Peggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher – retired after 34 years in the classroom – and an athlete. She is now recovering from thoracic surgery and undergoing chemotherapy.
My kind and generous friend, Gary, lives on the bank of the Gatineau River, looking half a kilometre across the water to the rolling Gatineau Hills on the other side. All summer he welcomes me to paddle his boats, especially his Outrigger Canoe (OC). On land, this boat looks cumbersome and awkward, but once launched, its pencil-like hull makes it a sleek and responsive craft. Last July, on the day that I was diagnosed with ‘highly suspicious tumours’, Gary helped me put the OC in the river and I paddled downstream to where the river widens even more, and in the vast solitude of open water and endless sky I wailed and raged at the universe, seeking guidance, grace and the courage to begin the next cancer detour in my life.
Now, nearing the end of February, I am half way through my chemo. The Chemotherapy Treatment Centre at the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital has six pods, with seven beds each. Huge windows flood the rooms with natural light, and highlight the nurses’ brightly coloured uniforms. But no amount of colour and light can disguise the very sombre environment. Every patient has cancer and every patient wishes they were somewhere else. Most patients seem to disappear into their individual coping strategy, books, music or sleep.
Initially, my coping strategy was to passively present my body for receiving chemo, giving my arm for the IV hook-up, and lying still for several hours. I was very angry, resistant and in denial. Mentally, I roadblocked the chemo cocktail that was entering my body, and I tried to sleep away the hours. However, since Round One of chemo, I’ve had time to re-think that negative model, seeking a more holistic and positive way for me to approach my treatment. Never thinking of myself as a ‘passive’ person, I have always lived a life of physical activity and of making and implementing decisions about how I want to live my life. I set goals and work to achieve them. My friends might say that being passive is ‘not Peg’s style!”
In Chemotherapy my body has no choice but to passively receive the drugs. However, I realize now that my mind has the opportunity to be active. I try to focus on being mindful of the process, mentally welcoming the chemo, asking it heal my body. I visualize that I am out on the Gatineau River, paddling the OC boat and feeling the power of the wind, the sun and the water. I open my heart and my soul to the powers of nature, feeling the joy of the sun and the toss of the wind, and I listen to the water gently lapping the hull of the boat. I ask these powers to come into my body, to partner with the chemo, and I chant my mantra to the rhythm of my paddling:
Cleanse my body; Heal my body.
After many years of dragon boat paddling and training it is easy for me to ‘be in the moment’ of the muscle memory, experiencing the power and strength of my body – Reach, Rotate, Catch, Sit-up! My body knows the rhythm, the repetition, the mesmerizing cadence of miles of paddling. Oblivious to the bustle of the treatment centre, my meditating mind actively seeks nature’s healing. Alone on the vast river, I visualize the power surrounding me, peaceful in the solitude, safely cradled by the hills, and the spirit of my higher power blessing me with cleansing and healing.
Already I‘m excited about paddling this summer. Gary will help me put the OC on the river, and I will celebrate the year gone by. Joyous that surgery and chemo are behind me, I will feel my muscles, my vitality, and my energy coming to life, rejuvenating my body. In the future, I will always paddle with mindful gratitude for health and energy, and will continue to paddle to the rhythm of my mantra.