Standing Strong


I love this picture.  It’s my favorite one from my vacation.  Usually my favorite pictures are those of my kids or me and the hubby.  But I LOVE this picture.  It was taken on a very windy day atop the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan.  The tree in the picture is a poplar tree.  It is at least 70 feet tall and has roots that stretch out beneath the dunes in search of nourishment.  It gets beaten by winds and sand and yet is full and green and provides the only shade available for miles (I know, I stood there when I was hot one day). 

I’ve been thinking about this tree, so much so that I’ve decided to frame a print of this picture and hang it above my desk.  I’ve decided that in life you are either the tree or the sand.  You make the choice. 

One thing I love about the dunes is that they are never the same.  They change day to day, hour to hour and sometimes even minute to minute depending on the wind and other factors.  Every time someone places a footprint on the dunes, they change.  What I did notice is that from just about anywhere I walked, I could find my tree.

To get to the dunes you have to climb and incredibly steep hill.  It’s nearly straight up.  My hubby and sons scampered up the hill while I hauled my body up using ropes that protected a portion of the dunes (I wasn’t the only one.  Lots of people did this).  I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath.  I found myself more than once thinking, “This is nuts!  I will NEVER make it up this hill.”  And yet, I put one hand over the other and hauled myself up that dune.  The view from the top is spectacular.  You can see all of Silver Lake.  When you walk to the other side, you get a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.  Two beautiful views separated by one square mile of sand, populated with dune wood (it’s like drift wood, only a LOT sharper from the constant bombardment of the sand).  It’s surreal, alien and beautiful all at the same time.

Cancer is a lot like the dunes. One side is the life you had before cancer – I call this Silver Lake.  It’s peaceful and relatively calm.  You are in your own little lake and can quietly live your life protected from the majority of the storms.

Then cancer hits.  Suddenly you are faced with the steepest climb of your life.  Surgery, debulking, and chemotherapy leave you reeling.  You keep climbing in hopes of reaching the top, but when you do you can’t get solid footing.  Just when you think you’ve found someplace solid to walk, the sand dissipates beneath your feet and you sink down, stumble and, perhaps, fall down.  Unfortunately, no one is going to rescue you so you have to get back up and keep walking. 

Off in the distance you hear the ORVs (Off Road Vehicles) racing the dunes.  I can’t decide if the sound is annoying or down right obnoxious (guess it depends on your mood).  We did two tours of the dunes, one in a large group and the other in a Jeep tour.  Both were fun and I can certainly see the attraction of not having a speed limit while driving on huge mountains of sand, but the ORV area reminded me of the people who buzz by you when you have cancer.  They are on the edges, but refuse to actually engage with you.

While you might think Lake Michigan is remission, I tend to disagree.  Lake Michigan is beautiful when it’s calm.  When it storms it’s not much different than the ocean and many ships have been lost.  At it’s deepest point, it’s over 900 feet deep.  So while it looks calm and the sounds of the waves lapping can lull you to sleep, don’t be fooled. 

Nope, I’m still on the dunes trying to navigate my way.  My feet keep sliding because of the neuropathy.  I’m slowly developing lymphedema in my legs from the lack of lymph nodes in my groin so my feet get fat and walking doesn’t help.  Osteopenia and bone pain throw me for a loop.  Sometimes I’m on top of a large dune looking down.  At other times, I find myself in the valley between the dunes trying to figure out how to climb the next one. 

Finding your path on the dunes is really tough.  First you have to decide if you’re going barefoot or wearing shoes.  I found going barefoot to be a bit easier, mostly because I could feel where my feet were when I was barefoot (I lose the ability to find my feet when I walk a lot due to the neuropathy).  Trust me, you have to know where your feet are at all times and knowing they are at the end of your shins isn’t enough.

Once you have the whole footwear issue (or lack thereof) decided, you just start walking.  Some are easy to climb.  I liken these to weekly labs during chemo.  They aren’t hard, but necessary.  Some are more difficult and are like those semi-annual CT scans.  You have to do them and waiting for the results is tough, but in the end you come out on top.  Then there are the monsters.  They’re steep no matter how you try to approach them.  That’s chemo and life after chemo.

Let’s call a spade a spade and say “Chemo sucks,” because it does.  But life after cancer isn’t exactly a walk on the beach.  You have to keep climbing all these small and medium size dunes, then suddenly a big dune is right in front of you.  You can’t really walk around it and, depending where you are or where you want to go, going back isn’t an option.  So you start to plan a route and start walking.  The sand shifts, the wind blows, your feet sink and you wonder if you chose the right path.  You might even have to change course a couple of times.  Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. 

The path you chose is probably not the path your companion chooses, no matter how close you are.  You see, we all walk our own path.  While others may walk on our path for a while, only you walk your path for the entire journey. 

Wherever I walked, I always looked for my tree. It was my focal point.  If I could find that tree, I could get out.  Jesus is the tree and I am the sand.  I blow helter skelter while He stands strong.  If I find the tree, I find life.

Walking on the dunes is a challenge, just like walking through life.  We all have our own challenges.  The walk isn’t easy and some will quit.  Others will walk in circles.  The idea is to stand strong like the tree so you can make your way through the shifting sand.  Remember it’s how you walk your journey, not how quickly you reach your destination that’s important.

One thought on “Standing Strong

  1. I love this post. Battling cancer really is like climbing that sand dune.

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