Friday, August 11, 2006

Living, Not Dying, with Cancer

When I first received the diagnosis of terminal cancer, I was puzzled about how to live. Somehow, "taking to my bed" (as some folks used to do) until the cancer "took me" didn't seem to be an option. But, I was recovering from surgery, my body was weak and my energy low, so I wondered whether or not I would ever feel "normal" again. Two months later, I feel good, my energy is amazingly strong, and I have moved on from the initial shock of the diagnosis. But still, I wonder, how do you live, knowing, really knowing, that your days are numbered?

As a spiritual person, this question has felt especially important. I attend a Christian church, and I am part of a Christian community, and I also read spiritual material from many traditions, so I have been reading a lot. What is life? What is the purpose of our lives? Are we born to this life in order to learn certain lessons? Do we die when those lessons are learned? (I think the answer to that questions is no, but the question was in my mind.) I mention in my first posting that I haven't had good conversations about dying with those I have known who knew that their death was approaching, and I regret that. Why don't those who are dying, or who have a terminal diagnosis and are anticipating death, talk about it more? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of death? The process of dying? I am determined to break the silence, for me and my diagnosis, at least, but I feel that I am stepping into a land with no map, a land where I know others have been, but have left too few clues., and no map to help me navigate.

On a practical note, one site that I found that would have been very helpful to me in the first weeks after my terminal diagnosis is one part of the hospice website. The hospice site includes an article by a doctor dying of cancer who provides practical personal and planning suggestions. But, he is not really talking about the spiritual aspects, the soul aspects of a terminal diagnosis.

Another place that I have found much insight and support and laughter and tears is the NPR website called My Cancer, by Leroy Sievers. Leroy's stories of his struggle with cancer, and the many responses from those with cancer, and those who love them, and those who are moved by his story, have enriched me immensely. Reading his blog and the comments has become a high point of each day. In his July 10 blog, Leroy talked about his fears, everyone's fears, and asks if we are afraid of dying, but he doesn't really talk about the spiritual aspects of a terminal diagnosis, either.

I believe in reincarnation (not really a Christian belief, I'm afraid, but . . . ), so I do believe that my soul, the essence of who I am really, not just my personality, will continue after my death. But I like this life, my family, my friends, my work, and I don't really want this life to end. So, how can I face death while still living fully?

One thing I am doing is feeling my gratitude, right here, right now, at being alive. I wake up each morning, and I am so happy to still be here, to be feeling good, today, to feel love for others and love from others. This EE Cummings poem has really been speaking to me:

i thank you God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Each morning, I feel that I have died and I am alive again, and I am grateful.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comment on The Cancer Blog. I have just read your blog and thought others might find true inspiration from you -- so I wrote about you and your blog and the post will be published on The Cancer Blog on Monday, 8/14 at 9:00 AM. Thanks for spreading your word so others can benefit!

Jacki Donaldson

Anonymous said...

I have lost several people this year. I have had a lot of spiritual happenings since, enough to make me believe in the after life without a shadow of a doubt. Recently my Aunt knew she was passing and gathered her family around her hospital bed, enjoying last moments with them, singing, laughing while her body slowed down. She talked of hearing her brother sing and spoke to her mother and said "not yet" she was not "drugged up" but very aware and gave all her children the confidence that she was indeed going to another life, family members who had already passed on seemed to be visiting her in the hospital. She told me how she felt a spirit visiting her and I told her I believed her. She said being born was hard work, but dying was also hard work, and it was taking a long time. She left all those who witnessed her last days with strong faith that she is in a better place, it is incredible. I hope this comforts you some, answers some of your questions. I believe you feel drawn to write this blog, and it will bring many answers to you and many others... I wish you a full life.. each day, each moment.

SaintMartha said...

Gallbladder Cancer? Yes is quite rare. My mother was diagnosed with it in July of 2000. She hadn't been feeling well, cat scan showed gallstones, surgery followed, three days later she was released from the hospital to recuperate at my home and three hours later the surgeon called to tell us cancer was found in the gallbladder tissue.

We were stunned. Five years later I am sometimes still stunned that she is no longer here.

In hindsight here are the things I wished we had done differently. I wish we hadn't chose chemo or radiation. Neither procedure was beneficial in the long run and only made her feel bad, even on the good days. Instead I wish we had gone with a more holistic approach---I had searched the internet and found a lot of information on herbal remedies and was a specific juice that detoxed the liver, another was shark cartilage, etc. By the time we tried these things the cancer had spread too far...nothing could be done.

My mother lived for nine months after diagnosis. Her death was peaceful and she suffered very little pain or discomfort. For that I am grateful. In fact, she was fairly active up until a month before she passed away.

My mother was a Christian. I am a Christian as well. She did not fear death, rather she looked at it as 'going home.' Before she died we had an understanding that she was going ahead of me to help prepare a place in Heaven for me when it is my time as well. I hold firm to this belief.

We all have a terminal's called life. No one but God can decide when you are to go home--and physicians and their statistics are very often wrong. (My eldest son is a very new physician and he says on a daily basis he now knows why they call it 'practicing medicine' because it simply is trial and error.)

Continue to seek health, keep your family and friends close, and cling to God's promises. Do not be are only returning to where you once belonged.

Anonymous said...

Lynne, What a generous offering this blog is. I appreciate that you are choosing to share your thoughts and feelings this way. I went through breast cancer treatment 3 years ago, and my view of life radically shifted. For me that has been a sharpening of the senses, and a love for the overall energetic of being alive, however the time presents itself. For every person that rails at the Drs who offer a time frame for life remaining, there are those of us who feel grateful for the heightened definition of things. The best posssible wishes to you and your family as the days unfold. A Spring Hill comrade.