On a late winter afternoon, the dog and I bundle up and head to the park for a walk. Thick clouds block the sun. The landscape is void of shadow or highlight and, if I squint, the park becomes a paper collage in shades of soft gray and brown.
We take our usual route around the pond. The loop is only a third of a mile but lately, we’ve shortened it, walking until the dog does her business than turning back to the car. Today I’m determined to do better. Chemo and radiation have left me tired. I have sores in my throat and am restless and weak. I long for fresh air, even if it means facing winter wind.
It’s a short distance, I tell myself. I can do this.
My hand pats my coat pocket. My cell phone is there, a special emergency app displayed prominently on its home screen. Part of the new normal.
There are three trash cans along the path, so I divide the distance into thirds. Baby steps make hard things — especially cancer – easier: a biopsy, radiation, even a stroll through the park. Lately, there are lots of baby steps.
A translucent layer of ice covers the pond, broken only by alien water circles. It’s stark and surreal and hauntingly beautiful all at once.
My favorite willow tree waits across the way. I picture my husband, daughter and I sharing a picnic under its shady green canopy in six months. Will I be stronger? Will I be here at all?
The second trash can is around the bend, just past the tree. It seems farther away than it should. The trail becomes icy and uneven, a spiked mess of frozen prints that force us to stop, then move forward gingerly. Inches away, the snow next to the path is soft. I only have to step sideways to move forward again without effort.
That shift, one step in a new direction, makes everything easier. Living with metastatic cancer is like that, too. Moving forward then stopping, modifying, adjusting, looking for a smoother path.
As the snow crunches under my boots, I know there is a reason I’m here, in this moment, and it’s about more, than walking my dog.
The lake looks different from this side, more fragile. Woods frame the pond, reflecting softly in the delicate ice.
I am under the willow tree. Today there is no picnic, only crisp air, and branches dotted with buds that wait patiently for bright, warm days.
The second trash can is steps away.
In front of me, the final third of the walk has been shoveled. I step back on the asphalt.