Quite a few readers took me at my word in Wednesday's post that you could ask me anything about this new and final journey in my life, and it would be churlish of me not to try to answer.
Please keep in mind that these are one person's answers at a very early point on the road. I might change my mind later or see the issue from a different point of view, and don't forget that there are no right or wrong answers. Each of us has his/her own path.
“Are you angry about having this cancer? If so, about what/or whom? And how do you handle the anger?”
RONNI: I'm not angry and that might be related to my rejection, when I was first diagnosed last year, of the idea of “fighting” or “beating” cancer but to follow the instruction and direction of medical experts who have much more experience with cancer than I do. Without dismissing such potential causes as smoking, pollution, genetics, radiation, etc., I see cancer as a random occurrence.
Early on, I read about some cancer patients who get hung up on “why me?” My response was “why not me?” Most of my family died of cancer and, 40 percent of all Americans will have some form of cancer during their lives. Knowing all that pretty much eliminates the possibility of anger or blame.
“People have told me that once others find out you're terminal that becomes your identity, so you might not want to lead with that. At what point in conversation does your health status usually come up? I know it's on your mind, but do casual acquaintances need to know and do you want them to?”
RONNI: All kinds of things (that I will discuss in a future blog post) fall away at just about the exact moment the doctor says, “there is no treatment” (which is their common expression for “you're terminal.)”
At least, that is true for me and one of those things that fell away is any concern at all about what any person thinks about me in any regard. How others identify me is not my concern.
Before I published my first blog post about this diagnosis, I told the people I love and feel closest to. I missed three or four but they later read the blog posts and we've since talked about it together.
I also announced it at the next meeting of my current affairs discussion group although three or four had already read the first blog post. These are people I see regularly at our meetings, who had kept the group going during the months I was recovering from surgery last year and are an important part of my life.
In other circumstances, it depends on the nature of the gathering, who is attending, what we're talking about and if it is appropriate to discuss at that time. My point is to not deliberately make it a secret which would inevitably become awkward.
“The wish you expressed...to die 'awake, lucid, not drugged or in pain, is where I always get hung up when I come to thinking about my own dying time. Because so often, when nearing death, to be pain free (or at least pain-bearable) IS, absolutely, to be drugged, not lucid, not awake."
RONNI: Good question. Note that I said I “wish” to die wide awake. Each person's situation is different but if I can arrange to die as I described, it is my first choice. My new palliative care physician tells me that not everyone with cancer experiences pain or, not great pain so maybe I'll be lucky. And if not - well, too bad. The doctor knows my desire in this regard and will work with me.
"Since you are a writer Ronni, how about telling people you are writing/living your final chapter."
RONNI: I think that's what I'm doing at this blog, Katherine. If you mean other people who don't read TGB, I've told them if the subject comes up.
From NANA ROYER:
"I wonder if you're aware of the existence of Death Cafes."
RONNI: Yes, and I wrote about them a few years ago. I had an infuriating experience at my first one that put me off. A woman at my table, no matter what else the rest of us were discussing, promoted her counseling business, handing out flyers and such.
During a break, I complained to one of the organizers who said he would speak with the woman but she continued to tout her business during the second half.
A year or so later, a friend talked me into attending another death cafe in a different town and by god that woman was there – just not at my table. Death cafes ought to be a good thing, getting together in safe places where we can let go of past taboos about discussing death and dying.
"A quick question: Do you think we know we have died?"
RONNI: I have no idea. Does anyone else want to take a whack at that?
"Ronni, how do you deal with your feelings about terminal illness? Do you see a counselor?"
RONNI: Hmmm. Complicated. The short answer is that so far – this is still new to me – I don't “deal” with them or do anything about them. They just are.
Fear is the big one. Three or four or five times a day, it invades my whole body. It feels like each individual cell is quivering with fear. Everything stops for me. Except the fear. More, deeper, heavier than I've ever felt.
And after a couple of minutes it goes away and I can catch my breath again. I've learned now to wait for that.
I don't see a counselor and won't seek one. Everyone deals with their demons in their own way. Mine is to make room to feel whatever I'm feeling, to try to understand it. It can be painful but I haven't died of it yet and I've learned some things about life in general and about myself.
One more: Several readers, on Wednesday, wrote that we are all terminal. That may be so philosophically but believe me, in my case anyway, it has nothing to do with being told there is no treatment and you will die of your disease. Hearing those words has focused my mind in whole new ways that bear no resemblance to “we are all terminal.”
Let me wind up this Q&A session with a note from reader Jackie:
“The best thing that old friends and what few family members are left can do for me - just spend their time with me talking about everything under the sun.”
Oh, yes. The best antidote I have found when I get a bit maudlin about my new circumstance is to spend time with a friend or friends talking, talking, talking. It always leaves me light-hearted.