A backpack filled with stones

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By Caitlin Kelly

Had a conversation this week with a friend facing some serious health stuff. She’s not getting the support she needs and someone who should be there for her is instead adding to her very considerable stress by not being useful and making needed changes.

No one wants a backpack filled with stones.

I won’t be more specific but it was clear to me — as someone who’s had health issues (that oh-so-American euphemism for cancer) since June 2018 — that the minute you get a shitty diagnosis (or lose your job or face the loss of a loved one), your life is now weighted down in ways that may appear invisible to others but are very, very heavy and something you (mostly) alone are carrying.

Shame — especially in the U.S. where being “unproductive”, ill and needy is somehow taboo — adds yet another damn boulder.

Unless you can drop the backpack — and ask for help and count on getting it — having to listen to anything stupid, thoughtless or callous (and there’s plenty of it out there, from friends, family and medical staff) only adds another few stones.

No one wants that pack.

No one wants to carry it, sometimes for months or even years.

In tough times, their pack is already filled with grief and fear and physical pain and exhaustion and guilt and anxiety.

Carrying it isn’t much of a choice, even as others call you “brave” and “tough” and call out “you can fight this.”

If you know someone facing tough times, please do anything you possibly can to lighten their load.

Diminish that pack.

 

Do not add one more stone.

 

Never enough “somedays”

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My visit to Venice (3rd time!) in July 2017…The following July I was in an OR for very early stage (all gone!) breast cancer.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

So my husband Jose recently won a fantastic award from his peers, The National Press Photographers’ Association — the John Durniak Citation — given annually to the person deemed most giving and nurturing of younger talents, for the best mentor in the business.

And how perfect, then that John himself got Jose his job at The New York Times, where he worked for 31 years and helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize for photo editing images of 9/11.

It broke my heart, the day before we could announce it publicly, to read that Mrs. Franke, the high school teacher in Santa Fe, NM who first encouraged Jose to get into photography, had just died. I had so wanted to meet her — someday.

For many reasons, we tend to put things off to do “someday”, assuming we have plenty of them left, decades possibly.

 

But we don’t.

 

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One of my favorite European images, taken in Budapest

 

The cliche of cancer is how it shakes you very hard by the shoulders, reminding us we have no true idea how many somedays we’ll each enjoy.  My breast cancer diagnosis, right before my 2018 birthday, was a wake-up call.

So in 2019, we’re carpe-ing the hell out of every diem!

I’m writing these words from a Montreal hotel room with a fantastic view north to Mt. Royal. on a five-day vacation. We’ve already booked a Paris apartment for my birthday in early June and, (if I get a windfall payment I expect), may take a month off  in the fall for England and Scotland.

I hadn’t planned (who does?) to spend $1,300 on co-pays in 2018  (a nice mini-vacation lost) or most of my time in various medical settings or recovering from surgery and treatment.

I’m so glad I was able to take an unprecedented six weeks to visit six European countries in June and July 2017: France, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Italy and England. It was a birthday gift to myself and thank heaven; if I’d waited til 2018, it would have meant cancelling everything and, without trip insurance, losing a lot of money.

We’re also fortunate enough to have decent retirement savings, so, with our accountant and financial planner’s blessing, we recently took out enough to pay off our apartment mortgage in full, freeing us from monthly anxiety; as two full-time freelancers, our best clients can disappear overnight, while the bills do not.

We’ve seen what can happen to our health, and it’s sobering indeed; Jose began using insulin in 2018 as well.

I’ve always been a saver, typically opting for frugality, so spending money more freely and taking more unpaid time off feels frightening.

Here’s a beautiful essay from a website I write for regularly, considerable.com, on seizing the day:

The window of when gets narrower with every passing year, until something bad happens and the question has answered itself.

So ask yourself: Do you want to be that person? Who waited until it was too late, and that thing you claimed to want to do you can no longer do because, as Dorothy Parker reminds us “in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.”

If not now, when?

 

My someday list is is still long, including:

—  A visit to Big Bend National Park in Texas

— A visit to Bryce/Zion Parks in Utah

—  a horseback/camping vacation

— Visiting Japan, Morocco, Lebanon, South Africa/Namibia/Botswana/Zanzibar/Lamu

— Studying film more seriously

— Studying floral design

 

How about you?

Are you getting to your somedays?