I am not afraid of death. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, saturated with love and light. How could I be afraid of that? What I am afraid of is the process of dying. This was not always the case. Before my cancer journey, I knew we all die, but I figured I would be old before I needed to worry about that. However, I was just as surprised as my doctors, when I learned that I had two cancers, which usually happen to women much older than the 43 years I was at the time.
What followed my diagnosis was a whirlwind of medical procedures and treatments. Terrible things were done to my body in an effort to save it. Complications on top of complications happened to me all along the way. Not knowing the outcome of all the torture was the hardest part. Would it work? Could my life be saved? Or was I going to make an early exit, leaving my children without their mother?
I had support around me. My family and friends were truly amazing. I was not lonely, but I was alone. They were the ones who held back my hair, but I was the one throwing up my guts in the toilet. They were the ones who held my hand, but I was the one having my insides ripped out by the nurse. They are the ones who drove me, but I was the one sitting in the chair being poisoned. I was the one with the bruises, the bald head, and the wounds. I am the one with the scars. Anyone who has faced a dreaded disease knows it is a solitary journey.
With terminal diseases you don’t even have control over how things go. Your body makes that choice for you. At the beginning I thought, ‘I am young, so this will be easier for me and I will bounce back. Surgery, then recovery, and that will be it.’ But that wasn’t it.
Complications. There was more cancer than they thought, two different types, it was not contained, there were cancer cells in my abdomen, my incision came open, I had a wound vac, I had to have chemo, my port didn’t work properly, I got a staph infection, my blood counts were too low, my transfusion took too long, on and on it went. Delay, delay, delay.
Eventually, I overcame, but there was something about sitting and waiting to see what my body would do that woke me up to reality. I was not in control, of anything. The terrible things that had to be done to my body were extremely painful as well as humiliating. The whole process was mortifying, and no one could do it for me. I was on my own to sit inside my body and wait for it to decide to live or die. It took courage I didn’t have, to fight battles I couldn’t fight for myself. I felt like a sitting duck, just waiting to be picked off.
The needles, the machines, the tubes, the bags, the IVs, the medicines, the beds, the chairs. All of it was enough to make me want to quit trying, but I couldn’t quit. I prayed to my body not to quit for the sake of my children. I said, “Please keep trying and fighting. Don’t stop.” If I ever needed to understand the line between the physical world and the spiritual one, my cancer journey taught me the difference. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. It was a traumatic experience, every single day. My fight was 6 rounds, spread out over about a year. In Cancerland terms, my battle was one of the shorter ones.
So, why am I sharing all this now, 13 years later? Because I want to show you why some of the most vulnerable are so determined to shelter, distance, and protect ourselves and each other. I would do anything to avoid having to go through what I have been through, ever again. Wear a mask? Yes. Lock myself in my house? Of course. Stay away from my friends? Yep. Paint myself blue and stand on my head? You bet. Walk around in a hazmat suit? Anything. I mean anything. I would avoid it at all costs, and I would never wish it on anyone else. If I can help you avoid having to endure something like this, I will do it, whatever it is.
I have friends, who like me, have gone through some health battles. I’ve checked in with a few. They are back at work because it is required of them. They are diligently following the ways to protect themselves, but not all their co-workers are. It adds a whole new dimension to office life to be the only one. In worst cases, they are being made fun of for wearing their masks. Called out in front of meetings of co-workers, ‘If we all sit far enough away from _____ we don’t have to wear these masks.’ Their bosses are standing behind them coughing as they look over their shoulder at the computer screen. They are in cubicles with no door to shut. They are being told by others, ‘my body, my choice’ or ‘If you don’t like it you can go home.’ It is alarming how insensitive people are being to others, all because they are tired of being inconvenienced. They are over the sacrifices for the vulnerable among us. A new kind of discrimination is being born right before our eyes.
Trust me, people with terminal and/or chronic illnesses are over it too. They have been fighting for their freedom long before this virus came around. Freedom from medical appointments, from being tied to a chair or a bed, from needles, tubes, and bags. They don’t like being dependent on you to help protect them any more than you do. They are used to the solitary road they are on, but not the harassment from others while they are walking it. Please be sensitive to those whose stories are different than yours. Please practice the golden rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
None of us think we will be the ones to get sick. It is normal to think that, until you are the one in the hospital fighting to live. But I cannot imagine how hard it would be without a support system around you. All the anguish, alone. Who would hold my hand? Who would bandage my wounds? Who would give me ice chips or a cool compress? The dying process of Covid-19 makes me shudder. Even the process to survive it is traumatic. It makes me want to protect myself, but it also makes me want to respect those who need to be protected, by wearing a mask and keeping my distance. If we all could be kind enough to show some empathy for the vulnerable, it would go a long way towards healing…both the body and the spirit.