Wednesday, 14 December 2011

‘Tis the Season for gathering

Christmas time --- What comes to mind is getting together with family. Not necessarily the family in which one was raised. More often people who have a special significance for you.

Last week on a night when the winter gale blew trees sideways, tore slate tiles from the roofs, and the snow spirits danced in circles in Huntly Square, Amber and I went to the Huntly Area Cancer Support Centre’s Christmas party. Usually I’m allergic to parties and have to be dragged out to them. So many words get thrown about that mean little and are quickly forgotten, that I tend to zone out. But not this time. This was the first Christmas season with my new, extended family. There were volunteers I knew from Thursday afternoons at the Centre. Some had a recent bout with cancer, and were still undergoing therapy. Some I met for the first time.

Fiona, Magda and Bobbie lay out a beautiful spread for us. The punch bowl was filled with sweet but lethal punch . Alistair made sure that our wine glasses were filled. And so once the food and wine took hold we all felt like singing. Liz Hunter led off with several beautiful solos of Christmas carols, and then we joined in. Her angelic voice made ours sound a bit raspy but no one seemed to mind. Or appeared particularly self-conscious.

We traded many stories that night. Pam Heinemeier apparently lives in the house where George MacDonald spent his early life. When I was much younger his fantasy books cast their spell on me. I still regard him as a mentor. We talked about how the railway line first came to Huntly, about several springs in the Huntly area that traditionally have curative properties. Ian Clive Hunter, an artist who lives in Andalusia, described his work and religious Spanish art.

We'd have stayed longer, but the howling wind outside let us know it was time to go. And so, after saying our good-byes, we went off into the swirling snow.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

AWAKENINGS (On the Perth-Aberdeen train)

We all know them.
Unasked for moments when the veil is drawn aside.
And then we see; not only see but understand
What’s so clear; so obvious.
How could I have missed
What's been staring me in the face?
Days or even years?
You bask in the morning sun on a new landscape
With no room for thought,
Or that it’s only a glimpse.
That the veil may be drawn again
And leave you among grey shadows.

And mama, with an old brain
Riddled with plaques and tangles
Looking at me for days, but not really looking,
Not knowing who she is. Where she is.
She awakens.
That smile, half laughing on her lips
Is there for me.
Her open eyes sparkle,
Dewdrops in the morning sun,
A look of more than a thousand words.
She takes my hand; an iron grip
That will not let go.
A moment, a minute or an hour.
Then she looks away.
Withdraws from us,
Returns to the twilight world
Or to a place beyond that I know nothing of.
Not yet.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Huntly Area Cancer Support Centre

On Thursday afternoons I volunteer at the Huntly Area Cancer Support Centre. Set close to Huntly Square, it's a place where those touched by that dreadful disease can find support, advice, friendship and healing.

Cancer is a scary word, so doctors don’t like to speak it when delivering their diagnosis. Families don’t talk about it. Children are most often shut out. I remember, because 18 years ago my wife was visited by cancer. We were bewildered, confused by the range of options, decisions to make, whom to tell and when. Nothing was simple or certain --- except for the reality of the scourge. Luckily we had a supportive network of family and friends. I leaned heavily on whoever was within earshot. Help appeared from unexpected sources. There was a box of oranges that turned up on the doorstep. People who offered to pick up the kids, or keep them for a few days. Or stay with them while I was away on a business trip. Warm soup was often delivered to our kitchen. A religious minister came by regularly and gave my wife a healing. But not everyone is as fortunate as I.

Which is why, when I first heard of the Huntly Centre, I asked if I could help man the front desk. Having traveled the road from cancer diagnosis through various stages of treatment and death, I know something about the way. Also that a cancer diagnosis does not mean that death is inevitable. Most important when confronted by the unknown is to live each moment to the full, not to shut down or succumb to fear or despondency. All medical studies have shown that those who maintain a positive spirit tend to survive. Ones attitude often affects the efficacy of the treatment. Which is where the Cancer Centre comes in.

I found an extraordinary group of people dedicated to helping cancer victims their families and carers maintain their quality of life. Carers are often equally battered by the disease. Depleted. After sharing our stories I felt that we’d known each other for much longer than a few hours. All volunteers have a strong empathic sense. Some worked as nurses or as alternative healers. Others like myself have a history with cancer.

Clients walk in unnanounced, some referred by friends or doctors; others see the store sign and open the door to see what's inside. Often they just need someone who will listen to them; help them deal with concerns or fears, in a non-clinical setting. Sometimes they only need information or a referral to a MacMillan nurse. For clients struggling with the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation, the centre offers Reiki, Reflexology, and other complementary therapies.

On my first day at the Centre a woman came in. Distressed, and in obvious pain from cancer treatment, she asked for a Reiki treatment. Reiki is an ancient, non-invasive treatment where the healer’s hands move above the body, but do not touch it. The treatment relaxes the client, eases pain and helps restore their energy levels. It's effective not only for patients but for carers or family members who need an energy boost. Therapeutic Touch, a similar healing art, originated among nurses in the United States. It is practiced by thousands of nurses in many hospitals.

Pam took the woman to the therapy room. An hour later when the client emerged, she had a more peaceful look about her. Not healed, but with more energy and in less pain. Perhaps not as overwhelmed by the disease. The treatment must be doing her some some good, because she keeps coming back for more.