The season for giving thanks for every great thing our country offers now ushers in a new year and time where we each have the opportunity to be involved in a variety of waning winter activities and festivities. We have the liberty and luxury to celebrate the very diverse core of who and what we are and believe – as a person and as a country.
Some of us will bask in the glow of a newly kindled love. Many of us will bask in a love that has and will last a lifetime: committments and memories made, families grown, and age taking over faster than the latest technology!
Some of us will take important time to celebrate to seasons of our faith – the tenets of who and what we believe – it may the core of Kwanza: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective work/Responsibility, Cooperative economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith. For others, worship at temples, synagogues, mosques and churches bring will fill our hearts and minds with meaning and celebration.
But there is one celebration that equalizes us all. It doesn’t matter in what we believe or don’t believe, what our faith is, or how strongly we stand on our convictions. No matter what we do, where we work, play, or we live, we can ALL celebrate the life of a friend, family member, co-worker, spouse, significant other who is a cancer survivor. (Remember: Survivor means a person from “day one” of their diagnosis of cancer to “today”!) We also celebrate the survivor’s Caregiver(s) – meaning ANY person who has helped in some way, reaching out their hand to one who is or has battled the Grinch called cancer. We REMEMBER the lives of those we have lost, and FIGHT BACK as we work to find a cure.
A sobering fact is, in Alaska, cancer is the leading cause of the death of our loved ones. Did you know, currently, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be directly affected by cancer? Cancer is discriminates against age, race, color, creed, gender, income level or where you live.Yet, while Alaska is the ONLY state where cancer outranks heart disease as the number 1 killer, it would be hard to find ANYone, ANYwhere who has not been touched by this disease.
Our borough here in Alaska, known as “The Mat-Su” is a tight-knit “family” even though it runs from Denali to Sutton to the outskirts of Anchorage – larger than some states! It is a true community where we come together to celebrate the good things and good people, but also to reach out a hand when things get tough. You only have to read a recent edition of the local Frontiersman to see this firsthand! It may be celebrating school events, someone’s accomplishment or civic projects coming to fruition; it may be people coming together after a tragic house fire, an accident or unforeseen financial or difficult circumstances.
With less daylight during our winter season of celebrations and festivities, for those who are battling cancer, or those who may have lost a loved one to the disease or cared for them, these times may be more difficult to weather than the winds that blow up through the Knik or howl up the SusitnaValley. A memory, smell, a tradition – even a song can make it rough.
How have we, here in the great Mat-Su, who embodies HOPE – the very soul of the season reached out affected by cancer?
For starters, we are ‘real’ -just being ourselves. We aren’t afraid to reach out our hand! We don’t get offended by ‘bloopers”! Most families will WELCOME a helping hand – just ask them! We might send a card to tickle the funny bone, bringing a needed smile.
We might bake a favorite goodie for the family to enjoy. Houses of worship offer up pray and lend an extra hand. Phone calls, pre-arranged visits, offers to drive folks to appointments, school events or running errands have been helpful. The “little” things that are BIG when someone has cancer – even after their treatments are long over and they are still in the recovery stages…..which can last longer for some than others.
Caregivers all too often get overlooked. Truly, THEY need are the ones needing extra TLC, often more than the one who is going through treatment. More than a few caregivers or someone who has lost a loved to cancer have been grateful when someone has asked them out for coffee or some ‘time out”.
Especially, don’t forget the kids (big and little!!) whose loved one has been affected by cancer or lost a loved one need to be remembered just as much. (HINT: I hear coupons/gift cards for a movie, pizza, ice cream or music for their iPods are hits! So are snail mail gifts of CDs/DVDs)!
If you aren’t comfortable with cancer or need resources you can call the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org. They are available 24/7. And there is a real, living person on the other end to ask questions or talk to – no robo-recording!!
Locally, support groups and community health activities have been a big help. Listings in your newspaper are a great resource to find out what is available in YOUR community.
All over the community, in over 5000 places, there will be Kick-Off’s going on the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life – the signature fund-raiser for the ‘official sponsor of birthdays”! One more festivity to celebrate and to honor cancer survivors and caregivers! Go to www.cancer.org to find out when YOUR Relay For Life is!! (And while you are at it, read about Gordy Klatt who started Relay For Life in Tacoma, WA – I interned my senior year of O.T. school under him – 8 years before Relay started!!)
HOPE: The Soul of EVERY Season: HONORING, OPPORTUNITIES, POSIBILITES, ENGAGING!
How do you put in words the wonders of winter? Do you measure it by degrees in celcius or farenheit? Do you measure it by inches or centimeters? Do you measure it by how many times (or DAYS!) the power is off? How about by how high the snow and drifts are?
Do you measure it by the wonders you see each day – whether it is in minus 24 degrees or 93 mph winds, or the sun shining brightly, making the snow shimmer as if it were a field of diamonds? Do you measure it by the smiles as you see “Snowmagilla’s” pop up around town or snow forts with kids flinging snow balls back and forth? Do you measure the joy with a strike as you ice bowl or as you run across a frozen lake in an outhouse races – of course, there are heated outhouse seats for your fish house on said lake.
How do you measure, how do you put in words, how can you describe the silence that fills the air, snow drifting softly from the night sky, or the Northern lights as they dance, ebb and flow, framing the Talkeetna mountain tops, the colors changing moment by moment.
You don’t. You just stop what you are doing, to see what is truly important. You look up. You smile. You fill your heart to over-flowing so you can somehow, someway, share….by action, not words.
Care Tuk is a nationally known speaker, educator, and retreat/workshop leader. She has been a school, hospital, and home health occupational therapist for more than 30 years. She has been named as a Top Business Woman in America and recognized for her work with youth, disability outreach and awareness, and the American Cancer Society.