Death Be Not Proud*

(cross posted on Coffee and Chemo)

You know, I am good. I mean, I have cancer and everything, but I am good.

Mostly, I feel good, and I do things, and I even work a bit.

Most of the time, I do not feel that cancer defines me.

But it does.

I am unquestionably in the cancer world.

Even taking chemo in pills (at home), I still have to go to the hospital several times a month — for doctor’s visits and blood tests (every 3 weeks) and my bone treatments (once a month).

But that is not all. No, no, that is not all.

I also have to go to the hospital for regular CTs, MRIs, bone scans, echocardiograms, ultrasounds, and whatever other tests or procedures are deemed necessary by my team of medical caregivers.

Everywhere I go, I meet other cancer patients.

Over time, many of the cancer patients get better and “disappear” back to their “old life,” the life without cancer.

But not everybody.

Some people, like me, are not going to get better. We meet regularly, week by week, month by month. We get to know each other. We get connected.

Many are like me. They are good. They are living with their cancer, and they are really living. Struggling, like me, but living. Even, I would say, living a good life.

But not everybody. Not all the time.

Sometimes people disappear and I do not know why. Have they simply switched treatment days or….? I am afraid to ask. Afraid to know.

It is hard. Hard to keep hearing about people dying of cancer.

Hard to keep my head buried in the sand, denying the threat of death, when death is all around me.

When I was first diagnosed, I stumbled onto the devastating statistics: five years after diagnosis, only 20% of women diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer are still alive.

I desperately needed to find other young women who were living with cancer for more than 10 years, to know they existed, to know it was possible, to believe that I could be one of them.

It was surprised (though I should not have been) that it was not easy to find these women.

I contacted Sharsheret, a support organization connecting young Jewish American women with breast cancer, who connected me with an amazing woman. Though extremely private about her cancer, she generously shared details of her challenges and accomplishments. She was still working, full time, as a professor in a university! She inspired me, and gave me hope. I spoke with her several times, until I found more local support via Beit Natan.

I just found out that, a year ago, she passed away suddenly, leaving behind 8 children. She battled cancer for around 10 years.

Her sudden death shocked those around her. But not me.

I have already learned: cancer is devious.

A cancer patient can seem fine one day, and the next day is critically ill. The situation can revert back to being stable or the patient can be dead within a few weeks. There is no way to know.

We never know.

Every death is devastating. Another reminder that living with cancer is uncertain.

Everything can change in an instant.

footnote: Death Be Not Proud, by John Donne (Link includes full poem and Wikipedia article)

10 Responses to Death Be Not Proud*

  1. Kayleigh says:

    I can’t pretend to know what you are living with…I am stage IIa, haven’t begun chemo yet. But I felt your words like a ton of bricks. I am at the beginning of my journey and I don’t know where it will lead…but either way I had to post and say your writing is inspiring — not because you have cancer, but because you have talent 🙂

  2. Cheryl says:

    I totally understand about it being devious. My mom had cancer come back after being cancer free for 12 years. She had been fighting it for 4 years and was still doing chemo. She had a bone treatment and took a turn for the worse (they figured a blood infection). Went from fighting to hospice in 4 days and only lasted on hospice for 5 days. I felt like I was blindsided, even though I knew that she was not going to win this one. I didn’t expect her to go so fast. it has been 7 months and I still feel like I have been sucker punched.
    I pray for all of you on here and I started reading this blog when it started. It helped me to understand how she might be feeling. I keep reading even though it is hard and I keep praying!

  3. Stella says:

    Rivka – What a very moving post. It is important that you bring these feelings to light. That is the part of cancer from which others hide. I appreciate your choice of poems, too. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

  4. Rivka -I have always loved your writing style and this post especially. You are so brave and strong and you articulate so well the fear that creeps into the back of all cancer patients’ minds. I will continue to pray that you beat the odds…you are an inspiration.

  5. WhyMommy says:

    Wow. What a powerful post. And so, so right.

    But together, we are stronger.

  6. Spruce Hill says:

    Very powerful post. Susan is right, we are stonger together!

  7. […] a common feeling — once it’s got you, it often has a hold on you.  My friend Rivka puts it into words today, in a way that I think you should read.  Go on, read it.  It’s okay. I’ll be here […]

  8. Donna W says:

    So well said.

  9. […] Death be not proud (by Rivka) […]

  10. Jo says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a post hit me so much as this one. You said so many things that I myself have thought over the years. Thank you for this.

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