After all the decisions, after all the panic and tears, after all the frantic searching on the internet for a different answer, there came a time when a kind of peace descended. I knew I had chosen a shorter life than treatment would have – possibly – given me. My surgeon said I had perhaps a year without intervention. I went home to die. Patrick Swayze was in the news a lot, and I watched him get sicker and sicker, followed his progress and his words. Randy Pausch had just died. Ruth Ginsberg was soon to be diagnosed. It was all around me. In some way, this calmed me. I suppose, even though we suppress it, the thought of our personal death causes us to wonder how it might come. With this cancer, I now knew the face of my death. I remember several times thinking this exact phrase. At least in this, cancer is kind. It gives you the time to clean up your relationships, to reflect on your life, to make whatever amends need amending.
One thing I knew. I didn’t want to spend whatever life I had remaining in the hospital, the doctor’s office, the lab. What can I say about quality of life? It remained and remains the most important thing to me. I don’t want to live half dead, I don’t want to live in fear, I don’t want to live on a respirator, I don’t want to drag out my dying, either for myself or those I love. I believe that life continues after death, and so the fear of death for me was very manageable. What did I want though? I wanted to live it my way, with happiness, joy and continuing those things that I love doing. Which are all pretty simple actually. I didn’t particularly want to scuba dive in Tahiti. I just wanted to wake up every morning with my husband, cook, garden, look at the birds and clouds, have coffee with my friends, read my favorite books. Yeah, kinda boring, I know. But I love the everyday, it shimmers for me.
Don’t die with the song in your heart still unsung….. Wayne Dyer
Years before my diagnosis, I had read the book A Year to Live by Stephen Levine. I had loved the book, but as is my habit, hadn’t done the exercises. So I emailed my friends and asked if we could meet once a month and work on the book together. I knew this would keep me honest and make me do the work. I thought I just might make it to the year mark but wasn’t sure. I ended up facilitating these meetings for two years, with two different groups, and plan to do another one beginning January of 2014. If I could give you a gift, it would be this book. I have corresponded by email with others diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and those who have gotten the book and read it have told me it took away their fear of death. This was also the experience of some people in the book group. There are many exercises in the book to help someone through the idea and reality of death. One that was profound for me was walking in the world for a day as if I was dead – as if I wasn’t there.
I chose places that I had walked a lot. The hospital for one, because my husband had been having problems that kept bouncing us back to the hospital. One was the mall near there, where I had walked many times, many seasons with my mother. One was a pond where I take my morning walks. Does this sound morbid to you? It wasn’t. It was eye opening. And it grounds you in this moment, instead of the future, where you have no control.
Wishing you peace…