UPDATE: Met with surgeon this morning. I’ll be admitted to the hospital this afternoon. Surgery hopefully soon. Estimated hospital stay: 5-6 days…
On December 25, 2013 – Christmas Day – I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’d been having some physical symptoms over the prior ten days or so, and on December 23 my doctor ordered some initial tests to see if we could determine a cause.
But by Christmas morning I was in so much pain that I went to my doctors’ Urgent Care office. One test after another was done, and eventually a CT scan. Towards the end of the afternoon the doctor came in and was clearly distraught yet calm and compassionate as he gave me the news. The initial diagnosis was possible ovarian cancer, which has already spread to other organs.
Since then, a flurry of appointments, phone calls, messages to my medical team. Interspersed with that, long hours in the waiting room at the local hospital’s ER. Some of the physical symptoms are severe enough to warrant immediate medical attention.
Subsequent tests support the initial diagnosis. We will have much more information after I’ve had surgery to have the tumors removed. But at the moment, my life expectancy is anywhere from several months to perhaps three years, depending on a) what the doctors find when they do the surgery, and b) which courses of treatment I choose.
It is difficult to get appointments during the winter holidays, I’ve had to assertively ‘be my own advocate’ in the care process so far. Many people are on vacation and those who are working at the doctors’ offices and at the hospital are working so very hard to care for all of us who need care now. Yet the medical professionals I’ve encountered in the past six days have all had that wonderful combination of compassion and competence; I am grateful for their care.
At moments of calm, when the pain level is not so high, I’ve had time to examine my own mind and my thoughts. Over the coming months I will write about my experiences with end-of-life on this blog. Already I can see that because symptoms are quite painful at times, my energy level as well as my ability to just think clearly are going to be up-and-down from here on. But when I can, I will write.
I do not fear death. I have examined my mind carefully over the past few days, to be certain that I say this without lying to you or to my Self.
Over the years of long commutes to work, I often gave myself ‘thinking assignments’. Several years ago as I was becoming proficient at questioning my own thoughts, I gave myself a ‘thinking assignment’ to examine my fear of death. Month after month I spent time nearly every day examining my thoughts and beliefs about death, questioning everything, until the fear of death was gone.
The work that I did then, is serving me very well now.
I do not fear cancer. I am 60 years old now; my mother died of cancer at age 59. Twenty-five years ago I walked this path alongside my mother, since then I have walked alongside others through cancer. I am familiar with this path.
I do not fear pain. During the past few days I’ve had a taste of what’s to come; I know that there will be physical pain. But my mind does not dwell on that – I deal with the pain when it is in the present moment of my experience and right now it is not.
Because my mind is not swirling in fear, or in feeling sorry for myself, or in thinking things are horrible, I’ve been able to calmly consider my situation.
I am a single parent, my son is a young adult in college. He lives with me and I am grateful that he will be here to provide help and support as I need it in the coming months. I’ve examined my thoughts and emotions about him – he will lose his only parent while he is so young. Already he has reached out to his own personal community; he has the support of his friends. And for my part, I have to trust that I have raised him well, as well as I could, and that he the psychological tools needed to carry on with his own life when I am gone. And I realize that I have not said “I love you” often enough to my son in recent years; I am doing that now.
I also have an elderly father. My father re-married after my mother died, and his second wife also died of cancer. Dad is so intensely fearful of cancer. I decided to tell him about my situation as soon as I had enough information. I went to Dad’s apartment at the assisted-living facility, pulled a chair over so that I could sit directly in front of him. I looked into his eyes, held his hands, and said, “Dad, I have ovarian cancer. It is terminal.” I explained quickly, factually, and without drama. I watched his tears as his emotions overcame him, yet stayed calm within my Self.
Perhaps as he goes through this journey with me, Dad will learn to not fear cancer. There are many ways to die, cancer is just one of them.
Meanwhile, my siblings are stepping in to support Dad at this time. He knows that he is not alone; he sees that as our family responds to my situation people are reaching out to support each other. He knows that he is inside a circle of caring.
This is all I have time to write at the moment. Medical appointments press for my time this morning.
But I will add this: As I sent out letters and emails to family, friends and acquaintances over the past few days explaining what is happening I’ve received so much love, so much compassion as people replied. Often the first few words are “I do not know what to say…” and then the words flow on to express the most beautiful, profound sentiments.
I am so grateful to all of you. Your love, caring, and compassion are beautiful beyond words. I have not yet had time to write back individually, but I hope to do so soon as time permits and as the physical pain level allows for clarity of thought.
This part of my journey is an adventure to be sure. While my life so far may appear quite ordinary, it has been extraordinary for me, particularly as I learned to explore and understand my own mind. I devoted decades of my life learning how to live depression-free, and that will serve me well now.
I will share this adventure with you, as time and clarity of mind allow me to write.
And now, I greet the day, my mind in the Now, sensing that even as my body struggles with the cancer my mind is refreshed and peaceful in this present moment.