On a frantic October morning, I had one second of inattention and fell down a flight of stairs which resulted in a snapped 5th metatarsal and a chipped ankle. I ended up in a cast and spent the entire month of November looking out my front window. With the beautiful weather, cyclists abounded, the neighbours walked their dogs, children played. Stuck with only the fish for company, I sat, seething inwardly. With nothing to watch on T.V. but the American election, I started knitting pussy hats. And thinking…
About death…I hate to break this to you but we are all terminal. And since April is Cancer Awareness Month, here are your chances: 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes; 1 in 4 will die of the disease…let that hit you…I’ll wait…Truth is we all know someone who has been affected. Looking around Winnipeg, many of our dearest friends have authored compelling books on the subject.
“I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk this earth.”*
Reading Melanie Penner’s Our Hope Adventure feels like you are sitting down for coffee with a good friend. Melanie was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and when she was told that it was terminal, she wrote a blog which eventually became her legacy to her family. Although she struggled with how to accept losing all of the good in her life, she did so by taking her husband’s advice to count their blessings every day. She chose to keep focused on the gains she would achieve through her faith. She bravely told her story at many speaking engagements, using her voice to teach others about cancer and to share her absolute faith that God had a plan for her even though she faced such hardships. She challenged all of her followers “to tell someone you love what they mean to you and why you value them…..it has the power to change them and you”.
Born in Roseisle, Melanie Penner moved to Winnipeg to pursue an Education degree. She was a teacher in the St-James School Division and member of the Whyte Ridge Baptist Church. You can listen to her interview with Pastor Terry Janke about gains and losses (Phil 3:7 – 11).
“I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.”
As Wayne Tefs describes in Dead Man on a Bike, he was motivated to chase away his black thoughts by biking many of the world’s most beautiful cycle paths. He proclaims that a cancer diagnosis can be the best thing that ever happened to you because it gave him his “Punch in the Face” moment… Why ME? …Then comes the moment when you get “helicopter vision”. It is when you realize that all of your materialistic concerns are no longer important. He used his time on his bike to meditate about appreciating the Zen of menial tasks, of embracing love everywhere he found it and of taking solace in doing everything he could while he still had the time. He encourages his readers to be proactive; for him it was the key to well-being. Keep moving forward, keep riding, and most of all enjoy the scenery.
Wayne Tefs was born in St-Boniface, Manitoba and grew up in Northwestern Ontario. After moving to Winnipeg, he became head of the English at St-John’s Ravenscourt School. He was the co-founder of Turnstone Press and author of many articles, biographies and novels.
“I am the reason you walk. I animated you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back towards one another.”
In The Reason You Walk, Wab Kinew writes about how his life was also changed when his father, Tobasonakwut, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Seeking to heal their fractured relationship, Wab embarked on a journey to reconcile with his father. Tobasonakwut was a respected elected leader and a beloved traditional chief who endured a traumatic childhood in residential school. Together, they courageously attempted to repair their family bond. They did so by remembering the lessons of the Anishinaabe travelling song Nigosha anisha wenji-bimoseyan (I am the reason you walk). “We ought to recognize that our greatest battle is not with one another but with our pain, our problems and our flaws. To be hurt, yet forgive, to do wrong, but forgive yourself, to depart from this world leaving only love. This is the reason you walk”.
Wab Kinew was born in the Onigaming First Nation and is the associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Winnipeg. He is a member of Midewin and an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. He is currently the MLA for Fort Rouge in Manitoba.
“And now, my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk,”
Dennis Maione’s What I Learned from Cancer is his journey through two bouts of colon cancer, both considered primary. Maione, with the help of friends he calls the “background bookworms”, discovered through persistent research that a particular strain of the Lynch syndrome happens to be prevalent in Manitoba’s Mennonite community. As a result, he is genetically predisposed to cancer and that his children may have inherited the same gene. And indeed, they discover that his son is affected. Even though he and his son live under the specter of cancer, they live life fully. Maione gives practical advice such as how to talk to doctors and how to organize your community around you. He encourages his readers to research their conditions, get tested regularly and never to lose hope.
Dennis Maione lives in Winnipeg and is a member of the Manitoba Writers Guild, the Creative Non-Fiction Collective Society, the Manitoba Storytelling Guild and the Writers’ Union of Canada. He maintains a website and blog here.
“For I am calling you home. Walk home with me on that everlasting road.”
If you or someone you love is facing a cancer diagnosis, I encourage you to use your local librarian as a background bookworm. We excel at finding information. Be it cancer cookbooks, how to cope with grief or trying to reconcile with family, the library will find the resources you need. Can’t leave home? We have eBooks and audiobooks through OverDrive. Need a doctor? Look here. Every journey starts with putting one foot in front of the other, start walking!
6 months, 7 pussy hats and 1 Women’s March later, my foot is now considered healed. I wish I could say the same about the state of the world. All that sitting and thinking made me realize that I can do better. My injury was a blessing in the sense that it gave me a helicopter’s perspective of how important it is to be able to walk. I appreciate that so much more now. So, I will live in the moment. I will appreciate life. I will continue to read so that I may walk in other people’s shoes. I just had my Punch in the Face Moment (lite). When will you have yours?
In memory of Cyril Dufault.
*This and the other similar quotes come from Wab Kinew’s book, The Reason You Walk.