Ever since my mom died of lung cancer, and her revelation that all the women on her side of the family have died around the age of 60, I have been immobilised with fear. Fear of dying. Fear of dying before I got the chance to feel what true happiness feels like. Fear of dying before I got the chance to fulfill my dreams. Fear of dying before I got to feel what it means to be perfectly comfortable with the person I have become.
In the past few weeks, I have been beset with health problems. I ended up in hospital where it was found that my liver function tests were off the charts. I was released on holiday still feeling awful under the condition that I returned for tests. Last week, I had those tests and made an appointment to see the surgeon on Thursday. On Monday I got a phone call to say the surgeon would like to see me on Tuesday.
I don’t deny it. I thought I had cancer. I whipped out those scans and scrutinised them for all my layman’s worth. Is that a shadow I see? I looked up pancreatic and liver cancer, both of which have very little hope of survival at best – 90% die within a year and only 5% make it to five years. Tears rolled down my face as I imagined leaving my children and husband behind. I would miss them so much.
Then, suddenly, something weird happened. I started to imagine how I would react and how I would want to live my life if indeed I had very little time left. I thought of my own mom and how unprepared she was and I knew that I didn’t want to die like that.
I would write each of my family members letters, I thought, so that they would know how much I loved them and how very proud of them I am.
I would start enjoying my life. Life is short and if I am going to die, I am no longer going to buy into this bullshit of trying to be someone I am not, or trying to improve myself to some ridiculous, imagined, unobtainable self that has been created by the marketing industry and simply does not exist. I thought about my life and I knew that I had lived it to the best of my ability, given the skills I had, and that had to be enough.
I once took part in a team building exercise where we had to write our own obituaries. I think it was a weird goal making exercise, the idea being if you could imagine how you wanted to be remembered, you could start to shape your life to achieve that. My obituary read like a combination of Mother Theresa and McGiver. I wanted to be remembered for being a beacon of light in my community but also the solver of all solutions – daring, skillful, full of hidden talents that could be called to the fore under the highest of pressures.
I thought back to that obituary and realised that I had created this image of myself that not only wasn’t me, but was also completely unrealistic. Really, faced with my own mortality, all I wanted to be remembered for was perhaps, through my actions and words, leaving the world a slightly better place. That those people around me felt better, not worse, for knowing me.
If I was going to die, I wanted to travel more. Mr C and I had always said that our travelling time would come after the children had flown the coop since we had started our family so young. That would have to change. There were places I was desperate to see – Tuscany, Egypt, Bhutan, Nepal.
I knew that if I was going to die, and as hard as this might have been given that I would be quite ill before I died, I wanted to treat my body with more respect. If the body is indeed the temple within which the soul resides, I had treated it like a slum. I wanted my body to know that I was grateful for its tenure and to let it know that it had done its job well, considering the battering it had taken. I also wanted to know what it felt like to fit into a size 12 pair of jeans.
I wanted to surround myself with family and friends as much as possible. Instead of talking about it but waiting for the house to look just perfect, I would entertain more. I used to love entertaining, but when I became sober, that largely fell away. Sobriety brought with it a sense of dullness, that I was a boring person (and hence my reason for drinking), and I had avoided entertaining for four years. That would change.
I would read more intelligent stuff and less crap.
I would definitely spend less time on social media and more time living my life and creating memories with those that mattered.
I would write things on my blog that would add to the world, not take away from it. I would be brave enough to say that it is not okay to be mean, or unkind, or vitriolic, that it is important that we grow, believe in ourselves and nurture a new generations of humans that strive to be better people. I would be brave enough to say that war is not okay; that anyone should get the opportunity to love and marry, no matter what their sexual orientation; that religions really need to pull their socks up and shake themselves into being better leaders of our communities, rather than fostering fear mongering and bigotry in the name of recruitment to the fold.
In essence, all I wanted to do was be brave enough to live my truth and to depart knowing that kindness and love had been my rudder in life. It sounds cliched I know, but it really was as simple as that.
I went to the doctor yesterday. Mr C took the day off and came with me. As tears streamed down my face at my nearing fate, I looked at him, held his hand and knew that I was so lucky have been so loved.
I do not have cancer. It was an administrative error and my appointment on Thursday had to be moved to Tuesday because of it. I told the doctor that I had lived 24 hours thinking I was going to die. She laughed and said that I had a good few years in me yet. I have something very minor that is going to require a small operation.
For four years, because of the legacy of the women down my mother’s side not surviving past 60-62, I had lost hope in living a long life. I had allowed this to impact my quality of life. It had informed how I lived my life, and largely, I had opted out of living it, almost just waiting to die.
Believing I was going to die for those 24 hours honed my sense of living, what I wanted out of life and how I would truly like to be remembered. It has, in fact, given me a second chance and what a gift that is.
Until next time,