As I have shared many times previously, the worst part of having cancer is the uncertainty. You never know from month to month, day to day, even hour to hour, whether or not your health status will remain stable or drastically change. Every little symptom, ache, pain, twitch, hangnail, etc becomes a moment of panic. Everyday problems and issues that can be easily dismissed as muscle aches, stress head aches, bug bites, and problems that accompany the aging process cause anxiety and worry over whether or not they could be somehow related to the cancer. It’s not a fun way to go through the day, but like many other aspects of this diagnosis, you learn to live with it. It is also a blessing in the sense that it motivates you to appreciate every “ordinary” day and do what you can to recognize the ordinary as extraordinary.
Recently, I was reminded in powerful ways that the uncertainty really does not apply only to cancer patients. Every person is really one breath away from their lives drastically changing or even ending! First, I found out that a former student, just 31 years old, was diagnosed with stage iv ovarian cancer. She passed away after a two year battle with the disease on May 11th. She was a 2002 graduate and is the mother of a 6 year old and a 2 year old. Everyone is aware that cancer does not discriminate based on age. Everyone, even children, are diagnosed with cancer. But, it becomes real when it’s not just random people on the St. Jude’s commercial on television. It is much different to actually KNOW someone who’s life has been stolen from them.
Another sudden tragic death of an amazing man occurred on May 2nd. A JCEA colleague, just 44 years old, died of a heart attack. He left behind a wife, daughter, parents, brother, and hundreds of former students and co-workers. It was sudden, unexpected, untimely, and it was incredibly painful. It leaves me wondering if perhaps a long illness isn’t a better option. At least you have time to plan and to say goodbye.
I attended both funerals, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Needless to say, it was a difficult weekend and left me with a lot of thoughts and reflections about death. But, here is the “ah-ha” moment for me. As I looked around the rooms while at the services for both of these individuals, I realized that I am really not so different from anyone else in the room. Yes, I live with a life threatening illness that will, at some point, likely lead to my death. But, every single person in both rooms, will eventually come to the same end. We are all going to die. I think that is a secondary reason why people hate funerals. It is a reminder of their own mortality.
I tried to convince myself that attending funerals as a person living with cancer has got to be more difficult. But really, it is not. Never did I imagine that these two people would depart life before me. And as I looked around, I wondered how many others would go before me, and how many would go after me. The simple truth is that no one knows how many days we are meant to walk on earth. We do not come with expiration dates stamped on the bottom of our feet. Believe me, being the “planner” that I am, I have looked, and sure enough, there is nothing there!
So I am left to ponder the senseless and untimely deaths of two young, vibrant, energetic, people. I guess, just as life is not fair, neither is death. The lesson is the same for everyone, sick or healthy, old or young. Live your days to the fullest. Embrace the ones you love every chance you get. Don’t put off until tomorrow, what can be accomplished today. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone! We all walk the fine line between this life and the next.