Lately I’ve been kind of in a different phase of my life. I’ve lived in the cancer community for 7 years. It’s a brutal and honest and painful and even sometimes joyous place. It’s not a place for the weak hearted. You need to be strong to survive here. You need to be honest, you need to be sincere. You need to totally revamp your priorities and views. Your life gets a real makeover in every sense when you live with a cancer diagnosis.
I lived for a long time, I think, a bit afraid of living. I knew after cancer how fragile I was. I knew how rapidly things could change, how rapidly I could lose everything and everyone I valued. I learned not to hold onto anything too tightly. To not make future commitments. To be always ready to let go of everything and everyone in a moment’s notice. I felt I was walking on thin ice for a long time.
Lately I’ve communicated with many who are losing their cancer battles. Mothers who will abandon young children, who will realize what was my greatest fear. I almost feel guilty that I’ve lived long enough that my children will, as they are supposed to, abandon me to pursue their own lives. I’ve almost lived to my goal, to realize my children’s 18th birthdays. The life expectancy I’d hoped for…to live to be 49. I’m 48 and 1/2. In 6 months I’ll have made it. I’ll have acheived what I designated to be my life-expectancy goal after cancer.
So now, I contemplate living more freely. I don’t have anymore the great responsibility I felt before to stay alive. My upcoming years, however many they are, are my bonus years. I feel like I can relax now. I can enjoy and spend time doing what I value most…making my survival count. I can pursue music, words, intimacy, nature and beauty…things I treasure. I no longer have a great need to measure my days or my future. I am not afraid to die; I don’t have the same desperation to stay alive as I had when I was diagnosed and my kids were 10 and 11. I can make future plans, but they can be open to change and that’s okay. In seven years I’ve also developed a great trust in my God, I trust in his will in all outcomes and all eventualities, even the ones I don’t know and can’t understand from my perspective here. When I die I will only change location..and go to the place where I truly belong. Nothing to fear, something to look forward to. It’s all okay. I am blessed, I am very much at peace now. I am one of the lucky ones.
My heart still breaks, though, for those who have left or will leave young children behind. But I wonder sometimes if that might be part of a master plan we can’t know from here but will understand when we get home and can see the big picture. Maybe one of the children who lost a parent will be motivated to do something that leads to a cure for cancer. Or maybe they will have the experience needed to console another who will then be able to find the cure for cancer.
I think sometimes of Abraham Lincoln. He was born in relative poverty to uneducated parents. He lost his mother at a young age also, when he was 10 years old. His only two siblings died; his brother in infancy, his sister in childbirth shortly after she married. He lost three of his own four children before they reached adulthood. He was not close to his father and did not attend his father’s funeral when he died. It’s hard to imagine losing a mother as a child, or losing a sibling, or losing your own children…losing several of your children would be unimaginable. His lifetime losses were overwhelming. But I wonder if some of those experiences in his life molded him, made him become the man who in the end changed a country forever for the better, a man who ended suffering for many, who freed a generation from slavery, who made a mark on the world that will last forever.
I look forward to someday knowing what we can’t know from our perspective here. I look forward to someday having a view of the big picture, of the finished side and not the underside of the tapestry of life. I don’t know the answers now, but someday I will. I will so love that moment, when everything makes sense. When I can understand the purpose behind pain I see now.