Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Learning to Live with Cancer

"I am relating with my cancer as I would with a friend. I am not pushing it out of my life and do not hate it." These are the words of the well-known poet Lee Hae-in Claudia, a Sister who has been fighting cancer for the last four years and has learned much in the battle.

She is 67 years old and, as the interviewing journalist notes, still exuding a great deal of happiness despite what she's been through. And still very active, traveling to all kinds of events and giving even more lectures than before the cancer was discovered.

Becoming depressed because of cancer is a normal occurrence, but for Sister Lee it did not happen that way. Every day, every moment, is filled with energy; there's no time to be depressed, she explained. The journalist was mystified by her ability to be happy despite the cancer, and expressed this to the poet. Sister said she had the same feelings the journalist had mentioned when she met Mother Teresa of Calcutta back in 1994 and asked her, What she found the most difficult thing in her life. Mother Teresa said it was when she felt Jesus was not there. The journalists scolded her, sister said, for not  asking Mother Teresa when she was the happiest, instead of when she was unhappy. But Sister Lee began  talking  again  about her own periods of difficulty and how they had made her stronger.  

Giving  oneself completely to living the religious life is not easy and becoming famous has brought even more difficulties. Things that I didn't want were happening, the Sister said, and she feared  being exposed to the world. She was not comfortable traveling and giving lectures. But after 30 years of being lauded for her poetry she has grown used to it, and can now harmonize her religious life and her public activities.

After the discovery of colon cancer, her life was bound to change a great deal, she admitted. And the thought of being kept in a room and being treated for the cancer did enter her mind, but it was not what happened. She did not have to wrestle with her inner feelings and took it in stride.  When she went for chemotherapy, it was like going on a picnic. When she gave talks to those battling cancers, she said their tears were a consolation to her. The cancer has prompted much of her poetry; without it, she says, she would not have written.

Those who have met sister only by reading her poetry believe she must be a quiet, meditative person; those who know her personally, however, see her as a strong and joyful person.  She mentions that as a child she was very self-conscious but realized that this was perceived as being smug. She entered the convent and  worked at becoming  a joyful person, where she has found, she says, the happiness she was looking for.

What is your key to happiness? the journalist asked her.  "To live each day as the last and to live each moment to the fullest," was the response.