Friday, March 22, 2013

For Lisa

When someone is close to death it is easy to canonize them.

Nobody is a saint, of course. We're all flawed humans, full of fault lines.  It has always been my opinion, though, that the light shines brightest through the cracks.

She is dying.

I don't even want to type those words, still clinging to the fruitless hope that maybe it's not true.

But it is, and if there is one thing she has taught me, it's that acceptance brings peace. 

People always talk about "fighting" cancer, and I struggle with that imagery.  Cancer isn't a fight, not really.  A fight implies that there is an eventual winner. If the cancer wins in the end, does that mean the person lost?

I don't think so.

Cancer doesn't really end, ever. Even those in remission for years - decades, even - are never able to put cancer completely behind them.  Every ache, pain or twinge brings you right back to the precipice. Every doctor's appointment is a stark reminder that you are irrevocably different, now, permanently flagged as more endangered than your average patient.

The irony of being a patient doesn't escape me.  So much about cancer is about patience.  You wait for appointments. You wait for test results. Even in remission, a part of you is always waiting for the cancer to come back.

So what do you do? Fold up in fear?  Sometimes you do.  The only way through is to feel the knife blade of fear, stare it straight in the face and say: I'm moving forward anyway.

She moved forward. She did it with light, grace, humor and determination.  And acceptance. Boatloads of acceptance.

In my cancer support group we find a safe place to raise our fists to the heavens and say I'm so done with this.  We all nod in commiseration, wipe away tears of frustration, and then we move forward.  Together.

What she brought to us was a grounding grace, a notebook stuffed with information about her latest treatment as she stoically kept right on going, one foot in front of the other.  When one chemo stopped working, they tried another. And another. When it spread to her brain they did brain radiation.  When her lungs filled with fluid into the hospital she'd go for another procedure. When her heart weakened, they pulled back on treatment, only to start up again when she grew stronger.

She talked to us about all of this with peaceful determination. It took me a long time to figure out how serious her cancer is because she was so present, so calm.

I wasn't there for the early years after her diagnosis. I'm sure she fell apart at times, raised her fists to the heavens.  By the time I came into the picture, though, what I saw was acceptance. And with that acceptance came peace.

She celebrated her recent 50th birthday for an entire year. She travelled a lot, squeezing trips in between treatments. She laughed - oh, how she laughed.

She didn't teach me a thing about dying.  She taught me about living.   About moving forward no matter what, about accepting the seemingly unacceptable.

She didn't fight.  She simply kept going, no matter what, with acceptance and grace.

She is the bravest warrior I've ever met, and I will carry her light with me, always.


  1. By the time my dad was diagnosed with cancer on October 1, 1993, it was too late to do anything. From the extent of it in his brain, we suspect he'd had it for quite a while and had not consulted a doctor because he hated doctors and didn't want to spend any time in a hospital; we joked for many years that he had to be dying before he would go to a hospital.

    And that's exactly what happened.

    After the diagnosis "widespread brain cancer, inoperable" they helped him stay home as long as possible until it was no longer comfortable for him to do so. I don't think I ever saw him rail against this new knowledge that he was going to die - and soon. WE did. HE didn't.

    The acceptance we saw in him was astounding, even in the midst of the worst pain he'd ever felt in his life, pain he couldn't articulate - it was just "there." Pain that morphine only barely touched. He felt what he felt, and was who he was - right up until the end. His faith - ever a private thing for him - shone most brightly when one night, after begging people to pray for him, one person suggested to him that he might pray for himself. And he did. The simple request to make the pain go away ... and the gratitude that rose from his lips in those few moments afterward - filled the room with an electric presence. He slipped into a peaceful sleep, only barely aware of those around him. It was in this state that he slipped out of this world and into the next. On November 19, 1993.

    In those seven weeks, he taught me more than I could have dreamed about courage, about vulnerability, about faith, about acceptance. He was - and is - one of the greatest heroes in my life.

    1. Oh, Judy. I have tears in my eyes. Thank for sharing this. Just.. thank you.


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