Breast Cancer Prepared me for the Covid-19 Pandemic

What if your blessings come through raindrops
What if your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise.

~lyrics from “Blessings” by Laura Story

I was listening to this song when it struck me that although every person’s life has been changed by the Coronavirus pandemic, mine had already been changed three years earlier with my breast cancer diagnosis. Being diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, altered my outlook on what is important, and has influenced decisions I make every day. Being more aware of the brevity of life, I not only look for the good, I also seek out inspiration I can share with others.

I have realized the following:

  1. Choosing to stay home instead of going out to socialize is not difficult when you think of people on the verge of losing their homes because of the loss of their jobs, or the people who don’t have homes at all, or persons in hospital who would love to be in their homes.
  2. As contrary as it may sound, connecting with friends and family via social media or virtual platforms has created a closeness through necessity, and shared experiences. Creativity abounds as people find new ways to connect and celebrate special occasions, perhaps with more people realizing the importance of celebrating in times of darkness.
  3. My love for nature has allowed me to experience awe-inspiring sunrises, sunsets and flora, as I capture many of these moments with my camera and share with others. As was the case while going through chemotherapy, my other form of therapy continues to be photography.
  4. God continues to keep me centered on what is important in life, even as I am unable to attend my church services. Throughout my battle with breast cancer the prayers and support of many including my church family, helped me to not only survive, but also to thrive. Ironically I now worship at more services online, than I was able to physically attend prior to the pandemic.

“Connecting with friends and family via social media or virtual platforms has created a closeness through necessity, and shared experiences.”

There are far worse things than being confined to home, or wearing a mask, or not being able to go to the movies and parties, or having to wash hands regularly or not being able to celebrate physically with friends, or even to attend the funeral of a loved one. This is what I focus on in moments when I am tempted to succumb to self pity…my trials in life being blessings in disguise.

Is This the End of the World?

An extreme optimist is a man who believes that humanity will probably survive even if it doesn’t take his advice. ~ John McCarthy

Over the past few weeks it seems as if the globe is in the middle of an end-of-the-world, apocalyptic type of horror movie. To date there have been over 315,000 confirmed Covid stuffworldwide cases of Covid-19, with almost 15,000 reported deaths. Terms like “Social Distancing”, “Lock Down,” “Quarantine” and “Pandemic” have become a part of everyday vocabulary. Hundreds of millions of persons have had their lives drastically changed with restrictions on travel, behavior modification and the daily search for scarce supplies such as hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, disposable masks and yes, toilet paper.

Images of Spring Breakers cavorting on beaches while persons lay dying in hospitals, do not bode well for the future of a new generation whose attitude indicates that their pleasure is more important that the lives of persons they could infect by their careless behaviour.  News reports project that the situation will become far worse before it improves, as the scientific and medical fraternities search desperately for a cure, to halt the increasing rise in the rate of worldwide infections and deaths.

Hope.
As dire as this all may seem, like a phoenix rising from the ashes there are signs of hope emerging from the midst of despair:

  • Residents of Spain and Italy were confined to their homes in an early attempt to halt the spread of the virus. Videos have been circulated with musicians performing from their balconies, raising the spirits of their neighbours who joined in singing along and clapping.
  • With universities sending students home to continue education online, many families have through shared trauma, grown closer by necessity and begun to have serious conversations about life and the changing future.
  • Parents who have now been forced to “teach” their young children using lesson plans supplied by the schools, now have a greater appreciation for teachers and other educators.
  • Sharing experiences with strangers encountered (at the approved social distance) create bonds as the adversity of their shared experiences can serve to bind strangers together.
  • If you live near open spaces and are able to take nature walks, you have the opportunity to discover how truly beautiful our world can be.

As history continues to be written over the next few months (hopefully not years) our changing world may actually be a kinder, gentler one where we are neighbours in the true sense of the word.

Photography as Therapy

Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second. ~ Marc Riboud

This quote clearly captures what photography has done for me since my diagnosis of Breast Cancer, two years ago. I believe that when faced with a life-threatening illness, you can either try to make the most of life, “savouring it intensely,” or you can feel sorry for yourself and be miserable. I have chosen to live my life to the fullest.

I have always loved taking pictures. From as far back as my early days in school, I would constantly capture with my camera, any subject which intrigued me. My love for photography travelled with me on family vacations, special occasions, to university and back home upon graduation. The births of my daughters years later, provided an excuse to whip out the camera and chronicle their every waking moment (to their annoyance and dismay) and they were relieved when I would become absorbed in capturing nature or events, deflecting my camera’s focus from them.

I believe that being an avid amateur photographer over the years has transformed my vision. I automatically frame scenes in my head before looking through the camera lens and then capture what I have seen with the camera. My technical skills may not be up to par, but for me conveying emotion through my lens can be as important as technique. I am constantly learning.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, I found myself pursuing things I loved: hiking, visiting new places…and photography. If I had to choose only one area as the subject for my camera lens, it would be nature. Beauty that we see every day in a sunrise or sunset, in waves crashing on shore or the vibrancy of a newly-hued bloom, compel me to capture each and every moment. However that is not enough if I am the only person who sees them. It is more important for me to share with others so they too can appreciate the beauty of the moment.

I experience what I call my “photographer’s high” when the sun peeps over the mountains, and the early morning sky morphs into a range of hues that are as fleeting as a breath of air, but no less wondrous in its brevity. It is at times like these I know that I am blessed and I have no thoughts of gloom or impending death.

Everyday occurrences such as the fisherman tossing his net in the water, and women washing clothes at the riverside while their children splash in the river, are transformed from being mundane tasks to intriguing slices of life which can define a nation’s core. I also have a fascination with graves and graveyards, not because I am eager to join their residents, but because there are so many “buried” stories waiting to be unearthed.

It is in capturing moments through the camera’s lens, I am filled with comfort and purpose, leaving no room for self-pity and despair. There are far too many treasures out there that I have not yet seen…or shared.

Don’t worry…be happy.

Worrying works. 99 percent of the things you worry about, never happen. ~ Unknown

One of my greatest fears is public speaking. Every time I am askedPart of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival crowd. Bumper crowds are on course to top the record of 237,000 to address a public gathering, my heart races, my sweat glands become overactive, and I remain in perpetual terror until the event passes and my heart rate can return to normal. I do not know anyone who has actually passed out while speaking in front of an audience, yet I am convinced each time that I may be the first to do so.

After living with a potentially fatal illness for the past two years, I have realized that standing up and speaking before an audience is not the worst thing that could happen. Recently I decided to share my story with my church family (at least 200 persons) during Sunday morning service. I simultaneously prepared and agonized for days in advance, but the time came and guess what? I survived! In fact I was overwhelmed by the positive responses I received from people who were in the audience, not only after the service but for several days following…in the supermarket, my neighborhood and even in the restaurant I sometimes buy lunch.

We tend to spend time agonizing about things over which we really have no control, however the best approach may be to pray, face our fears head-on, and then move on.

My next challenge:Colbeck Castle (3)
I have accepted an invitation to speak to a photography group about using photography as therapy. Will my heart race…my sweat glands become overactive…will I be in perpetual terror until the day passes? Probably. But maybe to a lesser extent than before.