By Tess Ley
We had an epic holiday period planned for the 2018/2019 break.
We were going to have a party for 400 people, to thank them for supporting us through my cancer journey. Two days later was my husband’s family Christmas function, with over 50 people. The next day, Christmas: say no more. And boxing day? Jetting over to New Zealand for a two-week camper van trip through the South Island with our one- and four-year old to relive our honeymoon. Hiking, horse-riding, kayaking, swimming with dolphins.
Like I said, it was meant to be an epic four weeks of love, fun and celebration.
But, two weeks out, we found out I have 35 cancerous spots throughout my brain, four spinal lesions and… well, let’s just say that travelling and hiking remote NZ was not highly recommended by my doctors.
On top of that, our four-year-old was diagnosed in hospital with a rare (and transient) condition that would likely leave him bed-bound for two to six weeks.
So, there go those amazing plans of ours.
In the swiftness of a doctor’s consultation or two, we went from the idea of thriving through the holidays to simply hoping to survive the holidays.
It’s a phenomenon that every adventurer knows well: how to shift gears when something fucks up on a grand scale.
Whether the weather turns and we can’t visit family across the country, or a sudden illness or injury precludes us from the hike we were planning, shifting gears is something adventurers do with great grace. The resilience we have learnt from years on the trail or in the saddle or in kayaks or however you choose to adventure, comes to the fore, and we actively make the best decisions we can in the circumstance.
Some days we’re left trying to choose which flavour of shit-sandwich we want to eat, and the options aren’t particularly pleasant. But most days, there will be something magical there. Some alignment of the moons that we’d previously discounted, and now are able to take advantage of.
A few days ago, exhausted from full-brain radiation, we ended up at the beach at the end of our street. We sat, with the grains of sand sifting between my toes and the sounds of the water lapping the shore. It wasn’t remote or romantic; dogs and kids and adults were everywhere, there was the smell of artificial sunscreen in the air and there was litter in the sand. BUT: It was still grounding. I could still put my hands in the earth, and feel the water at my feet. My boys still found rocks and shells and jelly fish to explore. The sun was on my back, and the wind was in my soon-to-fall-out-hair and while it wasn’t how I had pictured that day, it was still perfect.
This moment in nature brought me back to myself, reminding me that life is always here, living away, ebbing and flowing like the tide, no matter your intentions or agenda. I felt that this was more than survival, something closer to thriving.
It’s not always easy finding those silver linings. But if you have the power to create a village around you — whether it is family, friends, online kindred spirits, animals, or the very sky itself — there is often a way to make your situation shine. To know that the wild is for all of us, that it has so very much wisdom to offer us and an open invitation to thrive with it, wherever we are.
So how do we move from the “thriving” we wanted into “surviving,” without losing our hope, joy, and momentum?
For me, this time, it’s embracing that at least I’ll be losing all my hair in the midst of summer (arguably the best time to lose it, I suppose). It is embracing that by foregoing New Zealand, we are able to spend time at the beach with family and friends. And it is appreciating that my initial prognosis was that I wouldn’t see this holiday period at all. So as awful as brain cancer is, it means I'm still alive.
I hope you all can get out into whatever wild you can today and take some time for peace for yourselves.
Into the Blue
If you enjoyed Tess’s piece, you’ll probably also love this story, about leaving behind a career that’s sucking the joy out of life.