What does Cancer change?

I've been estranged from my mother for over 4 years. It was a brutal goodbye and one that I've tried hard to forget. Recently, it came to my attention that she may have cancer. Uterine or ovarian - grapevine info is sketchy like that.

Understandably, I wanted to talk with my husband about this. He told me: "if she ends up in the hospital and is about to die, then you can go to the hospital and see her if you want."

Thanks for the permission. But it got me thinking....why would I do that? Why does cancer change anything? Is it the threat of death? Either one of us could have died at anytime over the last 4 years. And what would it matter? What would I say to her that I haven't needed to say already.

What would she say to me? Nothing can change the past and talking to her on her deathbed would have no effect on my future. Talking to her with the presumption that she was going to live for years (as would be the current presumption) would change things. But that hasn't and isn't happening.

I questioned my husband about it and he made some argument I barely remember. I do remember him saying that I'd spend extra time with my brother if he had cancer and I replied that I wouldn't. And I like my brother. We just have different lives and only see each other every once in a while.

The same goes for my other siblings. If I knew they were "dying," I wouldn't spend much more time with them than I already do. If I knew that I was "dying," I wouldn't hunt them down to visit for hours either. In fact, I wouldn't change much about my life at all. And I think that's the point.

Cancer changes very little. We are all "dying." The only thing cancer changes is your possible range of death. You may die today or 50 years from now. But with cancer, you may die today or within the next however many months. Your odds of dying are the same (100% for all of us.)

Cancer does give you perspective and I encourage you to live like you have cancer. Sort of. If I had cancer, I would spend exactly the same amount of time with the people in my life that I already do. Everyone that I value is already accounted for and in the amount of time I think is appropriate. I spend my days doing the things I want to do (mostly).

Here are a few things to consider if want to live like today might be your last:

1. Don't think about yesterday because it no longer matters.
2. Plan for tomorrow, but don't spend too much time on it. It may never come.
3. Leave the memories and the legacy you want to leave today. Take pictures, make movies, write letters. And do them now. Not only will your memory be fresher, but you'll have left the messages you want to leave.
4. Write and notarize your will. Be confident that anything you need to take care of is done.
5. Make the time to do the things you've always wanted to do. You DO have the time. Turn off the television, get someone else to run the PTA meeting, take your vacation days, and make the time to really enjoy your life. It's why you're here!
6. Make an effort to learn something new everyday.
7. Don't worry about being perfect. In the end, none of it matters.

I've thought a lot about how I'd change my life if I had cancer. Not because I'm excessively morbid, but because there was a time when it was a real possibility. I ended up cancer-free, but it still gave me a glimpse of what was really important.

By considering that all of our days are numbered, I'm able to tell you that I'm almost living the exact life I'd live if I had a terminal illness. If I really had cancer there are a few things I'd change. Prior to chemo, I'd cut off my hair and donate it (rather than trash it when it falls out,) I'd eat a lot of chocolate (to put on weight prior to chemo and for the pure awesomeness of it,) and I'd record any stories I really wanted my children to know about my life. I'd also clean a lot less. Not that I'd let my house become a dump. It's just not as important to me as it is to my husband.

I wouldn't jet off to Italy or force myself to run a marathon. If either of those things happened, it would be great. But I think I'd be just as happy just living my normal everyday life. If you don't agree, think about it and work on making your life one that you're satisfied with.


Until tomorrow, Jennifer said...

I do see your point of view BUT...maybe you may want to see your mom so you wouldnt have any regrets later. My MIL was estranged from my Brother in law. H came around when she was dying they both said what they needed to say as hurtful as it may have been but in the end despite their differences they said I love you. She will always be the woman who put you on the earth

Anne - Mommy Has to Work said...

we are all entitled to our opinion and it's your life - no one else's. For me - my brother did die from cancer and if I could have spent more time with him I would have.

Rachel said...

Great post and I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is only you that can make the decision that you feel is right if you did find out that your mom was on her death bed. I make a similar decision last year with my grandmother. I knew she was dying, and I made the choice not to go to the hospital to see her. We had said what we needed to say before that and I don't regret that decision. There were several people that could not understand my decision and that is okay. They are entitled to their opinion. What is important is that we stick to what is right for our own life and live with those decisons we make. I love your points to consider to live today like it is your last!

debbie said...

I hadn't seen my father in 15 years. I heard he had cancer, and I went to see him. He hadn't seen my son, didn't even know about him or my life. He was in a coma, but woke up when I said here is my son,dad. It was really something. I took care of him for the last 6 weeks of his life. I made my peace with him, and it felt like a burden had been lifted from my chest.
My mother and sister, now that is another matter. They accused me of taking the 250 dollars that social security pays for death benefits. I never even saw it, he was destitute and social services took it to help pay for his funeral. I also might add, that they did nothing for him, my mother even agreed with the doctor, not to give him pain medicine at the end, so he had to suffer.
Now my mother, that is a different matter. It is a long story, but I just found out alot of things that happened. I will not be saying goodbye to her. I have made my piece that she was a very bad person, and that I did nothing to deserve the things she did. The same with my sister (who she lives with).
Making peace with someone, lifts that burden from you. But it does take two to be able to do it. There are alot of things I would say to my mother, but she accepts no responsibility for anything she has done. It would be pointless on my part. I just have to accept it and move on.
I agree with you. You have to do what is best for you.

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