The Next Great Adventure

I feel like even though I am pretty open and honest about this cancer experience, there is one topic that I have both inadvertently and purposely avoided.

Death.

Whoa. I know. Why am I talking about death on a Friday?

Well, for one I haven’t worked in months and have no perception of weekdays anymore. Sheesh.

But please, stick with me on this one.

Death is something I NEVER thought about previously as a healthy twenty-something. Even though I tried my best to be healthy, it wasn’t necessarily to prevent an early death. It was more to make the best of my body while I had it.

Unlike what many people believe, cancer is not a death sentence. When I was told I had cancer, I didn’t automatically think “Well that’s that, my life is over.” Because I still had to wake up the next day and go through the hours. I’ve been waking up every day since. I’m still the same person with the same thoughts and feelings as I was before the cancer thing happened.

With that said however, cancer has made me realize that I will die. Like, really realize. It’s one thing to think of it as this far-off event, it’s another to wonder what it would be like if it happened in a few months. Of all the things I’ve had to wrap my head around since my diagnosis, my imminent death has been one of them.

As my friend Eden recently reminded me – “Life is a terminal illness.” I think that attitude has helped me better understand and make peace with what I am going through. It’s not about stepping down or giving in to death. It’s about recognizing it and living your life despite it. Who cares about when it will happen, today I still woke up and had hours to live.

I am not an overly spiritual or religious person, but I like to think it doesn’t end with death. I find a lot of comfort in these words spoken by the wise old Albus Dumbledore:

“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

It doesn’t matter when or how it happens, it is going to happen. When it does I hope I can take it gracefully, and until then I’ll be thankful for every hour spent living.

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Posted on December 9, 2011, in Cancer. Bookmark the permalink. 56 Comments.

  1. That Eden is a smart lady :)

    True though- to deny we are going to die is to deny life really…Coming to terms with it at a personal level as opposed to a theoretical level, however, is not something that people who haven’t thought about pension plans yet generally have to do.

    Definitely deep thoughts for a Friday morning- glad I finished my coffee before reading :)

  2. Another great and insightful post. I’ve been fortunate to not (yet) be faced with a personal illness that has made me confront my own mortality, but I work in a field where I see people my age getting sick and dying, and it’s made me also “really realize” that I will die someday. Like you say, it’s so important to recognize that reality but to also keep living in the face of that recognition. You seem to be doing a great job with that.

    Happy Friday, and have a great weekend.

  3. Cancer and death have been touching me a bit lately since my cousin’s husband of two years will be gone within the month due to a case of crazy lymphoma cancer. It’s SO hard to watch their family go from really happy (three kids from previous marriages) to suddenly realizing the reality.

    He was an active police officer one day and the next day he’s undergoing experimental treatment in another state. Only in his early thirties and it really makes you think about death as something you can’t predict.

    I am a Christian and believe our souls are eternal but that doesn’t make death something that isn’t mysterious.

    • I am so sorry to hear that Diana. Something I didn’t get into in the post but do often think about is although people are always concerned about the sick person, I often feel like death is harder on those we leave behind. Lots of love to your family!

  4. Your post is so true. Sadly my family had to learn first hand recently how short life is when a good friend died in a car crash – she was 24 years old and only married for a year at the time, but she already made such a huge impact on so many people and really lived each day to her fullest. My dad was also just diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and while we know the cure rate is very high we are worried about the side effects/reocurrance. He also just retired from a high stress job of 40 years & finally felt like he could relax…just proves to not let a job or anything else get in the way of living your life!

    • Exactly! Never wait to do certain things because you never know what will happen! I always used to believe that life was long with plenty of opportunity to accomplish all I wanted. But that was foolish, because I really had no idea how long my life would be! In some ways we shouldn’t wait to do the things we want, but also need to learn to let go of those lists of accomplishments and love our lives the way they are. My thoughts and good vibes to your dad!

  5. We were living the same way, not even thinking about death, until a couple of months ago when my husband was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer. He’s 42. It is a rare and aggressive cancer and his odds are not good, but he still chooses to live every day with purpose and an attitude that he will give beating this thing his all.

    Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence, but you’re right it really causes you to think in ways you haven’t before. It causes you to confront things that before the diagnosis you probably avoided thinking about.

    I’m not entirely sure what happens after this life either, but I like to think that another great adventure awaits us.

  6. I agree – Eden is a wise lady. And the truth of the matter is that, regardless of how young or healthy anyone is, today could still be their last day on earth. Folks with serious illnesses just find denial a little more difficult, and have the opportunity to live more consciously (which is what we should all be doing anyway).

    • Denial is a good way of putting it! I don’t think it’s anything we should deny, because as I’ve learned, we can actually live a lot more freer once we accept it :)

  7. Wow. This is such a thought-provoking concept to me – the idea of life being a terminal illness. SUCH an incredible perspective to have…and one I am really mulling over, myself. I struggle with the concept of death and have never been one that’s been good at handling it when those around me pass on. I blame that partly on being lucky not to have had to grieve the loss of too many close loved ones…yet. But even just writing those words scares me – I immediately think of my grandparents who I adore. Or my husband who I have no idea what I’d do without. Or my two sisters. And my heart skips a beat. I start to panic just thinking about it. Just reading this post is making me think I need to really think long and hard about this thing called death – and find a way to make peace with the concept…because like it or not, it *is* the next great adventure, no matter how faithful you are or not. Thank you for such a thought provoking post today my dear. Really.

  8. Great post. Thought provoking and Eden is so right. None of us get out alive.

    Love your hair :)

  9. Dear Susan, ;) I say it every time – you are wise beyond your years young lady! I just love you. Thank you for being you! Love, GDW ;)

  10. Thank you for sharing such a personal post again… Death is always a dark subject, but you made it light and positive, thank you!
    I just lost a friend this week who finally in this past year and a half found her true love, and just had a beautiful baby girl who is not yet one. She had everything going for her, and due to complications with a surgery is gone.
    As a parent of young kids you just assume you will raise your kids till they are older, watch them grow up, and have kids of their own. You put off playing that game,snuggling watching a movie or reading a book as you are too busy… TOMORROW… we will do it tomorrow! A phrase said too much… especially, when we are not promised tomorrow… Thanks for the positive reminder of living for today, and not wasting another minute. I do believe in the fact there is something after this, and take comfort in that. As my tea said a couple of days ago, “The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.”

    • Those teas are so smart! Sorry to hear about your friend. I think about about leaving my family behind, but I can’t imagine what it would be like leaving children behind.

  11. That wig really suits you :) when you are done with all of your treatments and all your hair grows back I think you need to stick with this look, it looks AWESOME.. not that you didn’t look awesome before.

    • Being bald actually isn’t that bad because I can wear long wigs – I’m more bummed about having short hair during the awkward growing back phase. I need to find some good short styles I can pull off!

  12. I have always had a horrible fear of death, both my own and my loved ones. My parents are in their seventies and I have actual panic attacks at the thought of losing them! It is such a scary reality to face but I guess we all need to find a way to make peace with it!

    I love the wig btw! Very flattering!

  13. dude, I love you. Lets just get that bit out of the way ;)

    I, myself, am not afriad of dying. I’m very afraid of my dad dying, of you dying, and anyone I love dying. This is why most people that DONT get diagnosed freak out more than those that are diagnosed with cancer or some other diseases. People with diseases start really “living” and the people that are afraid for them (like me) start freaking out.

    I think its time I join you on this adventure. Lord knows, I really need to start living again.

  14. Beautifully put, Susan.

    Albus and Eden know what’s up.

  15. I spent some time working in palliative care and that’s when I realized, like you said, really realized that I would someday die. It sounds cliche but it reminds me, quite regularly, that I won’t be here forever and to take advantage of the time that I do have. I’m not sure how I feel about death, as in what is going to happen after I die but I’m not really scared of it. I’m more scared of it happening before I’ve gotten what I want out of life. And like Eden, I’m terrified of it happening to those I’m closet to.

    • I think that’s the reason why so many are scared of dying young – it’s that they want the opportunity to get a number of things out of life. That’s the part that’s been the hardest to come to terms with. If I were to die tomorrow (not just of cancer, maybe a freak accident) I would be happy with my time spent on this earth. I think it’s helped me learn how to enjoy each day better, because I now know don’t have to be doing outstanding things to be happy.

  16. The prospect of death doesn’t scare me. The prospect of knowing that I’m about to die scares me. I’m afraid of getting to the point where I know the end is near and having to see everyone around me deal with it. I’m more scared of them than I am for me.

  17. You were right, this is a heavy post! But a good one, as always.
    I’ve been thinking about the death thing a lot lately, too, largely in regard to my two recent miscarriages. I’m not one of the “life begins at conception” types, and both were losses that occurred super early in pregnancy, so I guess I’m struggling with how to process it all. I feel kind of like a little kid in Sunday school–do super-early losses go to heaven? Will I hang with my fertilized egg someday, or will it be an actual person there, or a baby, or will it just be nothing because it was never born? I don’t even really know what I WANT to be true in my case. It hurts my brain, and my heart too much.
    It’s heavy stuff, man. I’m thinking of you.

  18. I was touched by death at a pretty young age. Losing my Grandfather when I was a teen was traumatic and it made me value the people in my life (and also be anxious that I’d lose them someday). It’s a tough topic.

    This summer I was touched again by death and it effected me deeply. One coworker died of uterine cancer. She’d been diagnosed as stage 4 last year the day before Thanksgiving and she didn’t even last a year. It was devastating. Then another coworker’s daughter was hit by a car and died. I was reminded once again that life is fragile and it can be gone in a second. Cherish everyone in your life.

  19. Reading your post on this and CityGirl’s post on death has really gotten me thinking. I honestly don’t know my own answer to how I feel about death, if I am scared of it etc, but one thing I do know is that I need to remember to do just what you say, it’s gonna happen, eventually, so just live the life we’re living now, and that’s all we can do. Fact of life.

  20. and this is why you are an inspiration! realness! death is real, we don’t know when it will come, or how, etc. I don’t think you can really accept it until you are almost faced with it, like what you said. Bu then we start living like there is no tomorrow and life becomes more purposeful! i needed to hear this today, so thank you for sharing, as always.
    xoxo

  21. <3 and hugs to you. i always have admired your outlook on all of this. i think for me, if i focus on living, i won't have time to think of dying. just live, live, live, and live. do all the things i want to do while living. death is inevitable. it will happen. i'm just hoping it doesn't HURT too much.

    • Yes, I didn’t bring it up, but the cause of death to me is the scariest. No one wants it to hurt! Why can’t we all pass peacefully in our sleep? :)

      • That’s certainly my hope for myself and everyone I love. The ONLY thing that made me feel slightly better about my mom suddenly dying was that she died peacefully in her sleep. My Dad was terrified of dying, but as he actually was dying and we were talking about it, he said that it wasn’t bad at all- lots and lots of morphine helped :-) (we’re pretty up front in our family!)

  22. Very insightful post. My boyfriend, who had cancer almost 10 years ago and beat it, talks to me often about his fears of death. Like you, he was forced to face these thoughts way too early in life, and it still sticks with him now. It’s often something that’s scary for me to hear him talk about, but having a positive attitude helps immensely. I try to be positive for him and it’s always very inspiring to hear your points of view on these subjects as well.

    ~Lisa

    http://msmarvelproject.blog.com

  23. is it weird that i think about dying all the time? because i do. i always think about if i died today, what the aftermath would be. that’s why i always change my underwear.

    • I took a first aid course once taught by an ambulance driver. His best advice was to never go anywhere with a full bladder because you never know when an accident could happen. I’ve always remembered that. Can you imagine getting in a car accident AND having to pee?

      • OK I guess I must have known this instinctually because the FIRST thing I do when there’s an earthquake is run to the bathroom to pee! I’m glad I’m not just a weirdo!

  24. I love that you quoted Harry Potter. I mean really, who has had to deal with more death than Harry?!

    Anyway, I have also dealt with plenty of death in my life and so I would say I don’t fear it quite so much, although I’m not at all clear on what my thoughts are on the post-death afterlife, if there even is one, etc. I think the silly thing about people being worried about death is simply the false idea that its not knocking on all of our doors on a daily basis. You could walk out of your house and get hit by a car, or even worse, be in your house and have a plane fall on it or something crazy! So I think we should all be living our lives appreciative that we’re here still, cancer or not!

  25. I should also mention (cause I’ve been thinking A LOT about death too lately…) that we all eventually die. And you know what, I really would not want to live forever. Call me crazy, but I think it would kind of suck to be immortal. The one thing I ask is to go peacefully. I was listening to This American Life yesterday and it was the crime scene epidsode and they talked to this guy who cleans up all the morbid guts and stuff from suicides and crime scenes. He sees dead people everyday and he said something at the end that really got me kind of choked up. He was like, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to die like the people I clean up. I want to go slowly. Like get cancer, or something. Yea, I’ll take cancer”. Werid to hear it put that way, but it kind of helped me come to terms with my dad’s situation. I rather have time to say goodbye than have some horrific homicide.

    Ok, sorry for this morbid comment. Obviously, your post got me thinking!

    • That’s a really good way of thinking about it! Not everyone has a chance to say goodbye, so in that way knowing that it’s going to happen can be a “blessing.” (I hate using that word for cancer, because it’s definitely NOT a blessing, but you know what I mean). And I definitely would not want to live forever. I look at my 88 year old grandmother and she is totally ready to go. She’s lived a long life and is ready for a long rest. No need to apologize for the morbidity of the comment – I think it’s a good thing to think about! Why ignore it all the time?

      • Sorry to keep butting in, but these are the exact things I have thought about and shared with people regarding death: The hardest thing about my Mom’s passing was that it was sudden and I didn’t get to say goodbye (not to mention that our last conversation was not warm and fuzzy- THAT was very very very hard). With my Dad, we had known for a very long time that he was living on borrowed time, and we had lots of time to say what we wanted to say and to live every precious moment together that we wished. In other words: much easier for survivors to get to say goodbye.

  26. Wayne Dyer says…life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.
    You look adorable.
    No pictures of Buster today :(

  27. You are just friggin amazing – that is all I can say – amazing!!!!

  28. I heart Eden. Girl has so much perspective…glad you could find some comfort in her words.
    And like everyone else said – you look gorgeous, Susan! :)

  29. I just want to add my “clap, clap, clap” to you for this post, for your courage and inspiration, and for putting all of our lives in perspective.

  30. You have such an inspiring attitude, Susan.
    Death is just one of those things so one likes to talk about, yet we aren’t immortal – there is an end of the road for all of us. I think there are two schools of thought (three, if you count those who deny it will ever happen), we either want to know so we can prepare, or we want it to just happen so we can live “normally”. I’m not sure where I fit in, but I’m thinking about it – so that is a start.

  31. yes, thank you yet again Susan for being the ONLY “real”
    blog I have ever found on the net – I appreciate your voice so
    goddamn much!

    And it is so weird how much more your posts are ringing true to me these last few months-
    nope I don’t have cancer (well maybe i do and don’t know yet,as is so often the case) and the hard thing for me to explain it is not the actual cancer that draws me to your blog, but it is how pure and to the point your “voice” has become these daysI feel like you are chanelling inside my brain and right to my soul.Corny I know, but hey,it is what it feels like.,

    Now don’t go get all conceited or anything (ha!) but do keep telling it like it is sister!
    Noone ever talks about death but we are ALL gonna die ,and it’s about time we shook ourselves out of our fear and weird denials.Maybe North America would be less creeped out about death if we could somehow embrace it is a path we all must go on, whether tomorrow or years fron now.(that being said, I am still in denial and scared to think about it BUT yiu made me think twice with your post.Clever girl!)

    • Thank you Debbie! There’s a reason why it took me so long to write about death – I knew it would be an uncomfortable topic for others to read or think about! But embracing it has been an important part of the process for me. To me it’s not about giving up, it’s about overcoming my fears and moving on from them. Death is the only thing that ALL of us have in common!

  32. I have read your journey and you are truly a couragous person. The only thing that is for sure when we are born is that we are going to die. What matters is the dash!!! So far it appears your dash is something to be proud of.

  33. Hi Susan,

    Great post. I am almost 4 weeks out from a DVT, pulmonary embolism, and infarcted kidney. I still haven’t really dealt with the “I could have died” thing; at this point, I am concentrating on helping my body rest and heal. But I can’t lie – it’s there, all the time. I spent a week in hospital and two weeks recuperating at my mom’s, yet the first morning I was back at my own home, I was terrified to go downstairs to the kitchen, where I first passed out and subsequently ended up in the hospital. My husband walked me downstairs and through the scary moments.

    I’ve lurked the Daily Strength forums a bit, and I know it’s a common feeling for people who’ve gone through this to always have a bit of fear in them. I’m not really sure how to confront those feelings and acknowledge them and then let them go. Because as much as I’ve had a happy, contented, and satisfying life, I’m not ready to say goodbye to it. I can’t let the fear that I’ll have a recurrence dictate my actions, but I feel like there will always be a small cloud of paranoia hanging around behind me. And it’s not that I fear death itself, I don’t think – it’s that I have so much to lose in life. I don’t WANT to lose out on my 30th anniversary with a great guy, or seeing my nieces and nephews get married, or celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday.

    Anyway, I don’t have a whole lot of sage wisdom or advice, but it helps to read about your experiences. However different your situation may be, you are so eloquent at writing your feelings that I always feel a connection and understanding. Thanks for that.

    • I totally understand this because my fear of recurrence doesn’t come from the idea that cancer could kill me either, it’s because I don’t want to trade in any more of my life for sitting in bed getting treatment. A lot of my fear and bitterness comes from the fact that yes I AM alive, but I’m not doing the things alive people do because I’m too sick. There’s a lot to come to terms with in our situations and it definitely isn’t easy!

  34. Beautiful and eloquent post! I started to go paralyzed when I was 20 and came out of the experience with a similar mindset. Love the “life is a terminal illness” quote. *Hugs*

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