For those of you who follow my blog, you know that over the summer I really felt that my death was no longer creeping up on me; it was rushing towards me with a speed I hadn’t anticipated. Well, that turned out to be my own head; not my body.
Today, I’m sitting in the infusion room waiting to start my fifth chemo treatment, ( 22nd overall.) But the fact remains that at some point, all the medicines will have failed and cancer will ravage my lungs and I will die. My numbers aren’t really going down; in fact, they have gone up one point. So the chemo is holding the tumor steady, but cancer is easily adaptable and soon the poisonous chemo will have no effect. Sad, but I am happy I have the time to be with my family and to help prepare them for a life without me.
After my death seemed not to be in my lap, but just over the horizon, a friend posted this comment to a blog post of mine:
I have to say, I want a post on how to be a friend to someone with Stage IV cancer. I want to hope until there is either no more cancer or no more breath, but is it cruel to say “you have more life to live” if you don’t actually get that life? Is it mean to go along with you when you feel as though you’re dying if it turns out your three big tumors are really two little, receding tumors? You were so sure. Is it wrong to go with you, or is it wrong to contradict you? Put aside for the moment that the cancer is the bastard here, not the friends who are trying to navigate the absence of a Cancer Miss Manners…
I want to attempt to answer. Of course, remember that this is my answer. Other people with stage IV cancer may have different answers.
My journey through stage IV cancer has been a twenty-one month roller coaster ride of chemo, radiation and surgery. My prognosis changes with the tides it seems, but the fact has always remained that I am fighting for time, not for my life. Sometimes I want to think about my death. I want to plan for it. I want to face it bravely and with dignity, (and hopefully with facial hair). Other times death sneaks up on me and I don’t want to contemplate it, but often the thoughts of dying overwhelm my small human brain and I can’t talk myself out of it. I told my friend to ask, “Do you want to be talked out of this place?” My answer could be different every day.
My friend wants to believe and hope. So do I. And I love that there are people hoping and praying for me everyday. If someone says to me, “Miracles happen,” many days I will agree; but I feel I have had my miracle. Having the first lung surgery was a miracle. And so was the second surgery. I have had a year of life that would not have been mine without the surgeries. Just because I don’t think another miracle will happen doesn’t mean others can’t believe it. My life is spent balancing the present with the future. I have to be pragmatic.
Friends have disappeared over the last three years. And new friends have emerged. Some people are more comfortable than others when it comes to dealing with such a heavy subject. It’s okay. I’m not angry with those who have left. I do think they have missed a chance to grow and learn, but death comes to everyone at some point.
For those of you who are with me, please know how much your love means to me. Having cancer can be a very lonely place. So here are a few ideas.
When people say to me, “I’ve been thinking about you,” I want to tell them to do something about it. If I don’t know you are thinking about me, it doesn’t really help either of us. Send me a text. Write something on my facebook page. Call me. I’ve started doing this myself. If I am thinking about someone who means something to me, or a friend going through a rough time, I let them know that I am thinking of them. Takes no time at all and on some days could mean the difference between a lonely sad day and one that feels hopeful.
Now, I know that some cancer patients hate to be told, “Well, you look good.” It makes them feel what is really being said is, “You can’t possibly be that sick.” I like to be told I look good. I never want to look sick. I want the fact that I have cancer to be something that has to be told to people, not something that even the grocery store clerk can see.
This whole ordeal is uncharted territory for me and for most of my friends. We are all fumbling around. Don’t think you will say the wrong thing. If you say it, I’ve probably thought it. And how often have I reacted to anyone in anger?
And one last thing; just because my life’s problems seem giant compared to yours doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear about your life. It’s great to talk about something other than myself and the cancer that has taken up residence in my body. I want to hear about your kids, your partners and your life. I’m not jealous or upset. We all are living the life we have. Let me still be your friend.
Well, I don’t know if that answer helps at all. I know what works for me. My life is not what I had hoped for, but I am making the best of it. For those of you around me, you will never know how much your friendship means. I know it takes bravery to face the reality and stay in my life. Thank you for doing it.