Apr 22, 2020 3:00 PM

Author: Reverend John Cooper, Chaplain, Huntsman Cancer Institute

From time to time, HCI invites guest commentary from our community. The views reflected in these commentaries are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of HCI.

While visiting a patient at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) a few months ago, we made an interesting discovery. He was describing his suffering. Everything, he felt, had become drudgery and pain. He woke up in pain. He went to sleep in pain. He was not sure he had the endurance for the journey ahead.

As we were talking, nutrition services brought him a smoothie.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I love these things. I have to have it now.”

He popped off the lid and took a sip. He closed his eyes and savored the taste, letting out a small groan.

I asked him what it tasted like.

“Like strawberries, a summer day, skiing outside…and joy,” he replied.

He drank his smoothie as our conversation continued. I asked about the memories he’d just mentioned and other feel-good moments he’d recently had.

We laughed about the delight he felt for going to the bathroom earlier that morning. The joy he felt on his walk outside with HCI staff. The relief he felt after a visit from the HCI massage therapist. We talked about various smoothies and what he liked most about them.

After a while, I asked how he was feeling.

“Pretty good,” he said, sounding surprised. “Not miserable. Like it will be okay.”

That patient and I decided he’d just had a “joy infusion”—a kind of treatment in itself. He said he would intentionally savor his joy infusions every day.

Maybe there is a tangible and important lesson for all of us in that exchange. As we carry the stress of a pandemic longer than we hoped, where can we find joy?

My spouse is a junior high art teacher now instructing from home. She gets to see a few kids online, but it feels like a loss when she compares it to being in art class with forty or so kids every day. Within a week, loneliness and sorrow started to run her world.

I tried to help. I gave her a printout of Forbes’s Nine Practices to Help Maintain Mental Health during the Coronavirus Lockdown. It sat on our coffee table for a week.

One evening, we were trying to figure out how we could both keep our moods up for the long haul. I remembered that patient conversation and asked what she thought about trying a joy infusion.

That resonated when to-do items had not. Since then, every few hours, she seeks out and savors joy. So far, this is her list:

  • Wandering in the yard
  • Snuggling with our dogs
  • Taking a drive to look at something beautiful
  • Making something special for lunch
  • Calling or video chatting with a friend or relative
  • Doing something crafty or silly
  • Trying to contribute, like by making headband ear savers for health care workers

I’ve heard the new coronavirus is a marathon, not a sprint. Marathon runners have moments when they push themselves, moments when they preserve energy, and moments when they shore up for a long stretch.

Maybe our spirits can use an infusion of joy once in a while—even small joy, like a fun taste, silly moment, or simple connection. What can your joy infusions be? When can you have one?

May joy find you, and sustain you, in your marathon.

covid-19 coronavirus wellness

Cancer touches all of us.

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