We lost a member of my in-person support group late last week. Her death was not unexpected, but it was a surprise all the same. For me, who joined this support group three years ago, it is the first death I have experienced from within our membership.
I don't want to violate confidentiality, so I won't say much to identify this person. She had had Stage IV cancer for a while, and had been part of the group for a while too (though she joined a little later than I did). A kind and gracious woman, even when she was declining, she contributed a great deal to the group even when she didn't have a lot to say. She didn't miss much, and her comments were well-considered and to the point.
She had a remarkable clarity about her illness. She sought every possible remedy, it seemed, and yet she knew she was only borrowing time. When she reached her 60th birthday, it was a good landmark, one that hadn't been certain. And she continued to do what she could to enjoy herself, as best as she could--a trip to Europe; camping close by; keeping company with family and friends.
The last time she attended group, about ten days before she died, she looked more frail than she ever had before. She had tried a number of different treatments over the past few years, and some of them had been in the category of those worse than the disease (in the short term, anyway). But this was the first time she was as weary as she was, and she spoke about being in pain, to an almost uncontrollable degree. Still, she was optimistic about her prospects--not for beating the cancer, but for gaining a little more time. Alas, that was not to be.
It was hard to get the news. Somehow I expected more notice, even though she had already experienced some really alarming episodes, and even though her metastases were in dangerous places. All I could hope was that at the end she wasn't in pain, and that she had loved ones nearby.
We all die. We all know that we will die. Yet, the mind resists that notion. After I heard the bad news, I was sitting and weeping here, at my computer, sending out some emails to other group members to convey the news. My daughter came in and asked what was wrong. (I can't recall how she noticed.) When I told her, she gave me a big hug, somewhat out of character for her, and said, "Well, at least you're not going to die from this, Mom." As if she, or I, or anyone else can be sure of that~!
It's an odd thing to be part of a support group for cancer. Some of us have contact with other members of the group outside of it; I do, sometimes. Perhaps it's just me, but I have found it very difficult to get to know people who are so vulnerable. So hard to put myself on the line in yet another way. I refused to join a group for women with advanced cancer, early on, because I didn't want to get discouraged. We feel that tension here a bit too, don't we? I suspect that it is really hard for folks to continue stopping by here when things get rough--or, when things have significantly improved. Ah, that could be mere, unfounded speculation, prompted by my sadness today.
On the other hand, of course it is worth it to have had this lovely and gentle woman in my life, however briefly. I never knew her very well, and while I will mourn her, I am not bereaved to the same degree as her family or her close friends. All the same, it was a privilege to meet her and to share a little bit about her life. I can only hope that she felt uplifted and comforted by our weekly meetings, the camaraderie we shared, even as she knew her end approached.
Of course, the MNCC diaries are always an open thread: feel free to discuss what you like. But if you are moved to share any memories of those you have lost to cancer, this might be a fitting opportunity.
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.