Sifting Through My Sand…
My month has been hijacked. Yes, I have been taken to a destination I did not intend. I am in need of sitting at the bottom of my hourglass – with my head up – after navigating this narrow spot and sifting through the sand in order to get used to its’ new arrangement.
My brother, Bruce, is in end-stages of his ten year journey with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. Yes, he is a ten year survivor of a Stage 4 diagnosis of a very aggressive cancer. His treatment has also been aggressive. He has managed it well with a positive attitude, a strong network of support, excellent medical care, and a deep faith. In my opinion, the best definition of a cancer survivor is someone living with, after, and beyond a cancer diagnosis. Bruce has lived well during most of those ten years. He has maintained his love of the outdoors and physical activity; created wonderful memories with his beautiful wife, Debby and their two sons; and has been able to know his 4 grandchildren. As adults, Bruce and I have enjoyed time together. We even climbed Mt. Whitney in 2015. (We did not summit, but we made it to about 13,000 feet!)
Often, a narrow spot occurs as if a telephone rings and we answer it to hear a voice tell us that life as we know it is no longer that way. And wouldn’t it be nice it that was always a call from the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes?! So when the call came that Bruce’s recent treatment has had no effect on his cancer, which has spread throughout his torso, I was sad. I am profoundly sad. I wish there was something I could do – be of some use. Make it go away!
Our younger sister Kristin died in 1991, one month before her 36th birthday, when a re-occurrence of malignant melanoma metastasized into her lungs and brain. She left behind a husband and two small boys, not to mention me and everyone else who loved her.
At the time of Kristin’s death, I thought of cancer as evil. As I grieved her loss, integrating that reality into who I was and how I experienced life, slowly but surely, overtime, my perspective changed. I now know cancer to be a very powerful and proficient teacher with the potential for profound transformation. I have known Bruce to be determined not to let cancer get the best of him. I have seen his family maintain their hope in his survivorship, while facing obvious changes in his health. Now it is time to face the last part of his cancer journey, his ultimate healing – death. My grieving has begun.
Grieving is a journey of discovery, surrender, acceptance and letting go; integrating the reality of any loss into who I am and how I understand life. There is no roadmap with which to travel, no time table and no neat progression from one stage to the next. However, what experts do agree upon is that if you do not grieve a loss, it will wait for you. It will not dissipate and disappear on its own. To grieve well the the loss of anyone or anything is a spiritual skill worth developing.
As a cancer survivor, I have spent a lot of time considering how important quality of life is. A number of years ago, I had the privilege of speaking at an Honoring Choices Minnesota conference. With that opportunity came the awareness of the resources available on their website (https://www.honoringchoices.org) to help in determining what values I might consider when making end-of-life decisions. Questions like:
- Do you want family members around you?
- Do you want to live as long as possible, regardless of quality of life?
- Do you want to be pain free, even if it makes you sleepy?
- Do you want to be given every opportunity for improvement?
- Do you want to avoid being a burden to others?
- How do you define “burden”?
- And several more.
It is for this reason that I have created an Advanced Care Directive. In it, I have answered those questions and others to prepare my family so there are no arguments, or uncertainty about my wishes. Robert Frost said, “I can sum up everything that I have learned about life in three words: It goes on.” Until it ends, life does go on. When my time comes – and it will come – I have every confidence that my wishes will be respected and carried out by those whom I love.
Thanks for listening/reading.