Two years ago today my cousin Gaby died of cancer. In the three months between her diagnosis and her death she endured a great deal of pain and fear. Gaby faced her illness with courage. That is not to say that she did not cry. Many times she became depressed, agitated and despairing. That is the nature of fear. That is the nature of cancer. But Gaby always maintained her essential self. She voiced her opinions. She expressed her concern and love for the people around her. She joked. She sat in the sunshine and bathed in the beauty of the world as only the dying can. Gaby fought with every fibre of her being to get well but the cancer overwhelmed her. She was a vivacious woman and a joy to be with. I miss her every day.
I was in Ireland with Sheldon and Doug when I got the call from Ben telling me that Gaby had died. We went to the nearest church, lit candles and prayed for Gabs. Sheldon gave me a big hug. Then we went for a walk on a rain-washed Kerry beach.
That was before I met Nick. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before I fell in love. Before I knew what it was to have my veins pumped full of poison. It was before I had to learn how to cling on to who I am when I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror. Before I understood the anxiety of knowing that there was a malignant force lurking inside my own body. Before I knew how frightening it is to let go and trust another person absolutely. Before I ever experienced the devastating betrayal of that trust.
Can it really only be two years?
Two years ago I was afraid of cancer. I had seen what it can do and knew for sure that I didn’t want it. We don’t always get what we want. But how do we learn to want what we get? In my experience it is by understanding the only purpose of life: that it is to be lived in every moment, no matter what.
It is easy to take refuge in the belief that life is only a quality item when it is filled with fun, thrills, sex, holidays, clothes and electronic gadgets. A few of my friends have been unwilling to stay with me on my cancer journey. They simply disappeared. It has been too frightening, maybe threatening – too real for them. I’ve shed many tears over the loss of those people. If you have read this blog then you will know how I have been torn apart by learning that my Nick couldn’t cope. Cancer just wasn’t fun enough for him.
I would not have chosen cancer but it chose me. I also accept that it may well kill me in the end. But now I can honestly say that cancer has enriched my life. It has brought me closer to my family, to many of my friends and most of all to myself. Simply, I feel more connected.
If you are going through cancer then you too will be finding out who the hundred percenters are in your life. No doubt you will be bitterly disappointed by some. But try not to dwell too long on such regrets. Those with big hearts and souls will step up to the plate – and there will be plenty of them. This is real life. Forget about the people who won’t participate in it fully. Our darkest times show us the exhilarating truth of what it is it is to be human.
So take a tip from Lily: don’t wait for cancer or a stroke or heart attack to plug you in. Try doing everything you do today with integrity, with honesty, with compassion and most of all with love. It’s just not worth living any other way.
I love you Gaby.
Would you like to commemorate a loved one who has died of cancer? The Chemo Chic Project is for you. Please share your story.