Live Like You Were Dying…
With one hand gripping my backpack and the other clenched around the holy sh!t handle, I held my breath as the van almost tilted off its wheels. With each hairpin turn the driver, of the shared ride service from Cusco, dropped us further into the depths of the Sacred Valley. A vision of us tumbling end over end through the dust and yellow grass flashed through my mind, but at that precise moment, my iPod shuffled to a Tim McGraw song I hadn’t heard in years.
As I stared at a perfect blue sky, I forgot my fear and the lyrics took me back to October 27, 2009.
“A moment came that stopped me on a dime. I spent most of the next days, looking at the xrays. Talking about the options and talking about sweet time. How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?…
I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying. And he said, some day I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying…and I took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…live like you were dying…like tomorrow was a gift and you’ve got eternity to think about what’d you do with it. What did I do with it? What would I do with it?”
The moment you hear those three little words, “you have cancer”, your life changes forever. You can never go back to the person you were before. You can only move forward and hope that when you come out the other side of treatment, you have plenty of time to live like you were dying.
My time in Urubamba, Peru with ProWorld continues to provide once in a lifetime opportunities to do just that. Every day, I experience childlike wonder over the beauty around me and a sense of deep connection with the stoic and warm people in the local communities, the dedicated ProWorld staff, and my fellow volunteers.
Last Tuesday, I fell in love (yes, for the 100th time since I left Canada) with a group of pinanta decorating kids. As I watched their eyes light up for the 9-month ProWorld volunteer alum who started a youth group in the tiny town of Media Luna, I had to keep clearing my throat to camouflage the emotion induced tightness held inside.
On Thursday, a 3-hour, postcard worthy, drive through the Andean Mountains brought me to the village of Canas (and probably the highest elevation I’ve ever experienced at 3811 meters – 12,503 feet) where I had the opportunity to participate in a TOMS shoes distribution day with a team of ProWorld volunteers from Cusco (hence the need to use a shared ride service for the hair raising ride back to Urubamba).
Then, on Friday afternoon, I hiked back up to Chicon (the community that only took 3 seconds to welcome me to the fold) and stepped into the dim interior of a hillside home. A coat draped across an overturned milk carton provided a comfortable seat and a plate of chicken and potatoes immediately landed in my lap. As I watched a toddler stir the chee-cha (beer made from corn or fruit) in a giant plastic bucket and listened to the words of thanks from a woman with long charcoal braids and a ragged apron, I couldn’t even attempt to hold back the tears. The love between the volunteer, the volunteer coordinator, and the women of this community lay thick in the air. As I snapped a few shots of the laughing, crying, and dancing at this despidida (goodbye party) for a 9-month volunteer returning back to the United States, all I felt was gratitude that I could share this once in a lifetime experience with them.
To round off an incredible week, I spent the weekend surrounded by revellers during one of the biggest festivals of the year and then woke up early on Sunday morning and huffed and puffed, through the brilliant sunshine, up the switchbacks on a cliff overlooking the valley. More than once, I contemplated turning back and then remembered how it felt to huff and puff from my bedroom to the kitchen during cancer treatment. So I pushed forward and was rewarded with a 360* view of Urubamba, more beautiful than almost any vista I have ever seen. My face split into a mammoth grin and I just might have thrown my hands in the air in a victory salute. A salute to life. To adventure. To believing that crazy post-cancer dreams can come true.
Sure, on this trip around the world, I have frightening moments (often in rapidly moving vehicles), but then I remember how lucky I am to be alive and writing these words to you today. Am I scared a reoccurence of breast cancer might catch up with me eventually or my high risk of ovarian cancer might be jockeying to take me out? Absolutely. I don’t think you can ever make those fears disappear entirely. But, instead of focusing on what could happen, I plan to keep on “living like I was dying”.
What about you? Have you recently made a decision (big or small) to live like you were dying? I would love to hear about it…
I had a hard time narrowing down my pictures to share just a few more from my time here in Urubamba.