I recently read an article about a favorite TV series. It featured an interview with the actor who plays a character that died of stomach cancer in the most recent episode. When asked if he knew when his character was going to die, he said not exactly – only that it was coming soon. And then it happened, at the end of Episode 16.
This really struck a chord with me, as I was recently diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. I’ve spent almost a year adjusting to the idea that I have a terminal illness, and will most likely die as a result of it. But I don’t now just when, or just how. The best terminology I’ve heard for this is “living with uncertainty.”
I’ve gone through the shock, the “woe is me” feeling, and sometimes, in a clear-headed moment, on a very sunny day, the acceptance. I went through the motions, making an advance directive and a will, putting my affairs in order, as much as they’ll ever be. I was agonizing over the unknown, and then it hit me. Everyone should do this, BEFORE Episode 16.
No one lives without uncertainty, do they? There’s always that possibility of a car accident, illness, natural disaster, or just plain old age that will take each and every one of us, at some point. They say none of us gets out of this alive. But most of us don’t want to think about the unknown – the inevitable. It’s messy. We like to think we’ll live forever, or just not think about it at all.
So, in order to get my head around this, take care of those end of life decisions and move on with my life, I decided it’s sort of a bonus to know. It narrows down the what-ifs quite a bit. It forces me to focus on doing what I want to do – on doing whatever I can to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
It also forced – no, allowed me to make some changes in my life. I had to quit working – something I thought I’d never do. It was a difficult decision – I’ve always worked, and now, I just couldn’t keep doing it. I thought it was my first loss in this disease. But now I don’t know how I ever had the time to work! I’ve shifted my time towards pursuing my interests, volunteering at my local library and elementary school, spending time with friends, traveling and enjoying my life.
Sure, I’m constantly reminded of my illness and its limitations. I can’t do as much as I used to. Sometimes I’m just too tired, and sometimes pain and other side effects of medications interfere with my activities. But most of the time I’m grateful to be living my life, because I know that Episode 16 is just lurking there, somewhere in my future, just as it does for us all.