Compress Yourself!

The Above + Beyond Cancer folks are in the New Delhi airport at about midnight local time (noon U.S. time).  The day has been filled with a host of snafus on tickets, luggage and planes.  The day included the medical rescue of a 77-year old stroke victim by our august team of doctors on the flight to Amsterdam. 

There are now 26 of our group assembled in the Air India lounge doing — to the horror of the airline staff — Yoga and Qigong.  We plan to catch up with the rest of the group in Katmandu.

Instead of boring you with the administrative details of the day, I’m attaching photos of a few of the more entertaining moments in our day.

A Diamond-Thought of Light

Wednesday’s “Evening of Inspiration” on behalf of Above + Beyond Cancer was just that — a series of incredibly inspiring stories. As Charlie Wittmack noted in his opening comments, “An adventure can change a life, but a story can change the world.”  

How could you not be inspired by the trekkers, at night on the top of Kilimanjaro, singing Amazing Grace as they circled a set of luminaries that spelled out HOPE?  Or by the 800 prayers flags that the trekkers carried and strung up across the mountaintop?  

How could you not be humbled as Dave read of his efforts to come to terms with the indignities of prostate cancer?  How could you not be touched in your soul at the eulogy for Kerri, one of the Kili trekkers who conquered the mountain, only to succumb to her cancer a few months later?

It’s impossible in one short blog to capture the intensity, both sorrowful and joyful, of the evening. Rather, I will offer a summary of eight ideas to ponder as we travel on our own imminent journey … thoughts filtered through the prism of Dr. Deming’s years of experience dealing with cancer survivors as well as his role as the guiding force behind the treks to Everest and Kilimanjaro as well as this past summer’s Race Across America.

The lessons Dr. D. offered:

  1. None of us is as good as all of us. 
  2. Adversity leads to personal growth. 
  3. Courage is grace under pressure.
  4. Suffering leads to compassion. 
  5. A higher purpose is the secret weapon to success. 
  6. Make time for reflection.
  7. Live today with passion.
  8. Believe in karma — what goes around comes around. 

I look forward to many long and inspiring conversations. 

The title of this blog is excerpted from John O’Donohue’s poem “For Courage” which Dr. D. read Wednesday night.

Slowly, Slowly – Part II

I’m am still pondering Mary vanH’s essay on her trip to Kilimanjaro with Above + Beyond Cancer.

Mary went as a caregiver, the same role I’m to play on the Nepali trip.  It is role about which I confess to some anxiety.   As a classic INTP in the lexicon of Myers-Briggs, I’ve always been pretty adaptable in unfamiliar situations.  But I’m not always so good at picking up non-verbal signals, at responding instinctively to the emotional needs of the people around me.

And that above all was what Mary seemed to be doing, most of the time.  “Sensing” what people needed.  A word of encouragement.  Permission to stop.  Acknowledgement of their doubts.  A humorous story to distract a trekker battling nausea.  A sip of water for a trekker who has lost the battle with nausea. 

It occurs to me, as I re-read her essay, that “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly) is an essential element of the caregiver’s role.  It is moving slowly enough to focus on the moment, to observe what others need … to sense when encouragement will be helpful and when it will make things worse … to share in their triumphs and disappointments.

Mary has set a high bar for all the caregivers on this journey.  But she also notes, with a superb sense for the art of the possible, that “caregivers can feel powerless” too.  The line between patient/survivor and caregiver really gets pretty muddy and unclear when it comes to the physical and emotional challenges.

Which takes me back to pole, pole.  We all, and most especially me, need to go slowly, to be sure that we see what is needed, and not what we think the role caregiver ought to be.

Slowly, Slowly

I was very moved by Mary VanH’s essay from her trip to Kilimanjaro.  Mary is the Fitness Director for Above + Beyond Cancer, and has been the endlessly enthusiastic, energetic and encouraging trainer for the Des Moines folks heading to Nepal.  

Her story opens with the mantra of the African guides on Kilimanjaro: “pole, pole.”  Slowly, slowly.  Focus on taking one step at a time.  Breathe deep.  Count to three.  Look at the world around you. Take the next step.  Breathe deep again.  Count again.  Take another look around.  Another step.  The cycle continues.

As I read, I have the same question she did at the start of her journey: how does a classic Type-A, who eats quickly and brushes her teeth doubletime, do “slowly, slowly.”  I’m pretty good—sometimes too good—at focusing on the here and now, but when the “here and now” is over, I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

That doesn’t leave much time for breathing … or just looking around.

I’m struck, as I continue to read, by how much I have changed— regressed, if you really want to know—since that long-ago year (1987) crossing the Pacific Ocean on a 35-ft sailboat. That year changed my life … it was the first time I understood how lovely it was to just “be.”  Not do, not strive, not accomplish.  Just be.  

I have lived differently ever since. But the truth I cannot avoid as I read Mary’s essay, is that I’ve slipped back, without noticing, into the world of doing, of striving, of accomplishing.  Even though I am retired, it seems I have almost forgotten how to just be.

As I finish Mary’s essay, it occurs to me that, while I am going on this trip as caregiver, Above + Beyond Cancer has already been a caregiver to me.

 If you would like a copy of Mary’s essay, please use the comment section or the contact page.