This week I reconnected with two friends I hadn’t spoken with in years. Friends who faced cancer around the same time as me in 2007, 2008. We had helped each other through chemo & reconstruction in our early 30’s. And celebrated milestones as we lived beyond cancer… As our lives moved on and cancer was behind us we lost touch a bit.
Now, we reconnected. Because, cancer came back for each of them- stage iv metastatic breast cancer. Damn it.
As we spoke, they each had the same questions – How do you live life with such joy? How do you stay healthy in the face of this disease?
I encouraged them to take it one day at a time. To not live in the perceived future, but to focus on the day before them. With tears in my eyes, I quoted my dear friend Mary Ann,
“If you had 5 minutes to live, would you spend one second being sad?”
Mary Ann was a shining bright light of hope, an inspiration to me each day. She is an example of how to live life over cancer. She died. I told them that too. No reason to hide the facts.
The reality of this disease is you live each day with joy and gratitude… and the knowledge that this disease kills 111 people every day. Every single day.
The reality is my friend Colleen who on October 27 posted “I had CT scans of my chest, abdomen, and pelvis and a bone scan. I am thrilled to report it all came back stable! I will stay on my current chemotherapy and resume tomorrow.”
Then, on November 3rd she wrote that she was entering Hospice. Because the 7 brain mets she was also in aggressive treatment for were not responding. There is nothing more the doctors can do. She has two young girls.
How do you help friends enter this reality… it’s such a damn roller coaster. On one hand I tell them they can still live a full, joyful life. That treatments might not be that bad… that they might have a long durable response, as I have. That we hold on for science. Research is leading to new treatment options… lots of reasons to be hopeful. But, the reality is we don’t know how to stop it. I don’t know how long my good health will last… I don’t know when cancer will progress and I will change treatments… when the ground will fall out from under me. Because, the reality is, It will.
I am so angry at cancer. It steals hopes and dreams and laughter. It robs children of moms and dads. It denies young people the chance to grow old…
In my frustration I fall back on Mary Ann. She didn’t know how long she had to live well. How long she had with her three children on this earth. But she knew the time she had was going to be beautiful.
That’s what I know too. Damn it.
Living in the light… not the darkness,