A couple of years back I met up with an old college friend. A year earlier he had been diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. He had heard about my situation and got in touch. Terminal cancer can make you very honest, often refreshingly so. He told me he’d hate to be in my position dealing with it all on my own, and my heart broke just thinking of how he must feel at the thought of leaving his wife and beautiful children behind.
In the end we decided we were both screwed and neither situation was any better than the other.But sometimes I wondered.
I don’t work now , I don’t have a family, and although I have enjoyed wellness and freedom that means finances allowing I can take off, and distract myself or go chasing some alternative treatment or other. We are conditioned to value ourselves in terms of what we do, our work, be it outside the home or within rearing children. Without either I sometimes struggle to find meaning in my life, I question my existence and find it hard to keep fighting. This feeling is intensified with the senseless loss of friends who have everything to live for, call it survivor’s guilt or whatever, but it’s difficult to stomach.
On the other hand I know of a lady with terminal cancer who decided to continue to work, to try and keep her family’s life as normal as possible and because she has a great big mortgage. She is lucky she enjoys her work and it makes her forget. But I know for a fact she is tortured by the thought that maybe she is making a mistake, and should give up her job in order to spend time with her children in case there isn’t much left.
The last couple of months have been difficult, with all the back pain, steroids and radiotherapy side effects. I haven’t been up to my usual walks, I have put on weight and had started to isolate myself a bit. I hadn’t realised how much this had started to affect my mental health. The long dark winter days didn’t help, I need to be on the go, to have something to look forward to, and most importantly I needed to connect.
The scan results before Christmas were good. My initial delight disappeared quickly and Christmas turned out to be a bit of a non-event. We were all under the weather, flat and miserable, with the flu, and lots of pain for me. Then tragically my sister’s friend aged 51 died suddenly. I just couldn’t help but be annoyed by the festive madness and vulgar pointless excess, stupid meaningless stuff.
I couldn’t shift the sadness thinking of the families of my friends who lost their lives to this poxy disease during the year. Their first Christmas without their loved ones, their mam, their dad.
I couldn’t help but wonder why the hell I was still here, with no real future, what was my purpose my value.
A weekend away with wonderful old friends was just the tonic I needed, and reminded me of what I had lost sight of. At dinner a couple of my friends were discussing work. I joined in saying that when you are in my situation and can’t work you have to redefine your value in the world. As the words fell out of my mouth it all made perfect sense. We all have this wonderful capacity for kindness, we can light up someone’s day with a smile and a kind word. But in our crazy world we are so often too busy, we just don’t have the time. I can’t tell you how many people I overlooked in my highly stressed, impossible standards, previous working life. Short lived it might be, but for now I have the gift of time.
My most valued and enriching experiences in the last few years and one of my reasons for starting this blog, have been those genuine connections. Seeing someone’s fear written all over their face as we sit in a waiting room, and watching it change and soften with a warm hello. Having the courage to open your heart and share your story to give someone hope. Comforting someone in distress, making someone laugh, making them forget, even for a minute. My old college friend passed away this summer, his brother told me that he spoke of our meeting and how it meant so much to be able to talk so honestly with someone in the same position.