While we all know we are mortal, and from time to time think about it, having advanced cancer, and having been through two pretty awful hospitalizations, has put me in the position of facing, head on, every day, the fact of my mortality. Most people do not think of their mortality every day, and when they do think of it, consider it something they will have to deal with in the future. For me, it is a constant I cannot escape. My last hospitalization really brought this home. I was much sicker than the first hospitalization. I was in extreme pain. I was facing emergency surgery and internal bleeding. There were no guarantees, and there were times when I knew that this could be it and that I may not survive. In addition, the fact that this came on without warning hit me hard. I seemingly was fine the day I ended up in the hospital. That week I felt strong. I practiced yoga for more than an hour every day, including my second series practice of Ashtanga. I worked, I ran around and felt fine. On Sunday, the day I ended up in the hospital, I never stopped until I doubled over in pain. In the space of one hour, I went from feeling great to agony. One hour after that I was in the emergency room, being given dilaudid and off to an emergency CT scan. It was frightening. Unlike my first hospitalization where for a week before being hospitalized I kept getting worse and thus had advance warning, there was no warning this time. It hit me that I could collapse any day, without warning. It hit me with full force that I could die any day. While I knew that in my head, now I knew it in my heart.
The effect of this was devastating to me emotionally. When I got out of the hospital, I was so weak at first I needed help to walk. I could not get comfortable because my feet, legs and stomach were so filled with liquid that I had constant pressure, including on my diaphragm. I could not sleep well. I was short of breath from the pressure. Most of all, I cried over the unfairness of this, over the fact that I had absolutely no warning this would happen, and I feared that it could happen again without warning. While I am better about it now, the first few days I could cry at any moment. Every time I talked to anyone about what had happened I had tears. That is not me. I cried in front of my children, my husband and my friends. I told people how awful it had been and that I was angry that my life was not only forever changed but up in the air. Alan and I had a very difficult and emotional conversation about what we wanted as far as services when we died. While he reminded me that anyone could die any day without warning, that provided little comfort to me because in my case, it is much more likely. Most people who die without warning do not know it is coming. They wake up without knowing this is the last day they will live. They live their lives assuming they will be there the next day. I do not have that luxury any more. When I think of the past, before my diagnosis, I think of my certainty that I would live a long healthy life. My family lives long and healthy lives. My uncle, who is 93, continues to live on his own, is totally cogent, and tough. My aunt, who is 90, is the same. Had my mom not contracted sepsis in the hospital, I have no doubt she would be going strong at 91. Even as sick as she was, she lived until 90 and, until she contracted sepsis at age 84, she was on her own, making Sunday dinner for us, going out with my aunt and her girlfriends and going strong. I also did everything that one is supposed to do to be healthy. I ate well. I exercised. I meditated. I slept well. I also have a a wonderful marriage and children. I have been lucky and blessed in my life and my love and partner, Alan. That makes it even harder to bear.
There were times during my hospitalization when I even questioned whether the fight in which I am engaging is worth it. I understood, as I suffered in pain, why people sometimes give up. That is not in my nature, but I think anyone, no matter how strong, who is not living but simply existing in pain has to question whether it is worth it. I want to live, not simply exist. I also think anyone, no matter how strong, who faces the sudden, debilitating hospitalization I faced, would be emotional and cry at the drop of a hat afterwards. If I did not, I would not be normal. The fact that I need to share my feelings to deal with me, is good because it helps me heal emotionally. This blog and the posts I have written, have had a healing effect on me as well. People who read this blog tell me over and over that it is inspiring and that my toughness and determination are inspiring as well. For me, it is a necessity that I write out what I am feeling, and that I share it as well. It is cathartic. I also believe that those who face this type of fight and who have friends and relatives watching them do so, should know how tough it is.
When Alan and I talked about what we wanted when we died, I cried non-stop, but we had the conversation and I am glad we did. Neither of us want anything religious. We want a memorial service where anyone who wants to talk about us can do so, and then a day at the house when people can visit. We both talked about cremation and then mingling our ashes once both of us were gone. I told my friend Deb, to try to get this blog published for me. Of course, Alan continues to say, he expects me to outlive him. That did make me smile. I just want as much time with him and my children and family and friends as possible.
Facing mortality every day, and knowing, truly, that there are no guarantees, is hard, but there is also a silver lining to it. I have constantly told my children over and over how much I love them and am proud of them and that I am frightened and angry at my circumstances, but that we must deal with it. I have looked at my husband every single day and told him over and over that he is, and has been, my best friend for over 30 years, that we are lucky in the marriage and relationship we have had and the life we have had. I have talked frankly with my sister in law, Sue, who has faced death more than once and is one of the strongest people I know. I have been lucky to have her in my life. I have told my friends how much they mean to me, and told them what I want after my death. They have constantly expressed their love, hugs and support and we have a closeness because we know there are no guarantees. When I am hugged by those I love, I hold on tight to show how much I love them back. I have appreciated every single day that I feel good and am living, and not just existing. Most people avoid these conversations and thoughts and do not communicate what they want if they die, because death is considered far off and something they can put off dealing with until later, and because they do not like to think about it. In some ways, I am lucky that I have to deal with it and can discuss this with my family and friends.
I am not giving up and I will continue to fight with all my strength and will. I am planning my next trip, to Napa, with Alan, Jackie and Joel, in July, but I will make sure to have travel insurance in place. My nephew in Sacramento is getting married on August 1. Alan and I plan to go, assuming I am fine to travel. Unfortunately, I am now on a low fiber diet, so many of the foods I love to eat, such as salads, veggies, berries, grains, lentils, kale, are off limits. I am enjoying ice cream, however. It has been over a week since I returned home from the hospital. Each day I am a bit stronger. Already this week I have practiced yoga three times, and I plan on going to yoga tomorrow. I have worked a bit, and I am again going out with friends and family and living. I am grateful for every day. Life is beautiful. Life is to be treasured. Remember that and never, ever, take it for granted.