There is a photograph from my childhood of my father in a furry-tailed Davy Crockett hat, standing behind my sister who is wrapped in a puffy red jacket, and me, a baby, bundled into a pram. We are standing next to our proud snowman in the garden of our house in North London, surrounded by tree branches caked in snow.
The photo radiates joy; it fills me with an effusive love for wintertime that I’ve otherwise never really felt. People often speak of winter as their favorite season. You can see a hazy romantic glow in their eyes and feel the endearment they have for the cold, and for a blazing fireplace.
I’ll happily rewatch “Love Actually” with you every Christmas Eve, but I’ve never felt a personal affinity for winter. Summer has always been my season. If I could spend all day sprawled next to a turquoise ocean, flipping through a novel while drinking gin and tonics, I would.
This love of summer originated from my family’s biannual migration to my mother’s birthplace in Canada every July and to my father’s home in South Africa every December. As the arctic winds settled over England, our tickets were booked and our bags were packed.
When I reflect on my life, it becomes evident that this physical aversion to the cold has become a metaphorical evasion of taking the time to rest, to find solace within myself. I’ve chased the highs of summer for decades, and in this pursuit, I’ve forgotten how to be still.
There is something felicitous about finding myself in England during winter while navigating through cancer, again. I’d been eagerly planning a trip back to South Africa, daydreaming of all the summer activities I would do, and then, along came a relapse I never anticipated. With it came the reality that I would not be traveling anywhere anytime soon. It pained me to watch all those beautiful beach days quietly dissolve before my eyes.
But this afternoon, I step out of the hospital as an icy November chill stings my cheeks, white fog escapes in smoky tendrils from my lips, and the warm glow of Christmas lights glitter back at me from every storefront, and I can’t help but feel I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
It’s odd to find myself comforted by the ominous amber of afternoon skies and evenings filled with rest. I used to feel incomplete unless I had an agenda filled with plans, places to be, and people to see. That all seems to have evaporated now with this acquiescence to what is, instead of what I thought would be.
I finally understand that these equinoxes exist for a reason, that we are fluctuating, dynamic beings deeply connected to the seasons. The internal mirrors the external. We are not designed to be “up” all the time.
For weeks after this relapse, I felt anger interspersed with bouts of crushing jealousy. Why me and not them? By them, I meant everyone my age, online, carrying on with life as normal. So unaffected by the daunting reality of a second cancer diagnosis in their 20s. I felt anger that these people — friends and strangers — would likely never understand what it felt like to lose the capacity to live a normal life, overnight. To suddenly be restrained to a hospital bed, a drip attached to their arm.
I always saw myself as this hyperactive, wild, adventuring, live-life-to-the-fullest kind of person. That was the narrative of myself I clung to. That’s why getting sick hurt so much — because it didn’t fit with this idea of how my life was supposed to be. As if we get to choose … as if we have any control?
Healthy people get sick. Young people get sick. Who knew? There is no grand design to the mosaic of happiness and pain that is our lives. There is no formula. Shit happens. It will happen to you. You can’t run from the storm when it batters the shore. Learning to surrender and embrace the downpour is what saves you.
I am now embracing my first real winter in years. The Christmas lights and the biting cold and, who knows, maybe even snow? Life is good; life is beautiful in all its stages. Even when the highlight of your day is watching “Antiques Roadshow” with your old man on the couch.
Surrender to the seasons of your life, whichever one you find yourself in, knowing, after all, that it’s always temporary.
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