A Breather

This summer, a week before leaving for Santa Barbara, J⁴ spoke with a man who had had a near-death experience.  He flatlined 7 times.  The man told J⁴ that he had seen God and that it was beautiful “on the other side.”

After telling me the man’s story, J⁴ said,

“I want you to know that I’m at peace with dying.”

The summer before, in 2016, J⁴ survived malignant pleural effusion, a complication of lung cancer. Doctors predicted a 3-month life expectancy.

“If I’m going to die, I want to spend my last days at the beach.”

Her angel-of-a-husband, QCJ rented a house on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Santa Barbara.  They invited their family and my family for a week-long vacation. It was an incredible week.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought we’d make it back to the beach this year, but we did. J⁴ fought every single day of the 365 days, battling and overcoming the coughs, the fatigue, the treatment failures, the chemo, the radiation, and the depression. She assures me,

“I accept I drew the short stick with this cancer card,

but I’m not done.”

She keeps moving – onward and upward – hoping for a miracle and defying the odds.

And because of J⁴’s perseverance and optimism, we’re back in Santa Barbara this year.

We’re in a different rental house with a modified group of family, but we’re back at the beach and still have J⁴.

One afternoon while J⁴ rested by the rental house’s pool, I went out to photograph.  I google-searched a stairway to the ocean that I had seen while doing some travel research on Pinterest.  I used my Waze app to lead me to the stairway’s access,  hidden in between two homes in a Santa Barbara residential neighborhood.  With my 40+ lb camera bag on my back and wearing my street clothes and shoes, I headed down the path toward the stairs. As I approached the stairs, I saw a male runner ascending the stairs toward me. He was in great shape, yet as he passed me, I could hear his heavy breathing.  He was out of breath but still running.  I second-guessed my clothing and longed for my running shoes and workout pants/top.  The stairs were steep and numerous. This was going to be a workout for me, too.

As I descended, I noticed the people who headed up the stairs. Some had beach chairs and towels, so I presumed the steep staircase was the only exit option from the beach. Many took a break on a long bench located midway on the stairs. Below, I could see surfers slowly paddling their boards close to the shoreline, resting before heading back out to sea.  It seemed, at the moment, everyone was taking a breather.

I took photos while I made the journey down toward the water. When I reached the bottom, I, too, took a breather.

At the bottom of the steep stairs, I eyed the staircase. I had no choice but to climb in my uncomfortable shoes and with my heavy backpack the 270+ stairs back to my parked car. I knew I’d be out of breath – that the hike up would be strenuous, but I also felt confident I’d make it, possibly breathing heavily, but it’d be doable. I closed my eyes and acknowledged with gratitude my lungs that would ultimately get me to the top. I couldn’t help but think of J⁴, exactly where she should be, resting, taking a breather, by the pool and not with me at the bottom of this intimidating staircase.

That’s what happens when someone you love is challenged.  You feel the hurdle with them, and as your compassion grows, you acknowledge the simple acts we so often take for granted, like hearts continuously pumping blood to our organs and lungs expanding and contracting without thought.  We may feel occasional stress, but we don’t face a death sentence.  For most, a walk up a staircase is not life-threatening. However, when someone who used to walk with such confidence, speed, and grace, now struggles to walk a city block, we become aware. We recognize the gifts of living – of one more staircase, one more triumphant, one more day, and are humbled when we draw the long stick, allowing us one or more years.

*******

Yesterday, I went with J⁴ to her oncology appointment.  Her CT scans revealed the current chemo drug is working! Her lungs have 50% more room for oxygen.

J⁴ has triumphantly turned a death sentence into a life sentence, and we’ve all gotten a breather from worrying about her every breath as she moves forward and lives –

Next time you take the stairs, when you’re out of breath and agitated with the climb, take a moment for a breather – a time out to be grateful for breath, for health, for compassion, and for life.

And remember it’s our attitudes that shape our abilities to climb and to withstand precarious altitudes!

Positivity and hope heal – I’ve seen it firsthand “on this side!”

IMG_6433