Maybe Being a Loner is Good for Your Health
Crabby Old Lady and Home Monitors for Elders

A Newly Uncertain Life

Any of you who have been hanging out here, even irregularly, over the past nine months knows that last June I was given one damned, big deal, scary medical diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.

So few people can even be treated for it that survival is almost a fantasy. From time to time over my life, I had wondered what it feels like to be handed a death sentence - particularly so when my parents, several years apart, were each given such news.

When my turn arrived, I still didn't know how it feels. Unreal? Like a mistake had been made? Why don't I feel sick? In the ensuing days, there were undercurrents of fear but mostly, my imagination failed me.

Is it, do you suppose, that we are incapable of imagining our own deaths? Or more to the point, imagining not being here in this world any longer? I have no idea about that.

In the months since then, my body has healed from the extensive surgery, I've gotten through the followup chemotherapy and in an announcement as momentous as the original diagnosis, a month ago, the doctors told me I am cancer free. “Go and live your life,” my surgeon said.

And so I have. Happily. But it is not the life I had before.

There is a shadow now that follows me around. I sense it right behind me, leaning up against me. It is not painful, it doesn't get in my way of moving around and doing what I want and it's not there all the time. Just often enough to be a reminder that I am no longer the healthy woman I was once lucky enough to be.

What I have come to see is that the shadow is a tentativeness, an uncertainty. And it didn't help when the oncologist said the other day that she is adding a “tumor marker” to the list of blood tests I regularly undergo.

Don't get me wrong. The shadow, reinforced now with my knowledge of the tumor marker, is not debilitating and I am certainly not sad or distressed or gloomy. But it does have an effect almost daily. I don't mean to make more of this than is there but it is a regular reminder than the cancer might recur - in my pancreas again or somewhere else.

Or it might not. But I don't seem to be able to ignore the possibility and I sure would like to. Isn't there an old saying about not buying trouble?

All of you were so wonderfully supportive during my surgical recovery and following treatment.

As so many of you mentioned about others' comments here, it helped me a lot to know what you have gone through and how you have handled your own serious health issues. Now I wonder if you can help again.

Do you understand what I'm trying to explain about the shadow? Have you experienced it? Did you want to set it aside as much as I do and enjoy the time you have been granted free of care and concern?

If so, how did you make peace with that shadow of uncertainty?


Comments

I hope this is helpful.
You're familiar with the expression: "You don't have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body." ?
I had my prostate removed in 2005 and was assured they probably got it all before it spread, but the PSA tests never dropped to zero and have gone up a little almost every time it's been done. Doctors tell me that's normal and I believe them. I have no idea what my cause of death is going to be, but there will be one, and I don't have time to dwell on what it will be.
People are bothered when I say that I don't keep a bucket list and that if it's important that I do something I just do it. We have been given a gift of time. A few years ago we wouldn't have had this, and we - more than most I think -understand how little control we have over that.
Live well, my friend.

I know exactly what you are saying. I have just recently had a similar experience with x-ray evidence of broken ribs from CPR. And I long for the day when I will feel as I did before this close call occurred. The drs. & other "experts" continue to reassure me that I will return to the "old" me, but I lack the patience to believe this will happen anytime soon. So I am trying all sorts of things to make this happen with the help of a counselor. So I agree with Harold..........time is a gift & if & when I feel like doing something or saying something I do. And as he suggests, I will try to live well. Dee :)

I have had a few scares and I found that the best help was to remember that once you pass 70 (the Biblical three score and ten) you are living in the end zone. I recall reading about a woman who had just passed her 5-year survival and had a celebratory dinner planned with her friends on the precise anniversary of her diagnosis. Sadly that day happened to be on September 11, 2001 and she worked in the south tower.
In other words, as we see friends die who are absolutely healthy (or so they think) of sudden heart things as we do at this age, we are reminded that the shadow is always there. Especially for seniors (as it should be).
Also wine helps. Also xanax.
And the awful realization that right now the shadow hangs over everyone as it has not since the Cuban missile crisis when we were all on the edge but, being young, didn't worry very much.

I almost died when I was 23. Long story, but it was a medical condition that required extensive surgery (which also was worse than usual back then). To say it altered my life perspective would be an understatement, and though I hate to admit it, the experience perhaps made me more selfish. I became disinclined to endure things I had little patience for; if employment was stressful or miserable for some reason, I quit; on and on. That came from the realization that life indeed is SHORT. That lesson never quite left me, and though here I am at 66 still in relatively good health, in some ways that altered perspective stayed with me.

That shadow that you describe has always followed me since then, so I know what you mean. Fortunately, medication and diet keeps my condition under control but one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

I'm struggling to shake the shadow loose, and I haven't even had a serious illness. For me, it's my imminent retirement that triggered it. And the way my doctor treats me. When I turned 65, he emphasized that my immune system is declining. He insisted I go on meds for my osteoporosis. And when I complained of pain in my abdomen, he suspected ovarian cancer and sent me for a battery of tests - not just the surface ultrasound I had for the same complaint 20 years ago.

Everything was OK, but at 66, I know it's just a matter of time until it isn't. I imagine the shadow is darker for those who have struggled so much with an imminent life-threatening illness. But I suspect that, for those of us given to pondering things, knowing we are aging -- that we are old -- brings that shadow.

The two things I find helpful in shaking it - after all, in the moment, I'm fine! - are gratitude and a commitment to trying to be good. And a healthy dose of Mary Oliver's poetry.

So you've discovered my "beast". I mentioned it in a post or two back when you first revealed your scary diagnosis. The beast has me by the ankle these days. I'm hobbled, confined and pained by a non-healing wound. Nothing new, but I was just getting over a different attack on my freedom and mobility. It seems like Beastie wants me down. It's hard to stay positive. Alcohol and Xanax maybe?

I try to focus on all the many reasons I have to be grateful for the mostly good life I have. They say that's the way to manage misfortune, right? A good crying jag helps a little, too.

But nothing that's happened to me physically thus far comes close to your devastating situation. So I'd better quit my self pity and be grateful it isn't worse.

But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado. (Excerpt "Eldorado" - Edgar Allan Poe)

Some call it Eldorado, others have named it differently, but we all seek immortality, I suppose. Trying to mentally wrap your head around the knowledge that the days that spread out ahead are far shorter than those we've left behind. I can't remember when I first noticed my own Shadow, but she really hasn't left me since. There may be whole months where I forget her, then out of nowhere, She comes fast and furious, invading my joys and my sleep.

I am a survivor of cervical cancer, going on 24 years. It concerns me most that I might lose my mobility, or my mind and live far past the point of finding joy in my days.

Having a serious physical illness such as yours, Ronni, would certainly give that Shadow more heft. For myself, It's not really a depression, but more of an undercurrent of mild panic. And because I am the quintessential worry-wart, my Shadow delights in those days when she can waltz in and out of my consciousness like Scarlett at the hospital benefit dance in Atlanta.

Hmm, dare I name my Shadow, "Scarlett"? I rather think it gives ME power over that dark menace.

The shadow is awareness of the reality that something bad can happen at any time, whether it is serious illness, an accident, death. Until that awareness we just go on as if we will live forever, though intellectually knowing that we won't. What to do about it? Not set it aside. It is a reminder of that reality and should be the motivation to enjoy everything you do to the fullest and not do anything you don't want to, don't like, don't have to. Prepare for the reality and then create and live the best life possible for each remaining day, month, or years to come.


Things don't get real until we get close to death. Before a couple heart procedures "fixed" me I'd have "episodes" that left me weak and struggling to breathe. After each surgery, I thought I was cured, and I mostly am, but if I don't follow a strict diet and exercise faithfully, my heart reminds me of my physical limitations.

I now feel like an old car that could break down at any moment. I wished I was a new reliable car, but I'm not.

I don't know why but I've always been fascinated with death, dying, consciousness. I've felt, several times, that I was experiencing a moment where I had to consciously choose life, even though I wasn't ill. A few years ago I realized I'd allowed my energy? Life force? To get very low and from now on I'd have to choose life on a daily basis. For me I felt it was part of aging as well. I've read and researched death/dying over my life,but especially as I age. Recently I realized we're programmed to explore? Become aware of "the next big thing" in life, high school, college, marriage, babies, turning 40, retirement etc. After 60, 70 for sure it is death. But in the US that big thing is denied. And no one is willing to have that conversation. I have found more articles and books being written which I'm glad for. It's a tragedy for Americans that it's no included in life's trajectory because we will definitely not get out of this alive. Good conversation Ronni. That shadow you speak of? A kind of distant friend that pops in from time to time as a reminder to pay attention. So glad you're feeling better!

Ronni, I think Harold is right on target. Although my first major medical problem was not life-threatening, it had a serious impact on my lifestyle. I'd had a small amputation to one of my feet and since then have given up my love of being outdoors hiking and/or walking. That experience has also changed the way I feel with regard to being more fearful about injuring myself. I'm afraid to climb up the way I did before to prune a tree or paint my house. Later I faced breast cancer and more recently had a kidney removed due to cancer. Harold says, "how little control..." That's what I have learned. We are so fragile. Our lives can spin out of our control so easily. However, all the things in our lives make us who we are at this moment. The shadow of our experiences will always follow us. We survivors truly know how easily our lives can turn around or even end. Being a "survivor" gives us membership in a very elite club for which I am very grateful.

So much to say and do...so little time.

Five years ago - no six now - an MD said I had 6 months to a year to live.
I started giving away stuff, and made sure my affairs were in order. The time passed and I was still here. I changed doctors. Similar prognostications from the next one, but dang it, I'm still here. Why? I dunno.

As others have said, I also live in the moment. I do not (try not to) borrow problems from a hypothetical tomorrow.

Yeah, I guess that sums it up: Live in the moment...and enjoy it.

With a great deal of respect for all the health problems that everyone has gone through and the worry and disbelief that those problems have brought on, I have to say that I think everyone lives with some kind of shadow of their own demise. None of us are getting out of this alive. As a retired mortician I have seen at least 5,000 kinds of death and somehow that helped dispel some of my shadow of fear. Every day is a blessing and as long as we can get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other we need to try and live in the moment as much as we can and not crepe hang about what might happen in our future. Sometimes it isn't the thing that you worry about, but something unexpected that comes out of the blue and takes you out: car accidents, falls, an arrhythmia, etc.

Joanna Macy in "A Year with Rilke" Readings from the best of Rainier Maria Rilke" quoted in her preface: Rilke’s grasp of the transient nature of all things is critical to his capacity to praise and to cherish... In the face of impermanence and death, it takes courage to love the things of this world and to believe that praising them is our noblest calling. Rilke’s is not a conditional courage, dependent on an afterlife. Nor is it a stoic courage, keeping a stiff upper lip when shattered by loss. It is courage born of the ever-unexpected discovery that acceptance of mortality yields an expansion of being. In naming what is doomed to disappear, naming the way it keeps streaming through our hands, we can hear the song that streaming makes.
[...]
His capacity to embrace the dark and to acknowledge loss brings comfort to the reader because nothing of life is left out. There is nothing that cannot be redeemed. No degree of hopelessness, such as that of prisoners, beggars, abandoned animals, or inmates of asylums, is outside the scope of the poet’s respectful attention. He allows us to see that the bestowal of such pure attention is in itself a triumph of the spirit.
[...]
Rilke would teach us to accept death as well as life, and in so doing to recognize that they belong together as two halves of the same circle.

These readings bring me great peace and help to keep me grateful for what is and in the moment.

Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.
Marcus Aurelius

Since I had surgery for breast cancer seven years ago, I have had regular blood tests with my hematologist looking for "markers" that might signal a return of cancer (I was told they only suggested breast cancer, no other types). I always called for the results though I was told I did not need to as they would contact me if there were a problem. I called nonetheless, and have thus far been told the tests were fine...following which I would burst into tears. I still have the tests and still call for results but with less trepidation. Time does take care of some things although we always know a relapse or recurrence is possible.
As I am now 82 I seem to fear these things less and appreciate life more.

I have not had a life threatening illness (so far), but for the great majority of my 69 years I have been dealing with a chronic and painful illness. Over the years many relatives and friends have died; most after lengthy illnesses. During the past 3 years, 4 people very close to me have all died sudden deaths.

So, I have had many reminders that our lives are finite. I will die some day. These can be preoccupying thoughts. When I get a bit anxious about these end-of-life thoughts, I always come back to Buddhist thought (though I am not a Buddhist or religious in any way). The idea is that all we ever have is the moment we are in; there is nothing other than the moment. It has taken much practice, but that simple idea gives me comfort. While the shadow of death is always there for each of us, I continue to come back to the moment.

I hope you are able to find a way to live more comfortably with your thoughts.

So far my life has been free of any serious physical problems, but we all know that clouds come in many sizes, and hues.

Other concerns, roadblocks of a serious nature were with me for stretches of time.

I entered a time of planned solitude, and pursued by a need to do something for relief, I accepted that my first choice was to accept my fate as a part of my life and to accept that, as is, without any further embellishment.

As that took hold, I also realized that my feelings toward something that was seemingly a part of me yet beyond my reach to handle it had one variant and that was my attitude. In that, I have control. I decided to enter any challenge or new adjustment with only positiveness, even if it's a losing, unfair fight. Again, no judgements.

If you at one time read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Frankl, do so again. You're probably in a different place now than when you read it the first time. We always need detours along the way, and old ways might now provide new insights. Stay curious and open.

There have been so many thoughtful and insightful comments already, and I suspect that they may have already helped many of us who are reading here. As the little sign that pops up after forwarding this post to FB or elsewhere says: "Sharing is caring!"

I read this post just moments after receiving an email announcing the death of a friend's young daughter. Her family, mother, father, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and many friends, had known, for nearly a decade that this day was coming. In hear earliest years of grade school, she had been diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease, the prognosis of which was very bleak, and everyone knew the outcome that lurked, just not when it might strike. Her parents were remarkable in caring for her and, despite the equipment and rigorous attention required, have cared for her at home and away, and she has been able to travel, attend school and even summer camp and special outings during this entire time, except for occasional periods of hospitalization when she has required much more specialized medical care. Whatever it was that took her yesterday came on very suddenly and although she was airlifted to a nearby university hospital that is very skilled at the care she needed, succumbed to the disease in less than 24 hours. If only everyone could deal with their shadows as amazingly as this little girl and her family have somehow done.

Shadows follow so many people for so many reasons, some very easy to understand and some incomprehensible. For nearly 40 years, my husband has had to devote a large part of every day to the regimen he has to follow to continue to stay alive and out of the hospital. When he was barely 30 years, for reasons still unknown, his body stopped producing insulin, but he was very fortunate to be living in an era when human insulin was available and could be delivered, by his own hand, to his body fairly easily. Still, this disease has taken a toll on him in numerous ways and we are now fighting the shadow of blindness.
We feel very fortunate to be able to call on the services of the Veterans Administration in fighting this, and hope that, with their help, his vision can yet be saved.

One more thought in closing, which comes from the words of Merlin to young Arthur in T. H. White's, "The Once and Future King." He advised that the only thing for being sad (and I do think that a lot of what the shadow is made up of is sadness or yearning for what we feel is, or will be, lost) is to learn something. We all do that here, and I know you do that regularly, Ronni. Thank you for helping to provide that which is, ". . . the only thing the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Ronni, I have never reacted to a post of yours so intimately. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian cancer in September 2016. Chemo, a big ”de-bulking” surgery, and more chemo. I am now NED-no evidence of disease, but Ovarian Cancer has a very high rate of occurence. I had a “routine” CAT scan two days ago and the stress, worry and panic that sweeps over me regularly as I wait for results is exactly as you describe. In between checks-every three months-I can sort of “forget” about the cancer, although it is more like the shadow recedes considerably, but each check-up is a huge jolt of the feeling you describe.
I find that the best helpful thing is to talk to people in the same position-we have a local ( Canadian) organization, Wellspring, providing support, classes of many sorts, and that, amazingly, is absolutely free for any cancer patient at any stage: newly dxed, active cancer, in remission, terminal. There is nothing more helpful than talking to people in the same boat. The by the by conversations at Wellspring are the most helpful thing-classes etc are great too, but it is the contact with those who truly truly get it that is the best part by far.a That said, I am a wreck as I wait for these current scan results. I have had a lot of bad things to deal with over my 68 years but this is a unique thing-the grim reaper, plus his cohorts in change of what might happen between a recurrence and death are indescribably hard to deal with. I am not sure I have anything useful at all to say, except that I am exactly where you are. It is a very very hard road to walk. I wish I had a better answer, but please know that you are not alone.

I believe that the "shadow" we experience is just the change in the light that occurs when, for whatever reason, we can't maintain our normal belief that we are immortal or, at the least, have an indefinite and open-ended future ahead. That is, the shadow is not new, or a shadow.

Rather, we start out and mostly go through life with a particular filter that blocks that light frequency from our perception. But certain events -- serious illness diagnoses, e.g., -- disable or permanently remove that filter. After a lifetime of not seeing it, it is suddenly made visible ...

Two deaths -- my sister, then my best friend -- in two years. And now, the shadow looms. Not always, but often. Mortality! The end! It's now real, not abstract. What to do with the shadow is a preoccupying question. It can't be ignored or forgotten. Can I find away around it? Or will I live with it forevermore? Open questions....

Ronni, that shadow you mention almost suffocated me three years ago when my cancer was diagnosed. But as time passed, it fell back to walking beside me, then behind me, then further behind me. The first and second years were difficult; the last year has been much better. The shadow still comes close when I visit the oncologist twice a year, but then falls back again when I get the all clear. Admittedly, before I was diagnosed at age 72, the shadow wasnt't there at all. I'd been lucky enough to not have any serious health problems. Guess I was saving up all my Get Out of Jail Free cards to use all at once.

I'm one of the fortunate ones. I'm 76, nearly 77 and have so far, knock wood, been in relatively good health. Oh, yes, I have a bad back caused by arthritis in my spine but I can still function quite well. My hands are beginning to give me trouble. Ha! You say - that's nothing. That's true but it doesn't keep the shadow away. My point is, I guess, that the shadow comes with age no matter your health. At a certain point every new ache and pain brings the shadow to the fore. Is it serious this time? The shadow smirks. It doesn't dominate my life but it is there and I am very aware of it. It comes, I think, with the territory just like not making plans for ten years out or maybe even five. My days are limited, I know that, but I soldier on as best as I am able.

Yes, you are a different woman now, and that shaky lack of confidence now and again, perhaps each day? You've broken through a shell into a different world, it sounds familiar to me, this getting your sea legs working. Many of us do some hanging out with death before the final exit, so that becomes part of who we are.......not a bad thing. In fact, I think it a good thing. It has many benefits.........more compassion for self and others, more joy in the present moment, knowing what is truly important to us, appreciation of mystery.
Joan Halifax, a Zen priest and anthropologist has a wonderful book, "Being With Dying."

For those who mentioned the difficulty in talking about death. I would like to suggest a Facebook page where there is amazing support for those dealing with death and dying.
Slow Medicine is a group moderated by Katie Butler, author of Knocking at Heaven's Door, the way to a better death. (2014). An excellent book chronicling her experience dealing with her father's and then her mother's death.
A life changing book for me. Highly recommended. Available at your local library.
Thank you, Ronnie, for sharing your experience, and your wisdom.

Good stuff here. I've gotten a lot out of following you for the last couple of years. I lost my favorite brother 2 years ago and have watched with awe 2 of my young nephews battle on going cancer for more years than anyone should have to. I doubt that I would have their bravery and courage. I read somewhere that death is our constant companion and always waiting over our left shoulder. I believe this to be true.

I had stage 3, grade 3 primary peritoneal cancer (like ovarian) in 1999 at age 43. I was scared out of my mind for the first five years. So many follow-up tests in case I had a recurrence. The check-ups decreased after five years, and it got easier. After 10, they said, you're done, except for the annual tumor marker. I started to feel semi-normal. Then in 2015, I got breast cancer and they figured out I was BRCA-positive. All's well, but now they want to check me twice a year, and it feels like the old days again -- living in fear of appointments. Every time I got a good check-up, I would think, oh, good, another year to live. Now, I guess it will be oh, good, another six months to live. The thing is, you do get used to it. It's not the same, but it's OK.

Thanks Ronni for making a place to talk about these kind of things.

I've had serious asthma all my life . I've had a full life punctuated with uncooperative lungs and hospital visits. It's taught me to live my life more in moment and how to adapt as much as I can. Last fall I received a diagnosis of serious COPD and a shortened life. I sat in the parking lot of my doctor's office crying my eyes out in my car. My sisters and I nursed my mother through the last year of her life with COPD and it wasn't pretty as they say. I've had a few close calls and don't think I'm afraid of dying but I sure am afraid of being sick and in pain.

I have no bucket list. But I no longer pass up anything interesting or fun that comes along while I am still mobile. Last fall I took some grandkids on their first train ride and continue to take them to concerts, art shows, and Shakespeare while I can. I no longer care if the house is messy because me and the grands are making art. I have begun giving away the clutter except for my books, film, and art stuff. That's it.

What more can I say? Not much. The post and comments are most eloquent. I'm pretty much where Mari M. is. No life-threatening illnesses so far, but at 81 I've lost a lot of my former high energy and joie de vivre to chronic pain--and, I guess, just ageing. The Shadow knows! I do not like that, but it is what it is. I don't make plans more than a couple of years ahead anymore.

Many courageous folks on TGB.

Perhaps that "shadow" is not the fear of dying, but the realization of how vulnerable we are in this life.
As such, it can be the genesis of a kinder and more meaningful life.

First of all, I see that apparently there is another Regina who commented on your post, Ronni. So unusual for me to come across another Regina. I have been commenting here for a couple of years and live in Seattle, so I'm THAT Regina.

I have a shadow that was gone for a while and has now returned. It isn't cancer, but it is a pre-cancerous esophageal condition caused by many years of acid reflux. I had a surgery about five years ago that completely solved the problem. Now I notice that I am waking up in the morning with indigestion. I know what that means. I cannot take the medicine that I used to take for acid reflux, because I have mild-to-moderate kidney disease, and the PPI drugs can cause further kidney damage. I am 72.

So now I'm in that old people's dilemma of - dueling diagnosis.(Or whatever the plural of 'diagnosis' is.)

I am in the process of divesting myself of responsibilities that have been weighing on me. It is painful to give them up, but I value my time more than ever now, and most of all, I refuse to be stressed. I feel that stress from childhood trauma started all this to begin with. When I get more stress-free time, I will deal with the shadow, and what it knows. For now, I have learned how to let myself cry - something that I have never been able to do easily. It feels good to start putting me and my shadow first.

As always, interesting and informative comments and as usual think they illustrate how we all come to this point in our lives, whenever that is, after a diagnosis or life experience, at a certain age or when close loved ones die. We all age differently, thus face death differently, and as Ronni knows from our many conversations on this subject I have been delving into this subject death and dying for years now. It fascinates me, I am comfortable with this shadow, having now past the longest living relative in my known ancestry, now that was a traumatic year passing my mother's age at death of 76, now four years ago.

I think, as is the case with all our shadow's, in the Jungian sense, we must learn to "dance with them", be informed by them, embrace them and make sure we have a "good death" by whomever's definition you choose because there are many different ones. Any day now I can go, I have a stent in a major artery, two more arteries that are suspect, a liver that is no doubt enlarged, so I best be prepared with all the instructions to others about what I will tolerate and what I wont and be ready and WILLING to go any day. Postpone nothing, get the instructions in place in detail, review them periodically with those you have charged with your care and pulling of the plug, and the disposition of the body, maybe even the songs you want sung as you move on to the next level of energetic experience, what ever you call it. Meanwhile, I am happy to have my shadow accompany me as I dance around in the remaining adventures on my horizon. Hallelujah!

I have a very non-serious (usually) and non-life-threatening (usually again) form of leukemia, diagnosed over 10 years ago and a sleeping dog for four years until a period of exhaustion signaled the need for chemotherapy (only a short course, six months were the indication). When, after the second round, my white blood cell count plummeted to practically zero and I got the flu, I had no means to fight it and was hospitalized and quarantined. I said to the admitting doctor, "I am a sick puppy." She readily agreed. I did think I might die during that day and the few days following. I recovered slowly. We stopped the chemotherapy, the cure being worse than the disease, and I have mostly lived for the last six years without further incident. But I, too, have a shadow. With every cold, every infection, every wound that doesn't heal properly, I wonder if I'm back in the "sick puppy" or worse category. Like you, before the leukemia, I couldn't imagine my own death, although I did understand that I would die. Now I know, not just in my brain, but in my body, that this is true. It makes me both grateful for whatever time I have and cautious about unbridled joy.

This was a great read, Ronni.

Think of that shadow as a friend, a reminder to treasure what you've got.

Friends, support, your readers, your talents, your online coffee house.

Ronni's Place.

And don't forget your cool interviews with your former husband.

Call it luck or good genes, so far my health is good, however my sister and two senior friends have suffered greatly this year.

My sis had 16 chemo treatments plus operation for breast cancer, resulting in heart failure. She now has a pacemaker/defibrillator.

My 88 year old volunteer partner has liver cancer. She is not taking any chemo treatments -says she will let nature take its course.

This woman works harder than anyone I know.

My 94 year old ILR friend was housebound for almost a year. Arthritis, hernia operation. Fortunately she did not have to move out of the ILR. She never stopped smiling.

Sometimes I feel like I'm walking a tightrope, when will it be my turn?

But I punch back these thoughts by writing, taking fitness classes, line dancing, Zumba and Spanish classes, music, walking, reading.

Snow is melting fast.

I just took my bike in for a tune up. Riding around the neighbourhood is meditation.

My neighbour just got a Maine coon cat.

They invited me over to see it.

It has a beautiful soft coat and pointy ears like a lynx.

A beautiful orange and white kitten.

What does that cat have to do with this topic?

Eye of the tiger, Ronni.

It's the here and now.

You've got this.

I wish I had some profound insight to offer on this very profound topic, but others have already said it all better than I could. Is it helpful to know that the Shadow, as you call it, was in fact ALWAYS there, you just didn't see it so much until cancer, like the sun, made the Shadow stand out? We all have a Shadow, it's just that some of us are more aware than others that it's there. But, make no mistake, it's there for all of us. None of us are promised tomorrow.

Like others, I turn to books to help me get more comfortable with death which, as a sometime practicing Buddhist, tend to be of that flavor: Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (you can read the Wikipedia description of it to see if it sounds like it might be helpful), and Pema Chödrön's The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times are two that have helped me.

Finally, I'd just like to say that while I don't really believe in an afterlife as such, I do believe that the love we experience in this life doesn't just evaporate when we die. Somehow, I believe, love lives on... Maybe that's our immortality ~~ our loved ones continuing to feel our love. And, once again, I am amazed at the power of this blog: I feel through the comments that we all -- ostensibly strangers -- are sharing of our deepest selves with one another. I guess I'll call that Love, too.

I want to thank all those who have commented.. this is really like "doctafill" said "Ronni's Place "- a coffee shop one can always drop it and find soulmates.
Having turned seventy, I feel the shadow.. the body parts that are beginning to go, arthritis , knees, things I can no longer do. But every time i think about this I go back to Frank Bruni's moving column about how he is dealing with his sudden stroke in his eye and fear of going blind. I quote the advice given to him by a friend since it was so meaningful to me :
" best counsel was that “you cannot spend your life preparing for future losses.” It disrespects the blessings of the here and now. Besides, everyone lives in a state of uncertainty. Mine just has funky initials and fancy medical jargon attached to it."
Thank you Ronni for your generosity of spirit and sharing your most profoundly private thoughts in this most extraordinary community.
It helps. I hope it helps you too.
Lynn

I'll be 77 soon. I felt the shadow a couple of times when my knee got wonky and I found out my hip bones aren't as strong as I thought they were. I know I'll die but, Jeez, I've got so much more to do. Photography, writing, making movies. Poetry about aging is meaning a lot to me. Mostly, I try to be as creative as I can.

Thank you, Patti-in-NY for the reminder of your selected books, and I intend to find them amongst my too-large book stash spread all over this house and read them again. As for Pema Chodron, I prefer her audio, since she's gifted with a rich voice and delightful laugh.

Ronni, thanks for writing about this seldom-if-ever uttered topic. I loved it all, shared with some other friends and marked it for future re-reading or reference.

You will almost never die Ronnie Bennet - I imagine your blog will live long after you. Your words and so many great comments leaving so many less alone and frightened. I am 84 [yesterday - as a matter of fact!] with COPD and 3 x pneumonia.
I can only tell you what works for me. My basic premise is "all I can do is the best I can to be as healthy as possible in order fight Whatever when it comes". I believe exercise is medicine. Therefore I have a fitbit and walk back and forth from my front door to back door as many steps per day as I can [right now it is 5,000], I follow Donna Wilson's exercises on You Tube, remind myself that all I or ANYONE has This Day, listen dance and sing with my Apple Music, budget my social time selfishly since I am a loner. I paint when possible. I leave my apartment clean and tidy each night just in case, fall into the WWW and sometimes [like today] stay there all day in my nightgown! What would I do without the internet? It is wonderful. I see a psychiatrist once a month. I am agnostic/atheistic so sometimes I go to bed and imagine I am sitting at a little round table drinking wine with favourite family/friends long dead! Other times I have a cry. I forgive myself for most everything. My days feel, and are, precious.

All in all I think I would say my shadow is a friendly shadow - a teacher maybe? Which brings to mind this poem - .

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say,

I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!

Robert Browning Hamilton

I'm finishing my 80th year. I have no life-threatening diseases at the moment other than high blood pressure and old age, but I do have a shadow. I'm terrified of having a stroke or strokes and having to _live_ with the disabling results.. My father was paralyzed on one side and unable to swallow after his last stroke. There was no chemo or radiation to cure or give hope. We have assisted suicide where I live now, but it is useless if you can't administer it yourself. We also have excellent hospice care and I've talked to my doctor about it, but I don't know exactly how it would have helped in my father's case and possibly mine. My father had an advanced directive. But the hospital, a Catholic hospital, would not put him in hospice because " he wasn't dying". He lived in another time and another place. I simply hope I have a good death. Not dying, you might say, is my shadow.

Wow! I've read through this "Shadow" post and all of the comments. I'm exhausted but better for it. Never, has there been a generation of aging people that have been able to form into a community, like this, and share the daunting task of aging and our eventual demise. I'm better for it, knowing how others deal with it, but in the end, these thoughts and fears will all be forgotten, and that's a big part of the problem. Every once in a while, I will stop at a graveyard and read the headstones and appreciate how final death is and how most of us are quickly forgotten--and fully realize that my issues, although huge to me, are nothing, from nothing and into nothingness. Carry on. Unless, unless, the blessed hope is true! Of course. John

Ahhh,,,the Shadow ! After 5 months of chemo which ripped my hair out in 10 days, followed by mucositis down my throat that did not allow me to eat or hardly swallow water...followed by lumpectomy in August which has left me with a much smaller boob than the other (lopsided is an understatement) and then 7 weeks of radiation which turned my skin the color of coffee.....yes the Shadow is still following me. I only finished all of this in November so I have not had enough time yet to see truly if the Shadow will dissipate soon but from otherpeople I have met at my clinic (I am now a volunteer) and also from ladies I have met "virtually" at the Facebook page specifically geared towards the strain of cancer I had (Triple Negative Breast Cancer), I see the shadow lurks for many years. Some ladies on the FB site have been NED (No Evidence of Disease) for 5, 10 years! Yet they are still on the site and I have wondered why!!! Get off already and move on and don't read or comment on things that were in YOUR PAST! But I suppose it is their "shadow" too that compels them to in some part stayed connected to this disease and it's after effects, even after so many years of being cancer free, to not be able to completely let it go. I have only had 1 tumor marker blood work-up in January and it was clear. I have had no scans or mammograms or ultrasounds since last year when I was diagnosed. I will have tumor marker bloodwork done for the next 2 years every three months but hopefully once I am done, I can be done! I can move away from the FB site and put last year in my past as some surreal dream that did not really happen. I don't know! Will I? Cancer and it's treatment does SO become your life....it is overwhelming and all-consuming while in the throes of it. Now that I am done officially with treatment, I am back to trying to do alot of what I did before but with a big difference - I AM TIRED WHEN I DO ANYTHING. I don't want to be but my body tells me otherwise. So a lesson for me to learn is to slow down and learn a new pace. My pace was always balls to the walls! I worked for 37 years at the same job, helped raise my grandson, organized family get togethers after my parents passed away so as to insure that me and my cousins, their children and other extended family would not lose touch, baseball games, soccer games, book club, volunteering at schools and my church and now my clinic...etc. If you stay busy, you might keep the Shadow at bay....but I don't think so. I think you just wear yourself down (like I am doing) and the fear stays right there behind you quietly nudging you whenever you have a pain in your stomach or your leg and hip hurt when you get up. Ronni, I am good. I feel good..but I still have my days when my husband leaves for work and I am alone. I get up and I see my folders and books and all the things the clinic gave me...my charts and my logs of appointments and I sit and cry for a few minutes...not every day but sometimes because the shadow gets ahold of me in those moments....then I get up and open the curtains and see the sun and drink my coffee, meditate for a few minutes and say my prayers and appreciate where I am RIGHT NOW. Being in the moment really is the key....Blessings to all of us who are here....and thinking of those who didn't make it through the fight.

The shadow always follows us. I've had melanoma and uterine cancer - both found early, removed, no need for followup. I've had numerous breast "investigations" and other strange and undiagnosed things. I don't fear death, but I do fear disability and suffering. I'm a lousy patient. If I can't take care of myself some day, there is no one else to do it, and that haunts me. But I love my garden and my cats and my friends and my suffering son. I wonder if cancer or stroke or something totally unexpected will get me. I just hope it's fast. Going to my local Death Cafe helps.

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