My chest is heavy again, no longer from those awful iron turtle tissue expanders, but from a broken heart. I went to bed last night with a 300 lb chest, woke up this morning with what felt like an added 100 lbs. I want to be a positive person, and I think most times I am. Today my heart is at war with reality. This post will probably be sad, so if you don’t want to go there, stop now. But sometimes, life is just terribly sad, and to be true to ourselves means to feel them, to work through them, but to still keep walking at the end of it all.
Out of 7 in my immediate family, 6 have been diagnosed with cancer, so far one death resulting. My older sister had breast cancer at age 40, my mom colon, and then 5 years later kidney, ureter, my dad had prostate, and then last year my brother and I were diagnosed, he with colon & rectal, myself with two different breast cancers. My kid sister died 7 years ago this month to advanced ovarian & uteran cancers. It has been a hellacious few years for my family. Two different gene mutations have been identified, BRCA2 and HNPCC or better known as Lynch Syndrome.
Your thoughts I bet are automatically going to “where did she grow up? Was there a radioactive or carcinogenic water? ground? I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, bordering Vt. We lived probably 20-25 miles from a nuclear power plant. I do not believe this contributed to my families misfortunes of cancers. I am, however, very suspicious of environmental contributing to this, as if you look at all the cancers on the street where we lived, it seems more than “normal”. But what is “normal”? These days some cancers are caught earlier (Thank God). The earlier the diagnosis the greater the chance of survival and better prognosis. Clearly my family has had more cancer than the average family. It at times can be very unsettling, frightening. But as with anything in life, all you can do is your best, and the rest is out of your control. This is where Hope & Faith come in.
In my younger years I always believed that everything happens for a reason. Today I want to believe that, but my soul has been tried with much pain and disappointment. So this is something I am working on. I do know that since finding out the news of Jim’s death that my heart isn’t the only thing in turmoil. I learned from my sisters death at 38 that life just isn’t fair. Questioning Why? Only further served to upset me, because there are some things we are not meant to understand. It did, however, take me several years to accept the death of my kid sister to cancer. The death of Jim at 46 to alcoholism is just as sickening to me. Both are insidious diseases. When my sister was diagnosed I immediately left to be with her, not returning home for a couple of weeks. This was hard on Jim’s and my relationship, and his drinking escalated then. Clearly he too was having difficulty accepting what was going on, but his “choice” as I thought was to drink. This made for much resentments to me. Here my sister was doing everything she could to save her life, and yet he was drinking his away. Cunning, baffling. Perhaps he did have a conscious choice then to stop, but I truly believe now that the disease was so intricate in him, this is all he knew how to do. Jim was a sensitive guy, when sober he had many emotions. He had a gentle loving spirit. When he drank, it numbed those feelings in him, and then he could cope with life. Emotional pain is difficult, and it can be debilitating. It has been for me. The older I get the more I learn how to deal with it, and that is simply, One day at a time, sometimes one hour, one minute, one moment… I am not blaming myself here for his drinking, I am simply stating what hindsight has brought to me. Jim had me to walk with him for years, and I him. My not being there during this time contributed, I believe to his drinking, but that is not saying I was doing anything wrong, or that I was responsible. I’m saying that what he depended on for grounding was uprooted. Right/wrong/indifferent, it is what it is. I was just as dependent on him for grounding. I have since learned to depend on myself, and I wish that he had learned that too. He was VERY giving and available to friends, and only in the way of his drinking was he selfish. At least he wasn’t with me. Quite the contrary.
In Alanon we learn the three C’s. We didn’t cause it, we can’t cure it and we can’t control it. Humbling. Humbling is a key ingredient to growth and on the flip side of that is gratitude. I believe that those in this world who have “less” have much more gratitude than those who have “more”. That is not implying this is true with everybody, but as humans we tend to take much of our lives and the everyday gifts for granted. Things happen that bring you to a point of humbling or humility and as you process through that, hopefully you become aware of what is really important in your life. The diagnosis of cancer, my sisters death, Jim’s passing are all examples of that for me.
To be mindful of your every moment brings about many surprises. If I am to list off the things that bring me joy & happiness, and touch my soul, I would list off the smaller simpler everyday things in my life. My nieces smile, comments, watching my animals or patting them, painting, tea with a friend, laughter, feeling a cool breeze on a hot day. These are all things that money cannot buy, these are all “gifts”. I am blessed with so much, I know this. Not only am I grateful for gratitude, but I am grateful for my ability to BE grateful.
This pain in my chest will subside over time. Grief is the hardest trek I’ve ever encountered in my life. The stages of grief let us know we ARE in fact working through it, but it is never as quickly as we desire. In the case of my sister, or Jim…. the pain that I felt after their deaths, the heartache, in no way compares to the tremendous joy that they both brought me. And yes, that is true even with Jim, the alcoholic. There were very painful times the last year and a half together, and certainly after we split. We do not stop caring just because they aren’t with us. We do not stop worrying because they are out of sight. But we learn that we are not their higher power, and that we can always pray for them, even after their passing.
I am grateful for the time I had with Jim. I am grateful for the memories, and even for this pain because I know that I have loved, truly loved. While I wish there were more, it has to be “enough” now. I am grateful that my cancers were found before metastasises and that they were able to do what they have done for me. And though I do not LIKE everything, certainly any of this or my families battles with cancers, I am choosing to look to the positive. Every diagnosis brought a better appreciation for life and new appreciations for those enduring it. I am grateful for this day, this very moment, for all the colors and noncolors that I see. I am grateful that just for this day I can feel this pain and yet be grateful at the same time. I have grown.
There are positives in everything, we have choices as to which direction we choose to look. But I believe too that there are times to cry, laugh, dance, and mourn. And right now I am mourning and holding onto the positives, as this is HOPE.