Considering Summer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, emeritus

JULY 18, 2018

Life and Time and Sand and Stars

I am writing this in early July, but you will be reading it in the middle of the month. That time lapse makes my thoughts even more important. Some years ago, I had coffee with a dear friend who had also been treated for cancer. Thinking about our health histories, but also about life in general and the natural process of aging, she said: "How many more summers do you think that you have?" That question has stuck with me and comes up for examination every year.

As everyone knows and most people try to avoid, none of us is going to live forever. No one leaves this world alive, as they say. For those of us who have had a cancer diagnosis, that reality is very clear and very present in our thoughts. In the first months of panic, there is nothing settling about this reality. As time passes, it can become a helpful reminder and perspective. We learn not to waste our time on people and projects and activities that are negative or uninteresting or hurtful. Summer is an excellent example.

In New England, at least, summer is fleeting. In the brief months, we have some days that are miserably hot and humid, some that are rainy and a precious few that are perfect. Today in Maine is one of those perfect days: a cloudless sky, low humidity, cool breezes and temperature of about 80. My job is to truly notice and appreciate it. I need to see the hummingbird outside the window, the circling gulls, the colors of the water and the feel of the air on my skin. I need to remember that winter will come, and the memory of this day will be a comfort. When we must again confront the difficult moments, we can easily move to metaphor and think about the treasures of the good ones. Many people have told me of the importance of going to their happy place in their minds while lying in an MRI or CT machine. More generally, we can use the memories to remind us that better times will come again and that we have been blessed by the ones we have already experienced.

This means several important things to those of us who have felt the cold breath of mortality. We need to notice; we need to remember, and we need to fill our lives with as much beauty and happiness as possible. Don't let this summer pass without doing the things that are the essence of the season for you. My list is probably different than yours but I need to wiggle my toes in a sand beach, eat fried clams, have a gin and tonic at dusk, sit (or better yet, lie on a blanket) and look at the stars, admire the fireflies, go barefoot as much as possible, and be near and in and on the water at every possible opportunity. 

Autumn will come all too quickly, and we can't go back. Pay attention to summer and its meaning in your life.

Please share your thoughts about this season with us: http://www.cancercommunity.bidmc.org/