Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Life Changing Diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer is a life changing event; it certainly was for me, two months ago. Since then, I have worked hard to gather information aboout gallbladder cancer, and because it is rare, the information has been difficult to come by. One purpose for me in writing this blog is to share information gained, including links to sites on the web which have been productive and helpful. A second purpose, quite different but related, is to share my thoughts on the spiritual journey of receiving a terminal diagnosis. Perhaps this cancer will not kill me, but the odds are not in my favor.

The cancer in my gallbladder was discovered when my bile duct blocked, the bilirubin began to build in my body, and the blockage could not be cleared endoscopically. Surgery removed my gallbladder, revealed cancer in my bile duct, and provided a bypass for my bile duct; subsequent pathology reports indicated that the origin of the cancer was my gallbladder. I have recovered well from the surgery, and so have not begun chemotherapy, but there is a clear medical consensus that only chemotherapy will slow the progression of the disease. So, I will begin chemo when tests indicate that the cancer has begun to spread.

If you had only six months or a year to live, would you want to know? What would you do with the information? Would it make a difference in how you lived your life? These are questions I have been asking for the past two months. In asking them, I have also noticed how little guidance there is for this process. Who have I known personally who was able to anticipate their death? I can think of only two individuals, and I never asked them whether or not they were living differently in their awareness of their mortality.

So, those are the themes in this blog. I look forward to a dialog with those I know, and those I don't about this strange, life changing journey.


Julie said...

Yes, yes, yes! First, yes, I would want to know if I only had 6 months to live. Any of us might just have 6 months to live; anything can happen to any of us. My own cancer diagnosis has felt like an amazing gift (stage III endometrial, but highly treatable and five years post I'm cancer-free). The gift was in the clarity, the intensity, the vividness of experience that came in the moments, hours, days, weeks, months following the initial diagnosis. Alas, that vividness has faded somewhat in the years since, but I carry it with me still, can call up the experience and treasure it. Any of us could die tomorrow or tonight. What would I want my last moments to be like? How can I embrace my life fully in every moment with the knowledge that my days, all of our days, are numbered?

It reminds me of the delicious feeling I had as an adolescent staring up at the night sky. I became a tiny speck compared to the immensity of the universe and yet I felt incredibly expansive because I was part of it all.

Yes, too, Lynne, to this blog, to your ability to articulate, to reach out, to be so present with this diagnosis, with this moment in your life! You are amazing!

Love that ee cummings poem...

Tina said...

Lynne & Patty,
I wanted to let you know that I found this blog when I too was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. I also wanted to let you know what a blessing it has been to me.
Thanks you