I recently returned from a scenic and wonderful cruise to the eastern seaboard of Canada along the St. Lawrence Seaway. I visited several communities. In Canada, they do not call these population centers villages, cities or towns, but communities. Every sign on the road as you drive along says welcome to our community of …and the name of the town.
The tour guides on our excursion trips were outstanding and relished telling us about how the hardy Canadians survive the brutal winters in their country.
I usually think of winter as a nuisance living in Northeast Ohio. I do feel better physically during the cold months than the hot ones, especially when I am on chemo and the heat really bothers me. But, after several months of ice, snow, bundling up, pulling on boots and driving in inclement weather along with the gray and gloomy skies I get sick of the weather. I also tend to become depressed after a few weeks. I love light, long days and being outside. Ohio generally has a hard winter just for a few months from December to March.
In Canada, the winters typically begin early in October and last until May. The natives stated matter of factly that they average ten feet of snow – yes ten feet not ten inches! A “hard” winter might produce up to eighteen feet of snow. I pictured the cold, freezing, blowing, drifting, bone chilling snow biting my hands and face and just shook my head. How do they survive?
Some people do escape to warmer climates in Florida, Cuba, Central and South America. But the people who stay insist the ones who leave miss all the fun! Instead of fighting and dreading the winter, they embrace it. Most winter climates have connoisseurs of snow sports like skiing, ice skating and tobogganing. But in Canada, these hardy souls tunnel through the snow and go to their community halls. Different churches and/or community centers are located in every town. The townspeople gather to play games, sing, socialize, eat, and get to know their neighbors.
During the summer months (I was there in September) the Canadians are extremely busy planting flowers, plowing the fields, growing crops and collecting lobsters and mussels. Their flowers are absolutely stunning, and it is obvious they spend hours in their gardens. Very little time is available for socialization. But during the winter months they play and have a wonderful time with their neighbors.
There have been studies done in some of these areas on why the crime rates are so low and the fact young people do not leave after college like other cold climates. One answer is given – these children have a sense of community.
What does all this have to do with cancer? I soberly went over my eight year cancer journey. When I was first diagnosed, I was upset, furious, scared and confused. I was positive I was going to die soon. I resented the side effects that laid me flat for days from the chemo. I hated being part of this exclusive club of cancer survivors I never chose to be a part of. I worried every single day when I woke up if this was going to be my last one. I was convinced no one understood what I was going through because my cancer is so rare.
Gradually, I began to adjust. I continued to live one more day until I no longer dwell on how long I have. I found other cancer survivors who, regardless of the kind of cancer, understood my journey. I know each one of us is different and makes his or her journey alone. But we all share the same fears, emotions, side effects from the chemo, and facing an unknown future.
I began to embrace my cancer family along with the doctors and nurses and staff at the cancer center. I started to write and share my journey with other writers and readers. I learned to cherish every day.
Cancer survivors learn to tunnel through the snow. We have a community to help us become stronger mentally and support us through the tough times.
When the winter breaks, when we find we are in remission, when there is no evidence of cancer, we see the spring and absence of snow, the flowers growing and the beauty of long summer days. But, we have also experienced the sense of family and community of winter. Although none of us chose this path, we are fortunate in many ways to have both seasons. What a lesson the Canadians have taught us!