by Carol Aitken

Being of service is something I’ve struggled with since leaving work because of cancer. I’m sure some people may think that my job didn’t provide me opportunities to serve, and maybe it didn’t in a grand way, but I always felt warmed when I was able to do right by a customer in ways that made their lives easier. Sometimes it was even just to listen to them. I let them have a voice and hopefully helped them to feel understood.

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Since being on disability, I’ve looked for ways to serve, but have been blocked at times either by my own doing (thinking what I was doing wasn’t enough) or by red tape (possibly impacting my disability claim if I’m seen as doing “too much”).

The last few weeks as an in-patient at the cancer agency have shown me that once again service comes in many forms.

I share a room with a woman who when I was first admitted told me it was okay for me to feel however I was feeling. My first week there was emotionally tough! I cried through the first few days because my admission was unexpected and the initial news was very scary. At first, I was bed/chair bound—I was even wheeled to the bathroom on a commode that would be positioned over the toilet. I really hated losing that level of independence. 

My roomie’s cancer and treatment is also hard on her body, and she hasn’t been able to eat a meal in about ten weeks. She’s often sick due to pain and the side-effects of medications, and for this reason, she doesn’t sleep through the night. We have shared laughter and tears.  

 As much as the agency isn’t a five-star hotel, it has given me the ability to relax and be cared for. Over the last week I’ve been able to get around using a walker. Because of this, I’ve been able to get stuff for my roomie and I, without having to ask the nurses for every little thing, like plugging in a phone to charge, or getting some ice water.

Over these weeks what has altered my outlook most has been my relationship with my new friend. Life is a struggle for us both—just in different ways.

We have both been asked if we would like to change rooms because of the disruptiveness while trying to sleep. Never for a single second would I have considered it. I’m so thankful that the small things I can do now are of service to my friend.

In the short but intense time we’ve known each other, we have formed a true bond. I feel truly blessed to have been able to build a new friendship in the midst of such adversity.

Sometimes, I think that the best of my life is behind me, that there is no longer anything to get excited about. After writing this today, I don’t hold that belief anymore, and I feel more open to see what may come my way.  

Carol Aitken is a grateful post-retreat attendee. She has been an active Callanish participant since 2017—both the meditation and writing groups have provided Carol additional strength to continue her fight.