Last weekend I finally connected with my organic peach supplier in Palisade. Nothing like this time of year in the Grand Valley, peaches galore! Oh, so juicy and sweet. I typically like to process at least a few boxes to use throughout the year. I pulled into the backyard operation and, as I do every year, fell into quick and easy conversation with the bright and eccentric grower/picker/seller. As the discussion moved from common connections to certain woes of the world “the question” circulated around my brain. Do I tell her I am dealing with a cancer diagnosis?
This question is paramount for everyone dealing with such news. Who do you tell, who don’t you tell, how public or private do you make it? Certainly everyone has their own nature and concerns. The more people that know, the more times you hear yourself telling the same story. You have to be careful not to live it too fully and have it become too life-centric, though that’s unavoidable in the beginning. How do you carry yourself once you are part of the cancer culture, once you are living that unique lifestyle? How do you deal with how other people deal with it? It’s heavy news and sometimes if feels best to jut keep it secret. We are, after all, a culture that likes to hide things. Maybe it’s best to just keep that information under the mattress or behind a fence. There are certainly legitimate reasons to do so. And there are reasons we do that we might not even realize.
I recently got qualified as an indigent. What a creepy and demeaning word. That’s what can happen when you get a disease, can’t work, and don’t have tens of thousands in the bank. Now, some law or state agency has cut my hospital-specific bill by 85%. I feel kind of ashamed I can’t pull my own weight and need assistance (I think that’s the secondary definition of indigent). Speaking of creepy words, who likes disease? Well, I guess that’s not as bad as infectious disease. Disease can often be defined by the subconscious as, “something gross that I got and nobody else has, how embarrassing…” Almost as embarrassing as the 12-year-old prepubescent who got busted masturbating with a Penthouse in (the other) hand. Now that is definitely something to be ashamed of that I’d never do and I sure as hell wouldn’t admit it if I did.
I digress, to peaches, ‘cause I really love your peaches and want to shake your tree. Especially because they’re organic and I’ve got a big freezer and a dehydrator. And, I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, which is another creepy and scary word, and it seems pertinent to share because we are talking about real life stuff… But I know how the energy will shift, like when someone drops a glass on tile in a busy restaurant. Or, like when some big truck accelerates very quickly and loudly and fills the whole intersection with black smoke (thanks for the cancer, asshole!). OK, maybe it won’t be that bad, but there will be a shift towards sympathy, or empathy. And with empathy comes another sad story and now we’re all depressed. If I wouldn’t have ever said anything we could have gone along with our happy cheerful days as if life was as golden as the sun.
Well, I did say something, it felt appropriate, and life isn’t perfect. Yes, I pulled the cancer card. First, I got over shame a long time ago. Should I be ashamed of my human nature or things that happen to me that are out of my control? There are certain teachings that have passed shame from generation to generation. Fortunately, I’ve learned from other schools of thought. Second, I prefer a heart-to-heart connection exponentially to superficial bantering. It’s pretty easy to tell when you’re in the same company. Boom! Here’s what’s happening in my reality. Bam! Here, have some Love! Now we're both elevated. Third, “Do you know Dr. Soandso who is doing stem-cell therapy?” “Right here in Grand Junction?!...” Fourth (but not final), I got a free box of peaches. Yes, pulling the cancer card often gets you free shit. I guess being likable is part of the equation, but this particular aspect has been one of my biggest teachers.
People who are givers, who find joy in helping others, often are the worst at receiving. Conversely, those who are really good at taking don’t seem to be so psyched with sharing what they’ve got. There’s a strange irony in that. When my diagnosis first hit friends immediately urged me to set up a way for people to give. “Oh, no, I don’t need that.” Once the reality of my circumstances truly settled I consented. The gifts poured in and I had to work my reluctance away. It’s taken a number of friends’ kind words to help me not only accept the gifts, but to believe I deserve them. There is a truth in our human nature, giving feels good. It feels really good when you give to someone who you know will pay it forward. But, none of that works if there is not a willingness to receive. So, I have become willing and in doing so have opened up to the beauty of humility, grace and acceptance. I received my free box of peaches with no more than an, “are you sure?” and a grateful smile. We departed the scenario feeling touched, inspired and connected. What a grander exchange than: Hi, how ya doin’, good, here’s the money, here’s the peaches, have a good day.
On my way out of Palisade I stumbled upon a pesticide-free “U-pick-it” garden stand. Amongst the eggplant and tomatoes I bumped into two friendly older women who must have sensed the quizzical energy I was putting towards my freshly picked kohlrabi. Conversation quickly escalated to the point of “the question” and, yes, I pulled the card. I quickly explained why I was gathering my sustenance from a garden rather than a drive-thru, I divulged the “alternative” treatment I had undergone and my distrust of conventional means. In turn, they suggested ideas for my squid-looking tuber and with admiration offered the smiling sentiment, “You are our future.” I was taken a little aback as they resumed their picking. I’d often spoken such text to inspiring teenagers I’d worked with, but never in reference to myself. I paid for my flat of produce and drove home with those words echoing in my mind. It’s true, I realized, I am the future. I determine it with my actions and I determine it with my words. What better reason to keep sharing? What better reason to keep living? And, what better reason to keep living, unabashed.