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How Many Summers

Posted 6/14/2016

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  Summer in New England is magical and fleeting season. Days like this one, sunny and breezy with low humidity and temperatures in the 70s, are rare. If I were not so responsible and so scheduled, I would have loved to stay away from the hospital today and find a way to be outdoors.

A few days ago I had lunch with a dear friend who has lived through three separate breast cancer experiences. She has been well now for many years, but, of course, still carries some worry about her future health. We were talking about the usual daily events of our lives and the rather small difference that the season makes. That is, neither of us has had a summer off for decades, and we basically get up and come to work everyday irregardless of the time of year. We agreed that we do make some small adjustments for summer and are certainly grateful for the reduced traffic and quicker commutes. I try hard to patrol my garden every morning to note what has changed in the past day, and we eat dinner nightly on the front porch. But the daily routine of early awakening, gym, work, dinner, probably more work, a little reading, and then sleep does not change.
My friend told me that she had a similar conversation with her sister who interrupted her to say: "Just how many summers do you think you have left?" This had been a stunning question that resulted in my friend's decision to make quite a few changes to her summer plans. Her sister has blessedly never has had cancer or other major health problems, but she is in her 50s and has the healthy awareness that life is not infinite. At some point, even without particular health concerns, we are not as hale and hardy as we have been, and some trips or activities or possibilities may no longer be reasonable.
With this conversation buzzing in my head, I was amazed to talk later in the day with a patient who is a real estate agent. She told me that she had recently made a big sale of a house on Cape Cod by asking the nervous potential buyers: "How many summers do you think you have left?" The man, she said, almost immediately took out his checkbook, and they thanked her for helping them remember their priorities.
Unfortunately, most of us cannot afford to buy a vacation home on the ocean, but we all can be and should be remembering those priorities. In the very best of circumstances, we don't have endless summers, and all of us who have been diagnosed with cancer should easily remember that. I certainly am not suggesting that we should wrap ourselves in worried and gloomy predictions, but that we should absolutely rejoice in the present and pay attention to all the cliches about "gathering our rosebuds while we may." I am almost embarrassed to write this as I really do resist all the directions aimed at cancer patients regarding positive attitudes, living in the moment, and appreciating what we have.
Framing these same thoughts in terms of summers is a more comfortable fit for me. I don't have all the answers yet (remember, this conversation took place only a few days ago), but I am thinking about it. I started the next day a little differently by having coffee on the patio when I came home from the gym. That evening, I my husband and I took a walk after our porch dinner and noticed the fireflies and the stars.

How many summers do you think you have left? And how are you using this one?


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  • Claire Blum said:
    6/14/2016 12:57 PM

    So appropriate -- I have been harvesting alpine strawberries and watching the birds fly by and seeing the pear tree planted in memory of mother and aunt blossom. How many cancer patients have a special place in their lives? The Blums