I received the following note by postal mail yesterday. It was sent by a woman I was close friends with all through graduate school and with whom I shared an apartment my last two years there. We knew the ups and downs of the other, our plans, our loves of that time. She was the first to meet the date who turned out, after graduate school, to be my first husband.
A few years back, her sister died after a long struggle with ovarian cancer. Since it ran in her family, P had her ovaries removed as a precaution, under the advice of her physician. Ironically, not too long after, she developed another form of cancer in the same family of cancers. A cancer, doctors told her, with the same odds as ovarian. Chemo and other treatments would buy her time, just as it did her sister, but that was the best they could offer, short of the chance that she might be one of the few lucky ones.
I'm sharing the note, knowing that her direct presence in my life is far enough in my past now that her privacy is assured. I'm sharing it because I thought this note didn't affect me, but I woke up in the middle of the night in tears, unable to go back to sleep until far into the morning. I couldn't get my mind off her letter. I couldn't forget those days of innocence when we felt we were invulnerable, that things such as pain, suffering and dying were so far away as to not consider them.
I'm glad we can't see our futures.
The note (she knows of my own struggles with CFIDS):
As one warrier to another, ill health is the pitts. I admire how you hang in there in spite of many difficulties in your path. In Buddhism, you'd be considered a Bodi'sava(mispelled)-a being who is so compassionate that she seeks liberation and enlightment for herself and all beings. There just must be a higher purpose for all of your suffering. To think otherwise would be unbearable.
For my end, the chemo is a slow drag that ends in fatigue and nausea. My cancer marker is gradually increasing, which means that the chemo is no longer working. When the CA125 reaches a certain point, they'll switch me to a new chemo. All in all, I hope for another couple of years to live. In the meantime, I'm trying to organize my financial affairs, clean out the closest, and do some writing as time and energy permit. I need to get my spiritual life in order. I've felt alienated from God and in a spirtual strugge for the last several years.
Anyway, 2006 is another year and an even-numbered one at that. Six seems like a good number! Let's hope for the best.
With Warm Wishes
Ironically, while death has 'come out of the closet', for the most part, I still find that discussions about illness still make many people uncomfortable. Since I've been ill with CFIDS, I find myself still embarrassed when I say that it's been a very rough time. I know it's not what many people want to hear, based on the cheery replies back from healthy friends or acquaintances, giving me all sorts of remedies that they feel sure will cure me or announcing that if only I use my mind I can heal myself. Ages ago, Bernie Segal wrote that he had finally realized that the meditation techniques he taught helped with a person's quality of life far more than they 'cured' their cancers. I've found that it's the rare person who's not experienced some form of illness that I can talk to honestly and with no shame or stigma attached for no longer being able to be the person I once was. Rather, it's people like my friend or other friends who deal with strong issues, who have learned to listen. Listen without judgment or the need to play God.
(Art by Chagall)