Cancer and Baggage
Packing, Over-Packing and Unpacking
Let’s just get this out of the way right now. We all have baggage. Don’t try to be the hero and say that you don’t have any, because you do. Or at least I hope you do. Baggage doesn’t have to be bad. Baggage can be amazing. If packed well baggage can be brilliant. It can carry just the perfect outfit for the far-away-distant-cousin’s-wedding-that-you-are-being-arm-twisted-to-attend-for-the-sake-of-family-relations. It can hold the greatest fitting boot, that won’t give you blisters, for the long planned hiking trip that you’ve dreamt about for years. It can bring forth just the right sweater for the cold weather you never thought you’d encounter on your tropical holiday but packed because you are an over-packer. If packed efficiently baggage can be remarkable.
This type of baggage is something I aspire to. See I am an over packer. Just once I would like to pack the essentials; pack only what I needed to successfully complete the trip. I usually end up packing at least 3 pair of shoes too many, more tops than bottoms, extra socks and always have the biggest suitcase. Over-packed baggage. But I am going to think of this as being well prepared. See I am starting to re-frame the negative “she’s got baggage” into the positive, “WOW, look at all the baggage she has!” I think baggage should be seen as life experiences, love stories, people in our life, the good times, the bad times, the hard times and the easy times. Baggage is filled with memories collected throughout life. This baggage enables us to share the perfect family anecdote at the far-away-distant-cousin’s-wedding-that-you-are-being-arm-twisted-to-attend-for-the-sake-of-family-relations. This baggage holds the most comfortable, inspiring memories to ponder as you hike along the trail of the long-time planned adventure. And over-packed baggage can bring you the warmth of memories from life experiences that you didn’t know you would need on an unexpectedly cold night.
Baggage can and honestly should change over time, otherwise we would be stuck with all the teenage angst baggage of our youth. This baggage so important at the time but now maybe not as necessary. When un-packed in our youth, though, it was helpful for sharing and comparing what you and your friends were going through: how mean your parent was, that you had to clean your room before going out, who liked who, your first kiss, that mean teacher, etc. These experiences filled the bag, chock-full for some of us. However, when baggage gets too full it requires a re-pack. Some items get discarded in the process. Thus the baggage from our youth looks different than the baggage we now carry (or at least it should?). Most items got eliminated, well maybe not the first kiss, but other trivial items got removed to make room for current baggage. But, no matter what the occasion, in the special hidden compartment there are those items that will always be with you no matter where you are going. This is the baggage that shapes and molds you, it is your foundation, your bones, your personal structure.
As we get older and wiser our baggage gets richer, fuller. It becomes more meaningful to a longer-lived life. We no longer just share and compare baggage. Hopefully we are listening (really listening) and comforting one another, engaging and supporting each other, experiencing, on a visceral level our baggage as we un-pack and re-pack our items of value and need.
The baggage that you carry is yours and your alone. What you decide to do with this baggage is an individual one. Do you decide to hold on to anger and the experiences that caused that anger as they weigh you down? Or instead, do you learn from a bad situation and instead pack away the lesson learned without the anger attached? Do you remember what made you laugh so hard with your friends one night, that had tears running down your cheeks? Or do you remember the people on that fun filled evening that you have the privilege to call your friends and the laughter as it echoed through the night? Do you remember the words the doctor spoke as he told you your husband had cancer or do you remember the warmth of your husband’s hand in yours as you turned to each other, unable to speak, and realized you were headed for an extremely hard time? Which experience do you carry? Which emotion do you hold on to?
Kaycee had another infection at the end of July, making it number four, ugh! Another fever, another trip to the ER, another 5-day stay in the hospital, another drain, another week off-schedule for chemo. You know that drill almost as well as we do at this point. Something new that occurred with this, the fourth infection (sigh), was that Kaycee had to keep his port accessed and give himself direct IV port antibiotics every day for 10 days. This antibiotic coupled with another oral anti-biotic, hopefully, has done the job at getting rid of these recurring infections once and for all (finger crossed!). This drain we decided to call The Drain That Must Not Be Named because honestly we were tired of naming the damn things! This is now another piece of baggage that I get to add to my collection. I get to choose what part of this experience I want to pack, if any, for the future. But that is thing with baggage…it is mine, all mine. I get to pack what I want and carry what I think I need. What I have to learn is to pack my baggage wisely.
I feel like re-packing my baggage happens daily. Sometimes, I shove in the harder, scarier, angrier, angst-ier experiences to the bag. There are days that require this type of baggage. Other days, there is nothing but the good, happy, loving comfortable memories. Lately though, I have packed a mixture of baggage. I am realizing that packing a balance of baggage can be powerful. There is seemingly always something to draw upon, to find comfort in, to share with others. Over-packing in this case can be a helpful approach for better dealing with the “cancer-trip” we are on. I try to look at all my personal baggage and use what I need to support myself, my husband, my girls and my friends.
This means I have to make a very conscious effort to rid myself of the baggage that weighs me down, to eliminate the things that have no meaning or use anymore. This can be harder than you think. It’s sort of like the pants that are too tight in the middle and have been for a few years. You hold on hoping, praying things will go back to how they were. But I am learning to say, “Lose ‘em!”. They are not worth it. Carrying them around only to be a reminder of the waist that was, that you will never have again… this is a waste (pun intended) of energy. And if by some miracle you do get that waist again? Well then those pants are going to be so out of style that best thing to do will be to go shopping for a new pair. So, I try to clean up the baggage, often. Keep what is needed, what is helpful, what is meaningful, what shapes and supports my life.
My goal is to continue to become a more efficient packer, though, I realize I will most likely always be an over-packer. Baggage should be celebrated, shared and evaluated and some discarded. Let’s remember that everyone has baggage but to not see it as a bad thing. On the contrary, baggage is quite often extraordinary. And baggage, however well-packed, should take a lifetime to accumulate.