Cancer, My Spiritual Journey Pt. 5

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RULE SIX: FAMILY AND FRIENDS

If you are going to fight cancer, it really helps to have people you can rely on. The most amazing phrase I heard when I went through cancer treatment and jaw surgery was used by medical personnel who kept calling Debi a supportive spouse. I asked my social worker Maggie at the Cancer Center why they kept using the supportive spouse term for Debi. She said, “If you do not have a strong marriage, a lot of spouses freak out and leave.” This dumping happened to me with long term friends who would not even answer my phone calls. Later on, one told me he did not know how to deal with it. Being a caregiver is a lot of hard physical and emotional work. Not only was Debi with me all through the fight with cancer but when I had my jaw replaced, she slept in the room with me for nine of the fifteen days. Debi and I have been together for 41 years with 38 years of those married. The thought of running away from her if she becomes ill is completely foreign to me. You need to honor each other and “the deal is”, as we say in our house, for better or for worse. My marriage is not perfect and I cannot tell you the times the “D word” has popped up. It’s a lot of work to stay together and Deb says sometimes the fear of failure has just kept us together. But you need to be more than lovers. You need to be helpmates. If you are unsure about your commitment to each other maybe you’re not really married. Have a frank talk with your spouse. Your lives could depend on it.

I was fortunate enough to have great friends. Del Sanborn and I worked together for well over 14 years. When I got sick, Del was not only a great touchstone but he stepped up and organized a fundraiser and bike ride. The two churches I attended helped with the event and so many people showed up they needed to slide open more partition walls to make more room at the Wallace Inn. After the Spokesman and Shoshone News-Press covered the story of my illness, it was estimated that over 400 people showed up for the fundraiser.

The Northern Pacific Rail Trail (NorPac) with the outhouse and nice trail head at Willow Creek was a result of my fight with cancer. The then president of the Centennial Trail group from Coeur d’ Alene, Gene O. Meara, told me if I was “going to die I should leave something behind.” He asked me, as one of the founders and President the Friends of the Coeur d’Alene Trails, to write a grant and establish the NorPac. I jumped on the idea and It gave me purpose. But when I was near the closure of the project, I lost my mind to chemo brain and another guy Jeff Harvey stepped in to finish the project. A year later Gene and I had tea on the NorPac and I noticed his long hair, which he had cut in support of me, had come back.

Don Berger, the owner of the local Wallace True Value Hardware Store, asked me if I wanted a job in his basement stocking shelves away from the public. I gratefully accepted the job which gave me another reason to get up every morning. And because I was in the store basement, I was not exposed to the flu that was going around. Don was also touched by his four- year-old grandson, Chad, who was battling cancer. Both Chad and another Wallace boy, Dylan Dean, had bad cases of cancer and entered life with real fights. Chad went around telling patients that he had so many angels that he was willing to share some with others. I watched those kids. They blocked for me, as I carried the ball. They would have been young men now. I keep an eye on Chad’s memorial tree in a local park and prune it from time to time tearfully thanking him for his courage and his angels.

I also want to say a few words about those who had cancer at the same time as I did. There is a great sense of support among those fighting cancer as a band of brothers and sisters with a common goal. When you beat the disease, there is a sorrow and guilt that goes with being a survivor while others faded. At the same time I was diagnosed, my friend Debbi Angle also found out that she had pancreatic cancer. She and I were comrades though the whole experience and constantly compared notes. I would watch her lean on her husband Jim as they would leave the cancer center laughing, buzzed on the medication. When I pulled Debbi up to the front of the altar and we had hands laid upon us in a quiet healing service at Osburn Baptist Church, it was bonding moment. It is still hard to talk about her. After we both went into remission she and I went crazy working and volunteering for our communities that supported us. Debbi lived for 10 more years, far longer than anyone expected. I want to point out that she actually did not die from cancer; her body just gave out. Debbie Angle was a valiant fighter. Another great supporter was my Sunday School teacher Dennis Adams. He often patiently sat with me at my appointments. His quiet strength kept me centered when I started to walk off the deep end.

Lastly, Doug Fagerness and I had a wonderful friendship when his wife was diagnosed and quickly died from brain cancer. Doug not only offered me hugs, but he gave me his wife’s $24,000 life insurance policy to help with all my medical expenses. Later on, a mutual friend, Teresa, also stepped up to help pay my overwhelming medical bills. If we all had friends like Doug and Teresa, the world would be a vastly different place.

In closing, I had a great support group. My wife, churches, friends, employers and benefactors all stayed with me and cheered me on. This is a debt that I attempt to pay back to society with my endless volunteer efforts. I am a lover of life and I am grateful to a God who chose to offer me a miracle.

IN CONCLUSION

Life is precious. We need to respect each other and love ourselves more than we do. The only way people will learn to respect themselves and the environment is to slow down and take more quiet moments letting nature sink into our souls. When we respect ourselves and nature, we will stop eating bad food, including animal flesh, and save ourselves from disease. When we reject squares and rectangles and step outdoors to exercise, we will not only have better bodies but more relaxed minds. By understanding that fear is a luxury you don’t have time for in your fight to conquer cancer, you become aware how that also helps you in other areas of your life. You must make a decision to fight against the darkness of disease but also the darkness that inhabits all of humanity. These darknesses are often linked. Hold to the connection of family because it is the very basis of all things good. Be faithful, loving, kind and supportive to each other as husbands and wives because your very lives depend on that relationship. Lastly, figure out what you believe and just how much you believe it. You are going to need to depend on that all of your life. So take time to explore metaphysics, art and music. Enjoy the mystery of life. Life is short. Be quick to show kindness to each other.

I am an observer of nature. I notice when I stand on the beach that the power and awe I feel of a wave crashing off of rocks and tumbling onto the shore is quickly subdued by the dread of it pulling me out away from life and all I know.

I am an observer of nature. I notice that when I swing my ax to split my evening’s kindling just before nightfall that among the woods there is a strange hollow echoing sound. An ancient sound that has been there before mankind and reminds me that I am not permanent.

I am an observer of nature. I notice that when I stand on the river and throw a large stone in the water it enters with a loud noise and spray blasts from underneath. Its rings quickly disappear. But when I find a small flat stone and skim it across the water, it is quieter but its rings are more varied and interlink across the river.

Grant to me that I should not fear the unknown. Grant to me that I may fully recognize my time here among the woods is fleeting and I become the little stone.

I ask you for peace.

Jon Ruggles

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