By Ian Robinson
I have a brave and beautiful friend.
Like me she goes to Wellspring and like me she needs Wellspring.
Like me, there are some days when I am certain the only thing that keeps her putting one foot in front of the other is the fellowship and, yes, love that can be found here.
Unlike me, she almost did not become a member of the Wellspring family.
When she talked about seeing what this place was all about, a family member — a loved one who I must hasten to add, had and has her best interests in mind — suggested that by attending Wellspring she would be dwelling on this illness, this cancer. That it would be psychologically unhealthy, particularly given that her treatment had gone well and all indications were that it would not return. Why wallow? Why not leave it in the rearview mirror? Why surround yourself with other people with cancer, many of whom would have more depressing stories than hers?
When my brave and beautiful friend told this to a small group of us who know one another from Wellspring, it was hilarious in that we all shared the same expression. An expression that could, variously, be described as, “Oh no!” and “Really? Poor guy doesn’t get it.” and “Well that ain’t right!” and “This person does not know whereof they speak!” and “What in the Kentucky fried fuck?” (Guess which one was mine? G’wan. I’ll wait.)
My brave and beautiful friend (so very beautiful because she is so very brave) ignored this well-meaning advice, because she knew in her heart something that the “civilians” cannot understand: None of us who have passed into this dark and terrible country that is cancer can ever really leave.
She is smart and insightful.
She said years after diagnosis and treatment, years after those joyful moments when her test results came back negative for the illness that was her passport into this terrible dominion of disease, no matter how good the outcome, she said, “We are still experiencing cancer.”
Let me repeat that: No matter how good our outcome, no matter how tiny a speck in the rearview, “We are still experiencing cancer.”
Cancer, for us, will always be present tense.
She understands the desire, the aching need of the caregiver to return to normal. But for us? The Cancer Tribe?
There are the scars where the surgeon’s blade cleaved to save our lives. There are the changes to our bodies that see us flinch away from the mirror. There are the scars on our souls from when we learned that all we loved and cared about could be stolen by a mass of rogue cells. There is the ever-present sense of betrayal. By our bodies. By the universe. By God, if you’re of a mind to believe. There is the fear that enveloped us so tightly it was as though we had forgotten how to breathe, as we contemplated a future for our loved ones — children especially! — without us.
The memory of pain. The aching burden of chemo. The invisible fire of radiation.
You don’t leave that behind just because your cancer was successfully treated, anymore than war veterans put it behind them when they came home in 1945. There was a reason the baby boomer’s dads used to disappear into the Legion bar with regularity.
What the Cancer Tribe has instead is Wellspring.
And no, we don’t wallow. We deal. We share. Sometimes the word “cancer” isn’t even mentioned, although it’s always there in the background I suppose. Present and permanent tense, remember?
But this is a wonderful true thing: When we share our joy, it increases.
But when we share pain and sorrow there is less of it somehow.
And that, my friends, is the essence of Wellspring.
It leads us to a place where sorrows are lessened and joys multiplied. That is something my brave and beautiful friend knew intuitively. And it is something that Wellspring continues to give us all.
If you want to respond, you can do so in the comments below or, if you’re shy, you can drop me a line direct at firstname.lastname@example.org