One of my new friends from Vancouver Island Lodge went home a week before I did. She seemed a bit wobbly as she contemplated the transition. Hers was an eight-month cancer journey of surgery and treatment. Life was put on hold for that time and so she wondered, now what?

I gave Hecate (not her real name but a goddess associated with the crossroads), a Bach’s Rescue Remedy pastille. It helps to calm and to integrate an experience with Nature’s support. I neglected to remind Hecate that the effects of radiation treatments can continue for up to two weeks following the last treatment. Best to rest and relax. I need to remind myself of that now that I’m home from Victoria having completed twenty-five treatments.

My life isn’t actually on hold, I realize. The projects may be on hold, the writing circles, the trip to Ontario. But life is not on hold as I have had amazing experiences each day of my treatment. In fact, the time has been very expansive. (I’m thinking that may be the case for the poems set aside as well. They could use some breathing room before being exposed to the marketplace.)

During treatment, we’re doing something towards our recovery. Once treatment is finished, we may not feel we’re taking any action towards our recovery. This is the time the options need to be rest, healthy food choices, exercise, stress-free living. This also brings to mind the fact that we really don’t look after ourselves very well until we get sick!

I said to Hecate and another woman sitting nearby, that I figured we’ve probably learned discernment. If life can so suddenly be put on hold or plans cancelled, we ought to now know what doesn’t fit into our wellness plan. I’m noticing that even with incoming email I delete, delete, delete.

Why would I do anything that isn’t rejuvenating and joyful? My friend may not know what’s next but, in my case, I do have a schedule. There are tests, the ongoing effects of radiation to deal with and there’s surgery coming up next month. But as I did with radiation treatments, I looked at what was accomplished so far rather than what was still ahead. And in the case of my daily explorations, I delighted in what was discovered along the way.

artofpilgrimageMythologist Joseph Campbell referred to “bringing back the boon” from a pilgrimage. “Boon” is a blessing or something to be thankful for. In Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage he quotes Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By: “The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return, must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others.”

This is a time of re-entry to life back at home. The Fall Equinox has just passed and the moon is full – officially today at 6:55 p.m. PDT. I’ve had glimpses into how I might serve others in the future and I expect it relates to the writing circles I’ve offered for almost twenty years. My circle mentor, Christina Baldwin, wrote: “While self-healing, like healing self-story, is a necessary foundation, the leap must be made to extend our healing into our actions in the world around us.”

During my last week at the lodge, a counselor came over from the BC Cancer Agency to facilitate a circle so residents could have a discussion about the challenges they’re facing right now. There were about ten of us (even though the lodge has up to 40 residents) and we each had an opportunity to share challenges, gifts along the way, and further elaborate on other issues that affect us with a diagnosis of cancer. They could be loss of income; sharing the news with family and friends; fear of disability and reoccurrence. Fear of death.

I’m grateful for that circle as a way to connect to other cancer patients in a way that wasn’t done at the dinner table. I might not have known about the widows who helped their late husbands when they had cancer and are now left to journey alone. Or the man with brain cancer who complained of all the remedies being sent his way. It was done in a humourous way so we had a chuckle about the various cures that may be suggested to us. Or the women whose cancer diagnoses were not picked up with the usual tests. Those women are dealing with anger as well.

There are so many things to be grateful for. The BC Cancer Agency in Victoria is a bright, welcoming place full of sunlight, art, colourful areas in which to sit, as well as a café with friendly volunteers. In fact there are many volunteers including therapy dogs. I met three of them: Quinn, Robbie and Bosun.

cancerclinicThe radiation therapists are outstanding: always friendly, helpful, supportive and kind. And that must be a challenge with what they see each day among the 200 patients that receive treatments in any given day. Hannah, one of the radiation therapists, told me of what she calls “the privilege of ability.” When away from work she has a new perspective on life. When she has treated a young woman who may never walk again, she doesn’t see someone stubbing their toe as quite so serious.

I’m dealing with medical professionals in three different cities and somehow it all works. A CT scan done at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver gets relayed to my radiation oncologist in Victoria. An MRI and CT scan done in Nanaimo will go to my surgeon at the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver in preparation for surgery in October at Vancouver General.

I learned about InspireHealth: Integrative Cancer Care, an organization in Victoria, that supports the health of people with cancer. I visited a nutritionist there and came away with all sorts of good advice for healthy eating. Inspire Health offers webinars so you can tune in wherever you live. They say: “Cancer can be a catalyst to create your best and healthiest life possible.”

The drives to Nanaimo with Wheels for Wellness and a place to stay at Vancouver Island Lodge run by the Canadian Cancer Society were tremendous support for the five weeks of treatment. And the people I met along the way helped to have “new eyes” every day.

Everlides who cleans the rooms at the lodge, and helps out in the kitchen, found out I was a writer and a reader. She wondered if I knew of the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez as she gave me fresh towels on a Wednesday. Everlides is also from Columbia. Of course I did, mentioning One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I appreciated sitting beside the father of a two year old named Christos in the Corner Stone Café in Fernwood. Christos sat in his stroller, eating small bites of a muffin. He had never had his hair cut except a few strands when he was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. That was a custom I had not known about.

I remember people I met at the lodge, all of whom had cancer of some sort. One man of 42 has autism and lip cancer. His father was with him to accompany him to treatments each day.

On my last morning, Sarah came to pick me up and observed my last treatment. I was in a different unit than I was used to and went back to say farewell and thanks to the radiation therapists of Fir, the unit I had been going to since August 20th.

Sarah and I had coffee at the Savoury Café because I had to go in there one last time to have Allan say “decaf Americano?” He treated me to it as it was the last day of treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarcel Proust wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I wasn’t far from home and I had been to Victoria many times before but this time I was open to many details and gifts in my more vulnerable state. Perhaps I had “new eyes” and I’ve brought them home with me as I settle in to my familiar surroundings. Sarah and I will reclaim our rituals of home. I’ll have a fresh look at my home city that I call “a poet’s Nanaimo.”

[The photo is of a small altar made for me by friend Birdie with whom I facilitated retreats for women more than ten years ago. It was made at one of our last retreats. She thanks me for the circles I facilitated which took us deeper and deeper . . . )