Today, I am alive

A couple days ago, I attended the funeral of my great-aunt, the eldest member of my family tree. She was an amazing woman who lived a full and long life. As the rabbi and members of her family spoke about her, I began to think of the legacy she left behind and I realized that a good way to assess if you’re living the life you want to is to imagine what someone would say about you in your eulogy. What will they remember about you? What are the highlights they will touch upon? Is your career noteworthy enough to mention as one of your great accomplishments? Your charitable acts? Your kindness? The family you have created? What will you leave behind?

I’ve thought a lot about my own funeral. I imagine this might be somewhat normal, when you’re faced with a life-threatening disease. But maybe not. I think I’ve always thought a bit more about death and such things than the average person. Six Feet Under is my favourite TV show, after all, and I don’t think that is exactly a coincidence. I’ve wondered what would be said about me at my funeral. The stories everyone would tell. I imagine who would show up – perhaps people from my past whom I haven’t spoken to in years. I like to imagine that it could be a happy celebration of life, but I know it would not be so. When someone young dies, it’s seen as a tragic event. We think of the person they could have become and the many things they wanted to accomplish.

As much as I try to live in the present and not think about the many what ifs, I sometimes find myself consumed by the knowledge that I might not survive this brutal disease. The next few years for me are critical. And there are many people who have a recurrence many years down the road… 6 years, 8 years, 10 years. You get comfortable, and then BAM, you are told it is back, this time somewhere else in your body, and the situation is bleak. I hate that this is a possibility. I hate that because of my age and the genetic make-up of my tumour, my risk is higher. I am aware that the odds are in my favour, with all the treatment I have done. But the chances of an unhappy ending are still much greater than I am comfortable with.

One of the hardest parts of thinking about all this heavy stuff is imagining the people I would leave behind. I can sometimes come to grips with the idea of me, myself, not existing anymore. But when I think of the pain this would leave, with my husband and with my family… well, let’s just say I try my best not to let my mind go there. I guess I should feel grateful that I’m loved and that there are many people who would like me to be alive. Most would say that’s a good thing. But the idea that I could destroy the happiness of so many people is a lot to bear.

When my mind spirals down these dark places, I try to snap myself out of it: I say to myself, Don’t worry about tomorrow. I’m still here. Everything is okay today. Today, I’m alive. And then I move on and go on with my day and try to live a normal existence, the best I can.

Tomorrow is my 19th treatment. 54 weeks of having drugs pumped through my veins. That’s a long time. But I’m hopeful that the drugs are doing their job and that my story will have a happy ending. Today, that’s what I feel like believing.

Today, I am alive.

A recent pic with my siblings where we all, unintentionally, wore matching tops.
A recent pic with my siblings where we all, unintentionally, wore matching tops.

The daily grind

So I think this is the longest I have gone without blogging since this all started. And that is because there hasn’t been much to say… which is good. Uneventful is good. I have had enough excitement to last for a long time, and I’m okay with boring and mundane for a bit.

Last week was my first official full-time week at work. It’s strange, because I work in a new environment, where I’m fairly certain many people aren’t aware of my history. Sometimes I want to respond to emails: Hi, I had cancer, and you should know, considering the effects of my treatment on my brain function and how extremely tired I feel all the time, it’s pretty amazing that I am managing to respond to you and give you even a half-coherent answer to your question, so please say “thank you” and give me a cookie for being awesome. But I would probably seem insane, or get fired, so I haven’t followed through with my urges to be “that crazy girl” just yet.


Speaking of being the crazy person at work, this guy is my hero.

There have been some days recently where I have felt so fatigued that I am convinced something is wrong. I no longer really know the difference between regular tired and cancer tired, because I have been cancer tired for so long and have not functioned in normal day-to-day life for quite some time. I can’t remember if this tiredness is just something average, healthy people feel from lack of sleep, or a long day at work. I guess eventually I will have to start trusting my body again and not think that every slight malfunction is a sign of the Big Bad Cancer. But my body broke that trust in a pretty major way, and I think it will be a very long time until I can forgive it and move on. I’m holding a bit of a grudge, you might say.

Lately I think about cancer and recurrence a little less. I am too busy with so many other things. As I get further away from it, it seems more absurd to think about the cancer coming back. No way, that can’t happen. Look at me, I’m fine, I’m great, everything will be great. I feel these things more and more now.

But then just as quickly, I’m hit again with reality. Wait a second. There’s a total possibility that I’m not fine and that this possibility will be confirmed in the near future and that I’m really just a dead woman walking. Sometimes I feel like I’m fooling myself, like there’s no way this bit of normalcy is going to last. I go so far as to imagine my doctor giving me the news (again), yet this time, it would be paired with the whole cliche, “You have this many months/years to live” spiel. The fact that that could actually happen is really quite terrifying.

And then I snap out of it. Back to my life, where I have bills to pay, dinner to make, a job to do, people to see, places to go, and all that good stuff. Because you see, in a normal, boring life, there really isn’t much time to think of things like cancer and dying.

And that’s just fine by me.

To life, to life, l’chaim

Last week, I attended shiva for Linda and had the honour of meeting some of her amazing family. It was so special to get a stronger sense of what Linda’s life was like, and the people she surrounded herself with. I felt so lucky to have had her come into my life, even though it was for much too short a time. I do believe that people enter our lives for a reason, and I feel that Linda left such a wonderful legacy behind, and taught me many lessons, for which I am very grateful. Her family told me of how much Linda had admired my attitude and my honesty, but I hope they know that the feeling was completely mutual, and I felt a true kindred spirit in Linda.

Of course, despite it truly being a celebration of her life, I still felt a deep sadness, as I’m sure most did. It is always so sad when someone dies much too early. This unshakable feeling of a life unfinished. Cut short. Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever feels ready to go, when it’s their “time”. Is it easier when you’re 90 vs. 30? Or does it always feel as if life just sped right by you, without there ever being enough time to do and see all that you planned.

Since getting diagnosed with cancer, I’ve thought to myself if I could live just until “middle age”, that would be enough and I’d be satisfied and grateful for the extra years I got. But I’m certain if I make it to that point (and I hope I do), that I won’t feel any more ready to go. That it won’t be any easier. When life is good, it is natural to get greedy and want more. More years, more experiences, more trips, more love, more laughter. More living.

I do feel more pressure to live my life to the fullest and make every day count and fulfill the requirements of countless cliches. I think it would be almost impossible not to feel this way, when you know your days could be limited and that a long life and old age is not a certainty, but more of an abstract concept. A hopeful wish. A perhaps, rather than a definitely.

The strange thing is, even with this pressure and this fear safely tucked in the back of my mind, I don’t really want to do anything different. I don’t want to jump out of a plane, or climb the tallest mountain or run away to an exotic part of the world and leave my life behind. If my life were a movie, I feel like that’s what my character would do.

But what I want most of all, what I dream of, is a normal, long life. Filled with the mundane, with splashes and sprinkles of excitement thrown in here and there for good measure. I want family, and traditions, and changing seasons. Lazy nights and long days. Eventually, wrinkles, and some grey hairs (or any hair, really).

When it comes down to it, I just want my life to go on. I don’t need anything to change, and I don’t want to be a poster girl for how cancer can miraculously change your life for the better. I just want to be able to feel that when my time is up, I’ll know I lived the life I was meant to.  Nothing particularly extraordinary. Nothing filled with daring adventures and endless excitement.  Just life. Boring, typical, beautiful life.