The Good Ol' Days
By Lydia Wessel, 2001
I sit here after going through 2 years of cancer treatment. First for colon cancer, then breast cancer. I sit here writing to you and trying to get the message to you. The message that no matter what you hear from the doctors, no matter what terrible diagnosis you are given, no matter if they tell you how many months you are expected to live, that you can still enjoy feelings of happiness and the joy of living, maybe even more than you ever did before your diagnosis. You don't have to fear anything. You don't have to despair. Nothing, not death staring you in the face, not the fear of never seeing your loved ones again, not the fear of never enjoying the pure sense of just being alive without pain or worry, can break you. No, we are here every moment that we have breath in our bodies to get the most out of life that we possibly can. Ask a few people you may know who have gone through a serious life threatening illness or injury. They know what I am talking about. My understanding of life comes from what I have just been through and what I have seen my father go through. I was at some very low points while going through surgeries and chemotherapy and learning about how my body was failing me. The human spirit is so strong, so willing to fight for more time to live, that you must realize that you as part of the human race can do all you need to do to try to live longer or even be cured.
If you have just been told you have cancer, you are worried that the cancer may kill you. And it may. But so what? You are here now aren't you? This day is good isn't it? I don't care if you have money problems, romance problems, or problems with your children and cancer too. You are here now. You are alive now. You may be a single parent and your children are young. You feel even more worried for them than you do for yourself. But every day that you can make a good day for them is like filling up a treasure chest for them. Even if they are so little that it will only be feelings they will remember, let them be good feelings. You probably will make it through this fight with cancer and you will be so pleased with yourself because you filled that chest with happiness and good feelings instead of sorrow and despair. I had to give up the worry and make the moments good. The moments that add up to days and weeks and months. You can do the same thing. Save up the moments in that treasure chest. They will always be there. That treasure chest will be there for your children to open up whenever they may need to in their own lives. I opened up the treasure chest my father filled for me and used it to fight my cancer.
My father has been having his own battle with blindness for more than 30 years. He has glaucoma and macular degeneration. Long ago he lost the sight in one eye and after several surgeries and even cornea transplants, his other eye that could barely see limited light and movement failed. He says that even though he could not really see a person's face, or any detail of anything, when the complete black took over, it was and is so hard to bear. Yet through all of his suffering, through all of the frustration, through the sheer sadness of not being able to see his children's and grandchildren's faces, to not be able to see his own face in the mirror, he is happy. I have never heard him complain. I have seen him sad at times, especially after surgeries when he has had to undergo painful treatments because of complications. But I have never seen him give up on life. He has been in high spirits 99% of the time. He still got things done. I mean everything done. From working outside the home for many years, to cutting the lawn and taking care of his yard, to cleaning in the home. He and my mother have never stopped going to dances and dancing the night away. My father has done all of these things all of his life with a smile and he conveys the feeling that he is enjoying every minute of it. He does so much and never brings attention to his blindness. He was so stubborn for many years that he would not use a cane and has had many bruises to prove it. Now at 72 and with no sight left, he has begun to use a cane, but he is not giving in to his blindness. My family was always aware that he had been living with very limited sight but as my father told me, seeing nothing but black is quite a difficult thing to get used to. Yes, absolute blindness when your body is still in good shape and you have the energy of a racehorse is quite a cross to carry. I know many people are born blind and many people lose their sight instantly in an accident or injury. I am not saying my father has suffered more than other people. I am just trying to tell you that you do have a choice in how you face your disease.
You can face a lot of it with joy and laughter, if you just let yourself. It is all about choices. How will you face your cancer? Will you choose to dwell in it? Or will you enjoy yourself in spite of it? I think most people choose the latter. In fact, in all the places I went to receive my cancer treatments, most people who were going through the same thing were the happiest people I've ever come across. I know why: They are not wasting it, they are enjoying as much as they can of each day. They are living the "Good Ol' Days."
You will have some depressing days. I sat some mornings and just let myself cry as much as I damn well pleased. I cussed as loud as I could and I told God it wasn't fair and I didn't like it! Perhaps you are saying to yourself as you read this, "Well, of course everyone knows life isn't fair, she is being silly." Well, let me tell you, it sure seems to me it is more fair to some people. How about those mean old people who live to be 90 and then die in their sleep with no illness whatsoever? Who the hell let them get so lucky? I'm 48 and lots of children are dying from cancer. That's a bunch of crap! Sometimes you envy everyone who is healthy. You look at them when they ask you how you are. You know they want you to say fine. You may be in complete and total agony, but they only want you to tell them the good that is happening to you. Not because they don't care, but because they are helpless to do anything for you. People will do so much for you when they hear you have cancer that your head will spin. I was overwhelmed by people's kindness. I still can't believe how kind people are.
You are thinking, "She is probably cured so she can say whatever she likes." Well you are wrong! I don't have anything but hope to hold onto. Just like everyone else walking around this planet, I don't know how much time I have left. I do know that I have cancer and that ain't too good. So I made a deal with myself. When I am on my absolute death bed and looking back to how I lived my life, I am not going to think to myself, "Boy did I waste it. I still had years or months to live and I spent the day worrying and feeling sorry for myself instead of doing something that would have brought me and other people pleasure. Those were "The Good Ol' Days" and I didn't even know it. Not fear, or pain or sadness could take them away from me. I should have enjoyed them." Nope, I'm not going to think that because I am going to think this instead: "Well maybe I can't walk and I can't talk and the pain is unbearable today, but I sure didn't waste a day. I sure made the best of every moment. Boy, am I proud of myself. Lydia you did a great job!"
We can all live the "Good Ol' Days" until our very last day. Since we don't know the exact moment we will die, even your last day can be a "Good Ol' Day" if you just let them all be.
Postscript: Lydia passed away on March 16, 2008, seven years after writing this. They were seven years full of Good Ol' Days. On her 55th birthday, which was the last week of her life, she enjoyed a fabulous day at Disneyland. Even though she experienced it from a wheelchair that day, she demonstrated that you can make any day a Good Ol' Day.