It started with a lonely little post in a Facebook forum I frequent … “I’ve been given my walking papers, so to speak. I have four to six weeks left” is all it said. While I don’t know the poster personally, my heart skipped a beat in fear for my Triple Negative Breast Cancer sister.
I didn’t know what to say. What do you say?
What words are appropriate when someone can count their remaining days?
Then news of Rachael Bland’s death rolled across my news feed. She was only forty. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, she went on to co-host the BBC’s You, Me and the Big C. A few days ago she posted “au revoir” on Twitter. This one punched me right in the gut.
“In the words of the legendary Frank S – I’m afraid the time has come my friends. And suddenly. I’m told I’ve only got days…”
I wept as I read her tributes from her family, friends and fans. Her co-host, friend and fellow cancer patient Deborah James reminisces about the photo above and cries “You, me and Lauren, we pledged to turn this crap of cancer into a positive, it became our coping strategy. Now it’s your legacy.”
Rachael also had Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
Your story telling voice was better than mine. Your class, courage and caustic humour did an eloquent job of sharing the highs and lows of cancer. I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head in agreement more times than not while listening to your podcast.
It makes me wonder how much time I have left.
And then, the news hit much closer to home. Ilse Themen – frontwoman extraordinare for the group Tamin’ Thunder – passed away this morning after her four year battle with breast cancer. As a fan and a friend, I spent some wonderful evenings listening to her beautiful voice singing in the local clubs. She could pack the dancefloor like none other. I still have the pink ribbon I was given at her fundraiser. I still have our last text conversations on my cell phone. We sat beside eachother in the waiting room at the Durham Regional Cancer Centre and compared notes on treatment plans and side effects. And now she’s gone, leaving behind a husband and a son.
She was singing at the St. Paddy’s Day Party I attended in March 2017 … just one week after I underwent surgery with Dr. X to remove my traitorous lump and her sentinel nodes. Ilse took the time to sit down with me and discuss my diagnosis. She squeezed my hand as she stood up and hugged me “Don’t let it drag you down” she said.
Another friend called today from my surgeon’s office. She was in to schedule surgery with Dr. X to remove suspicious lumps from her body.
“He’s a good surgeon,” I told her. “Does he know he is famous?”
He fueled a few doctor fantasies I (ahem) pounded out on this blog.
The day hadn’t finished dealing its punches.
Another friend on the west coast in ill health. He knocks me on the head (figuratively) while being a gentleman (literally) while we debate theism vs atheism. I’ve compared us to Wile E. Coyote and the Sheepdog in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. We clock in on different sides of the debate, but respect eachother while pulling stunts in the forum with enough swear words and memes to cause great consternation among the moderators.
I honestly can’t tell you when I have laughed so much or so hard as when carrying on like a crazy lady with these friends.
When asked “What are you doing?” my boyfriend has become accustomed to the response “Harassing atheists,” which I say with a grin. He’s given up trying to pull the laptop from my lap while I am engaging in these debates.
My work life is changing as I take on more challenges, but I remind myself daily to find the happiness and that “joie de vivre” quality that has become so important to me post-cancer. I can find happiness in the most unlikely places.
I found it in cancer.
I found it in adversity.
I found it in solitude.
I found love unexpectedly.
I will find it in work.
I will find it doing what I love.
Today also marks the beginning of a new semester of Creative Writing classes for me, and I joined a Canada Writes group on Facebook to discuss writing and submitting to CBC contests. By chance, another poster mentioned finding her happy place in writing and posted a photo of her favourite book on Creativity waiting eagerly on her desk.
The title intriqued me so I looked the book up on amazon.ca … and purchased two by the same author. Flow and Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As I read the summary of Flow, I became excited. He was describing the sheer joy I felt when I was in top form … conquering technology or cancer. So I have settled into bed to read after having a good cry and writing this post.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi does a TED Talk on his research here : Flow – the secret to happiness
What do I want to do with my remaining time? I have no idea if I have days or months or years. What do I want to accomplish? For me? For my son? With my love? Can I make my dogs any happier? Dogs seem to know how to live in the present and be happy.
Happiness isn’t something you find … it’s something you synthesize. You can’t chase it. You can’t buy it. Thinking about it makes it elusively slip just out of your grasp.
It comes from doing what you love. What do you love?
Adieu, Ilse … à la prochaine fois. Go with God … until next time, my friend.
Read the Fox blog: Hear what the Fox really has to say