It would be uber-cliché to say that cancer is a game changer. Of course it is. We’ve all heard it before. It changes priorities and perspective and ultimately alters the lens through which you experience life.
Now that doesn’t mean that everything is now tinged with rose-hued, beatific light. Nor that I see everything in gloomy shades of blue and grey, but it does mean I have learnt to appreciate and to ‘bank’ what I call ‘everyday joys.’ Those technicolour moments that surprise you by jumping out of nowhere to stop you in your tracks.
Pre-cancer and chemotherapy, otherwise known as life B.C.C, at the end of any normal day I could doubtless have more readily reeled off my list of irritations, worries and annoyances, than shared a catalogue of things that have made me smile that day.
Yet, now those little moments that make me smile, so often insignificant and fleeting, I actively clock, bank and take a mental snapshot to store up for greyer days.
It could be anything from the heavy clomp, clomp, stompy footfall that heralds my daughter’s arrival at my bedroom door, clad in over-size, ill-fitting princess heels and armed with a wand and tiara at 6.45am on a Saturday morning. Or the uncontrollable, life-affirming giggles of laughter as my husband chases the kids up the stairs as the Daddy monster. Or simply the wafting scent and inviting froth of a well-made coffee as I sit at the kitchen table in peace, alone, for once. And obviously, sunrises. Always sunrises.
These experiences are not the stuff on which legends are founded. They do not involve great courage, resilience, nor mental and physical fortitude. At the moment, for me, Herculean endeavours like summiting mountains or sailing the oceans feel out of reach, such feats exist somewhere beyond the chemotherapy timetable of poison, recover, repeat. But these mini-triumphs, these ‘everyday joys’ are all around me.
In the last few days some of my great everyday joys include the following:
Watching my daughter scoot halfway to nursery. Totally mundane to some, but my daughter is inherently lazy. If there is a buggy to sit in, she will sit. If there is set of shoulders to ride on, she’ll demand that option. If no alternative to walking is offered, she’ll sit down in protest or demand to go in the car. She’s a persistent creature and through my own ‘weakness,’ namely a desire to (occasionally) arrive on time, or in fact to get anywhere, I often concede to the easy option. So, it was with immense pride, joy and surprise that I witnessed my daughter not only opt to take her scooter to nursery, but actually get beyond the driveway and HALFWAY to nursery before any protestations were uttered.
A second moment of ‘joy’ was returning home from a recent hospital trip to be greeted by my loving spaniel offering not one…but two slippers! A minor miracle? Or perhaps a sheer fluke? But given that my slippers are often distributed around the house by said loving spaniel and deposited / hidden as single items, my euphoria at being handed TWO slippers was very high.
The thing is, when you start counting, it’s almost staggering how much ‘joy’ there is in each and every day.
A cursory glance at the snowdrops, now beginning to peak their heads up through the wintery soil. A proper old-fashioned letter from a friend that arrives with the morning post. Being solemnly presented with a soft toy by my toddler son, repeating his latest word ‘owl.’ The satisfying crunch of cracking the surface of icy puddles. Blissful yoga stretching to release long held tensions. Minutes spent jumping up and down to pop bubble wrap. The list is endless. All everyday moments that make my world a better, happier place.
I might have briefly noted and enjoyed such moments before, but I have never actively sought to count them, or to click the shutter in my mind’s eye and ensure that I’ve stored and filed these moments under ‘joy.’ A new memory trick to aid recall when I need them most.
What has only recently struck me about such moments is the unplanned and unexpected nature of these incidents. It has reminded me of the need to allow space and time for spontaneity in my life.
I am often guilty, as we doubtless all are (to some extent), over planning and controlling my life. Trying to ensure I know what is happening and when, listing out what I need to achieve each day, making sure I have packed for every eventuality (e.g. extra clothes in my giant backpack for emergency scenarios like ‘falling over in a muddy puddle’).
This preparedness is not a trait I wish to curb, but I have realised that often my favourite memories arise from a distinct lack of planning. And with a lack of planning comes the absence of expectation. The child-friendly afternoon BBQ that morphed into a bar crawl and dancing til dawn was insanely fun. The morning coffee/play date that turned into lunch and a full day of co-parenting toddlers until bathtime was a positive bonding experience. The unexpected hour of comedy that arose from messing about with traffic cones in a deserted car park brought chuckles and chortles galore.
Admittedly, planning can work out well too. Sometimes, when I have planned a lovely day of activities for the kids, it has all gone swimmingly, and it has indeed been a wonderful day. But all too often I let ‘the plan’ override a change in circumstances and plough on belligerently with ‘the plan’ rather than changing course.
A recent example for you. Following a glorious, sunny, winters day last week, a friend and I organised a trip to a local National Trust property for the following day. Nothing complicated, but we assumed similar cold but sunny weather. When morning came with its glacial frost, chilly fog and biting wind, I continued with Plan A, armed with scarves, gloves, snacks and snowsuits; certain that fun was to be had by getting everyone outside.
Not so. Minutes from the car I had two kids screaming with cold finger and streaming with snot. But did I turn back? No. I carried the children onwards to the windswept playground, convinced that running around would solve the problem and warm everyone up. Wrong again. One hour later despite snacks, cajoling and my best attempts at distraction, the level of persistent wailing had reached that uncontrollable pitch that grates on your very soul. Defeated and guilty I headed home, and the day was only salvaged by a roaring fire, a delicious lasagne and a movie session.
‘Idiot’ I thought to myself for hours afterwards, but sometimes it’s hard to change plans and to concede that what could, and should, have been fun, was an unmitigated disaster.
Chemotherapy means that I can’t and daren’t plan too far ahead. Far better to keep it simple. Be content to revel and relish in the everyday moments of joy (that intersperse and offset the inevitable moments of irritation and annoyance).
And so my latest life lesson is to be more flexible about my plans, to set expectations aside and carve out space and time for the unexpected. For you never know what is around life’s next corner, and every day joy has much to recommend it.