An attitude of gratitude. That’s what I am trying to cultivate today. Generally speaking, I am nothing but annoyed – an attitude of ingratitude, I might point out – by nifty-sounding phrases like “attitude of gratitude”. But the rhyme clothes an important and skillful way of being, one often overlooked by people who wonder, as a result, why they’re not happy. More on that later . . . For now, I am simply cultivating these positive, grateful, appreciative thoughts that, by definition, crowd negative thoughts off the stage:
I’m grateful that Mom came out of the surgery without incident. (As I write this, I still haven’t heard from her personally, so she’s probably still woozy; I know what I know from Monica, one of the members of the Montrose Deutscher Posse).
She’s such an inspiration to so many people.
There’s no one with an attitude of gratitude like a cancer survivor. We ignore at our peril the elixir of life with which they emerge from their hero’s journey, telling us, in so many words: This matters. That does not.Guess what “this” and “that” are.
A Cancer Survivor (yes, first caps) is what Mom is, about ten years strong. But cancer is something that’s never entirely gone from a survivor’s life. For a decade now, she’s lived with the tests and the doubt and, more happily, the new and healthy ways of thinking and eating.
In fact, it’s ways of thinking and eating that work that are among our interests here, in this blog.
She had cancer in three places a year ago: pelvis, stomach, lung. (It is the measure of the power of a son’s denial that I cannot call up these locations with any confidence). She put herself on a gourmet cancer-killing diet (and if that sounds like an oxymoron, then my mother has a new definition of ”gourmet” for you), lost over fifty pounds, saw one cancer spot disappear, another get smaller, and the third stay the same. We cheered her success.
Over half a year later, it appeared that one of the spots might be getting bigger – it was hard to tell. Cancer tests, especially after one has had cancer and the resulting floaties – a technical term – remain in the blood, are notoriously unreliable. She was disappointed, bowed, but unbroken. And she still had no desire to put toxic chemicals in her body ever again.
So one spot was operated on today, in a pretty routine procedure. “It’s not the surgery I’m worried about,” she told me on the phone this morning, “it’s what they tell me afterward.”
Camino versus Chemo
I’m hoping they will tell her she can do the Camino. That’s the Camino de Santiago, a thousand-year-old path that stretches from western France across northern Spain, and that’s the Way she wants to travel this September, in lieu of the dread chemotherapy. The Camino, or Way, is said to lead to the bones of St. James, apostle of Jesus, who, like other friends and family of Jesus, is claimed to have left Israel and made his way into European lands more convenient to Catholic churches. In any event, the legend is a minor detail; neither of us is religious. Mom, after an upbringing that prominently featured violent Catholic nuns, hasn’t any Catholicity left in her. So it’s not a religious journey. But it is one in which people can, and do, find their own meaning, and I’ve read that it quite often becomes a spiritual journey, as anything does when we do it mindfully.
I know the last thing in the world she wants to hear is that she needs chemotherapy. I’m hearing of more and more people who have endured the horrors of chemo and who refuse ever to do it again – the horror! I hear Kurtz saying, in “Apocalypse Now,” a movie about the Vietnam war that prominently features chemicals that kill. The horror!
Over the last year, whenever Mom has tried to talk about chemotherapy, she’s begun to cry. It’s one of the freshest ten-year-old wounds you’ll ever see. “I can’t do it again,” she says. “I just can’t.” So she has turned the power of that emotion into the passion with which she exercises and disciplines herself to a super-healthy, natural diet in a world of fake food and other gustatory gimcrackery.
The Purpose of the Camino
About two months ago she got the idea of the Camino from a documentary, and that idea burgeoned into her new purpose. (Researchers into all manner of illness, and even longevity, will assure you that it’s a sense of purpose that separates the happy from the less so, and the healthy or long-lived from the sick and early-dying.)
So she bought herself some hiking shoes and began to “train” for her pilgrimage through Spain on the trails around Colorado’s Black Canyon – at nearly 7800 feet high, that’s more than enough altitude for the 5000-foot Pyrenees.
“Instead of doing chemo,” she reported thinking a few weeks ago, while she hiked near the Canyon, “I’m walking the Camino.” Now you know why this site is called what it is, or at least the limits of my imagination.
What will the doctors tell her after the biopsy on the removed mass? Will they say “Chemo”?
And if they do, will Mom respond, with a shake of her head, “Camino!”?