Saturday, January 13, 2007

When I Thought I Would Die Quickly, I . . .

Last May, when I was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, I was told that most people with this diagnosis lived two to six months following diagnosis. I assumed that the doctors knew what they were talking about, and that I needed to get my affairs in order, and began to seriously take on my mortality. I also had a strong intuitive hit (that I've written about before) that I was not to assume that I would survive this cancer, that I was meant to fully engage my mortality. Then, the weeks passed, I regained my strength, recovered from my surgery, and felt good. "Confounding my doctors," I would say to folks who inquired about my apparent health in the weeks and months following my diagnosis.

Last month, I passed seven months following diagnosis, and found myself remembering some of things I felt about the mundane details of life in the weeks following my diagnosis.

When I thought I would die quickly, I

* resented paying my bills. Who cared that I had had my teeth cleaned in the month before my diagnosis, and would die with clean teeth? Or not? (I've had my teeth cleaned twice again since then, I'm glad to say.) And I felt this despite knowing that if I died with debts, my "estate" (whatever money or property I had at death) would, in fact, pay those debts. It was just a feeling, but I just didn't want to pay those bills for services I incurrred when I thought I'd be living for many decades. And, I should add, I did pay those bills, I just resented them.

* wanted to tell everyone that I had terminal cancer. I was still dealing with my diagnosis, and I wanted everyone to know and feel sorry for me. Except that this feeling was only a part of me, and I mostly didn't just blurt it out to everyone. The feeling seemed to come from some place that believed if I told enough people, and they believed me, I could believe it.

* kept saying that if the doctors hadn't surgically removed my gallbladder and other tissue so that the pathologist could test it, I wouldn't believe the diagnosis. Now, I know that denial is a frequent normal response of humans to information we don't like and don't want to believe, but I still remember how strong this feeling was. How could I be so sick if I felt so good? And I thought a lot about the surgery, because I learned from Dr. M, the surgeon, that if they had known I had cancer, they wouldn't have operated, and would instead have begun chemo and put in stents to relieve the buildup of bile.

* wept frequently. Life felt very precious, and I didn't want to leave it. Still don't.

* wanted to talk about death and dying, and our fear of it. It's hard to get people to talk with you about dying, I discovered. In general, those most willing to, because of their training and temperaments, perhaps, were our friends in ministry or training for ministry. I was grateful for those friends, because they would listen to me talk about the pain of receiving a terminal diagnosis, and talk about how I was feeling, with the weight of the terminal diagnosis in my heart and my soul. And a few of my very best friends stepped into this listening space with amazing grace and sweetness. I was frustrated when others acted as if I had just received any other serious, but not life-threatening, diagnosis. I wanted to shake them. "Can't you see what's happening to me? I want to talk about it!"

* had hope for the future, despite taking on my mortality, but still didn't imagine creating this blog in August, teaching through the fall semester, and sitting in my most comfortable chair on this January evening feeling like myself. Mostly, anyway, like myself, just changed by these months of living with this life changing diagnosis.


Teresa Hartman said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on facing your diagnosis and mortality, Lynne. I have run into folks - both health providers and friends - that don't want to even let the subject come up. Thursday, I went to a gyno appointment ("let's just get EVERYTHING checked out now"!), and the doctor dismissed my comments about having ACC existing/lurking in my body. "Oh, let's be positive," she said. I told her I was better prepared now that I have faced my mortality, and consider the presence of ACC the same as having brown eyes - a fact that can't be changed. That doesn't mean I am done living or have stopped fighting, not by a long shot. She still didn't get it.

noone said...

If it helps, I'm not even the one with cancer in our family and I *still* haven't paid the bills yet this month. Doing that tonight, I hope. Just no freaking time!