The Deep Breaths Within Resiliency


Getting back up matters when cancer knocks you down, but so does pausing for reflection.

I'm old enough to remember being told to "Keep on truckin'" as a child growing up in California. It was an expression on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The cool, flowery-dress wearing teacher, Mrs. Judson, with her glossy black hair comes to mind whenever I think about "truckin'".

The ideas of moving-forward and moving-through are so ingrained in my psyche that hitting a metaphoric roadblock can be useful even if it feels like it's temporarily done me in (or, to keep with the metaphor of driving, flung me out of the driver's seat). I'm strong because I'm resilient but that same quality also means that sometimes I don't take the time to think about what I am doing and why. I just keep on truckin' even if I don't know where I am going.

I can't say for certain, but I am willing to guess that my belief in resiliency is one of the things my kids know best about me. Fall down when learning to skate? Get back up as many times you need to. Received an unpleasant critique on a project? Develop a thick skin and keep on going. And on and on. I think their own reasonably developed resiliency has served them well so far.

But knowing when to pause before getting back up is also a useful skill. This is especially true for me as I continue to learn to live with metastatic cancer. The hits can come hard and fast and out of the blue. And, while I continue to "truck" by putting one foot in front of the other every single day, I've also learned to recognize the moments when I need to take a breath and reflect — possibly to find another path forward but more often to acknowledge the deep and lasting sorrow that has become a part of my life, even though I spend most of my time appreciating what I have.

I never really know what event will erect a roadblock in my life. The last two times I attended cancer research conferences, I enjoyed myself (as much as reasonably possible when talking about cancer) and learned a lot both about my own care and what so many others experience and need. But "cancer" was inescapable, and it is one thing to be learning more about something so dire when it is in your past and quite another when the information you're learning reinforces the idea that your own life will most likely be much shorter than it otherwise would have been. Living with cancer is nothing if not a means to master survival mind games.

It's hard to keep on going when everything you learn indicates that progress simply isn't coming fast enough for yourself and so many others, not to mention being already too late for friends who've died. When I am brought low by these thoughts, I don't hide from them. I try to reflect on why I do what I do — why it matters to share my experience and to be as open as possible about what it is like to live with stage 4 cancer and why it matters to myself, to my kids, to my family, friends and the world at large that each of us "trucks" just as much as she can. If I can't reconcile what I am doing with what matters to me, I've learned to reduce or redirect my participation.

Roadblocks like those I ran into at recent events and others, such as the stopped-in-my-tracks response when I get news that someone else I know has died, mean it's time to rest. Not for long and certainly not forever, but long enough to remember why it's important to keep on moving and to be a part of the living world around me for as long as I possibly can.

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