Michel de Montaigne observed life, and he observed himself observing life.
And went on to write a large book of essays on his observations and thoughts.
One thing struck me as I read these essays; He never mentioned regret and he was right not to.
Regret is such a waste!
I regret nothing.
Niente, nichego, nista, niets, nada, diddly squat!
Not my career choice, my marriage, motherhood, divorce, walking away from my home, moving back to dublin, bad relationship choices, jobs.
I do not even regret my cancer.
How could I?
My cancer was ‘me’, my cells, my illness, my story.
I refused to ‘battle’ against it as I would have been battling myself. Instead I tried to understand it, to gentle it, to calm it.
And I would almost be so bold as to say I am grateful for it.
It was a change of direction.
In a life that was so busy I hardly knew what day it was and was often rushing so much that I just touched the ground in spots, it steadied me.
But more importantly it gave me a different outlook.
I slowed down so that instead of a blur I began to see life with clearer eyes.
Everything appeared brighter and more meaningful.
Everyone I met had a place in this new journey.
I became aware of the impermanence of relationships. I could see now that everyone I met wasn’t necessarily meant to stay.
That I should willingly let go of people as they slipped in and out of my life.
Some did stay for longer periods. Others only fleetingly.
But everyone of them, by word or deed (or even both) added something of significance. It was up to me to recognise that significance.
And so my journey of awareness started.
On the day I had my initial biopsy, I was limping home pushing my bike.
The radiologist who had carried out the ultrasound guided procedure had warned me not to cycle and even if I had chosen to disobey him, the bulky pressure dressing would have made it too uncomfortable.
I stopped at a shop, a small bakery (that I was even thinking of food at a time like this I should have seen as a good sign but I hadn’t begun to think that way yet, so new was I to it all) and leaned my yellow bike against the wall and went into the warm sweet smelling interior in a daze.
Two rosy cheeked women with flowery aprons lifted their heads to look at me.
They looked like sisters with the same very short curly grey hair.
One slightly taller than the other.
‘What a beautiful bike’ The taller one said.
I burst into tears.
‘I know’ I howled rooting for a damp tissue from my bag ‘But it’s no use is it to me now, I think I have cancer!’
‘Aragh cancer shmancer’! She laughed dismissively handing me a serviette ‘Been there! done that and sort of worn the T shirt.
She ran her hand ruefully through her tight wavy hair. ‘And Mary too!’.
She smiled warmly over at her colleague who nodded in agreement.
‘Yes Its a bit of a journey all right but you’ll meet wonderful people along the path!’ She continued breezily.
‘Now! What would you like? We have some lovely fresh scones. They’ll do you the world of good with a nice cup of tea’.
She shook her head as I started to pull out my purse ‘They’re on us aren’t they Mary?’
The shorter plumper woman nodded again.
‘Nope we won’t take a penny for them’ She agreed.
They filled a brown paper bag with the warm scones and pushed it across to me smiling. ‘Best of luck with everything Pet’
As I walked out the door the taller woman called after me
‘Oh the trick is, leave the worrying to the doctor. Thats what he’s paid for! Just do exactly what he tells you! That way you won’t be able to blame yourself if it all goes pear shaped.
Mary laughed ‘She’s right you know’.
Then she added more seriously ‘And watch out for yourself on that bike with those buses and taxi’s! They are more likely to kill you than any tumor’!
I left the shop with a heavy bag of scones and a lighter heart.
Now this is not a Montagne essay and I do not want to bog you down with the story of my illness or make a heavy hand of my treatment details.
Instead I want to tell you another story somewhat related.
Strange though it may seem, some meetings had significance long before I was aware they had.
It was only at a later stage when I was struggling and needed a bit of a lifting of my spirits that I remembered them…
Once upon a time. The beginning of March 2009 to be exact, I walked out of the main hospital doors to the carpark.
We had had a busy day on the floor and I was tired and grumpy.
I reached the camper and was about to unlock the door when something white fluttering on the windscreen caught my attention
‘Damn’ I thought ‘a parking ticket!
I must have forgotten to leave my staff pass visible on the dashboard.
But it wasn’t a ticket.
Instead it was a letter, folded neatly and held in place by the windscreen wiper.
Now my camper (yes! the turquoise one with the pink cherry blossoms painted on it giving the impression that I had driven through an cherry blossom orchard) draws a lot of attention.
Sometimes I would find scraps of paper with phone numbers and a ‘do you want to sell your camper’ msg scribbled on them.
But this was a large sheet of paper, rather official looking.
I unfolded it carefully and read
Dear Ms campervan owner,
I presume you are a woman as I have been guilty of peeping through the window of your van and have noted how pretty not only the exterior of it is but the interior too.
I love the embroidery anglaise curtains! the silk pink cushions! the beautiful blue linen fabric of the seats.
I am presently having treatment for cancer and I often see your van when I attend for my radiotherapy.
It lifts my spirits especially on days when I am struggling.
One day, when I recover!! I am going to get a van like yours and head off exploring europe and maybe beyond.
Thank you for this visual gift.
Sorry for rambling on but just want you to know how much it has helped me.
(ps I won’t insult you by suggesting you would ever sell such a fab vehicle BUT?…… xxx)
There was a name and a phone number.
As I stood there reading the letter over again I was struck with how lucky I was to be so healthy.
Six weeks later I was diagnosed with metastatic malignant melanoma.
And I have told a big fat lie
I do regret one thing.
I regret that I never rang that number on the white letter
I would love to know if she(like me) had recovered.
I wondered if she had found a camper like mine and explored europe.
So in 2010 when I finished my treatment and took off on the yellow bicycle across france I kept a sharp eye out for a camper with an irish reg driven by a woman with a zest for life look in her eye….
Not the end.