basis. It gives me purpose, and that is vital when so much is out of my control.
Fourth, and most importantly, I need to feed my spirit every single day. This means different things for different people, but for me, prayer, scripture reading, visiting the temple, and listening to inspiring talks, lift me and strengthen me on a deeper level than other positive habits I may enjoy. It’s not the kind of thing I always make time for, because none of those things are necessary for making it through any given day. That’s the tricky part. Those habits take time, and the return isn’t always immediate. Sometimes I feel very lifted during the act of “feeding myself spiritually”, but other times it is like adding little drops of oil to a lamp, as the wise virgins in the New Testament. I may not need to light my lamp right away, but when I need it, I am so grateful if I have filled it by adding spiritual “drops” of oil on a regular basis. When I focus on the life of my Savior Jesus Christ, I give Him the opportunity to heal my spirit. He suffered both body and spirit, and therefore, is the only one who can truly know how I feel and what I need. When I think of Him I feel strengthened, happy, and even grateful and loved in a very real and tangible way.
Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I have genuinely felt that “rest” many times over the past few years. I have been happy right in the middle of sorrow, and felt courage take over when I was afraid. I have felt an increase of love and joy in my family, and I have been so very grateful and aware of what I have, even when I want something so badly that is not going my way. Yes, there have been times when I have not been my best self, but I have seen improvement in myself, and that is rewarding.
I take comfort in the scripture that says, “Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” We just can’t control some things, but if we put our trust in Heavenly Father, He will hold our hand through it all and we have nothing to fear in the end.
I can look at life from the perspective that I have terminal cancer. I am not winning the battle, and there is nothing I can do about that, and I feel cheated of future time with my family. That is one perspective. The perspective I choose is: I have a happy marriage with a wonderful husband to whom I am sealed for eternity in the temple. I have four beautiful and happy children who are becoming just what I had hoped they would become. I feel confident in a happy after-life, and I know that eventually my whole family will be there with me. I have friends and am shown love from others every single day. I am here right now, and I can do what I choose to do with my time. Out of those two true perspectives, that is the one I have chosen.