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Death and Dying

by Jennifer AnandSurvivor, Hodgkin’s LymphomaNovember 15, 2019View more posts from Jennifer Anand

Death has been heavy on my heart the last few weeks, but my sadness tonight is finally overflowing onto this page.

Since cancer, I’ve always had a bit of trouble being properly sad when old people die. Old being late 60s and up in this scenario. And tonight I felt it again. A friend described her ailing great-uncle with a tragic face. I tried to convey as much sympathy as I could, but my face definitely failed at even looking remotely stricken. She followed with a “it’s very sad” comment. It is sad. Death always is.

But it’s nothing compared to the sadness I’ve been feeling.

The incredible sadness of a young death. It all started with Emily. I didn’t know her, but she was treated at my hospital, and we have multiple mutual friends. I was at my survivorship oncology visit, and my oncologist told me she “had a few very choice words for cancer” and told me how excited my good lab results made her. She literally was dancing in her chair seeing the little green check next to the results, and said she really just needed a win.

Emily’s obituary called out my oncologist for her care and kindness. Mad respect for all on the oncology medical team but that’s for another day. Seeing the tributes to Emily made me sad for our community. She was a gorgeous 20-something girl. And now she was gone. Barely having time to learn about her life, I saw another obituary posted.

It was Larry.

I was stunned as I saw the Facebook post, willing myself not to believe it. I immediately texted a friend, hoping it wasn’t true, but he only confirmed it. Larry was instrumental in helping start the young adults cancer group at my hospital. He was cheerful, ambitious, and had defied many odds. His face had numerous tattoos, and his voice had a slow drawl that sounded like he should be singing some smooth jazz.  I remembered the time at CancerCon where a few of us sat in the lobby late one night, talking about his thriving music business. And suddenly- he was gone.

I could tell you so many more stories, but I don’t have the energy to do that. People I’ve known well, people I’ve barely known, and those who I have never met.  I remember when my mom announced that a United States Naval Academy cadet had leukemia, and learning of his passing. One of the best and the brightest, suddenly gone. Just hearing the news, was like a knife in my heart, and I grieved his passing. I never met him, but I felt in that instant, like I do now, a huge gaping hole in my heart for someone who has died well before they could grow old.

Tonight, I write this after hearing of a friend facing cancer, yet again. I write this as I work on a presentation on cancer in my life. I write this with tears streaming down my face.

For me, it’s hard to feel sad when someone’s grandpa dies. Because they had a chance to be a dad, and a granddad. They’ve had a chance to live a good seventy-some years, have a career, have friends, and just live their life. But it’s crushing when someone young dies. Leaving behind siblings, young children, and a life unfinished.

They say a parent should never have to bury a child, and my heart breaks for all those parents who have. I can’t imagine your pain, and I pray I never have to.

So I wrote everything above this line weeks ago, and haven’t had the courage to review it till now. A few more friends have passed since. Some of these friends I’ve posted a picture and a few words on social media in the last few months. Last Sunday at church, two different women gave me a hug and asked about the friends I’ve lost, and I’m so grateful for their kindness. One of them made a comment- I never thought about the realities of being involved in the YA (young adult) cancer world could be. She’s so right.

I didn’t think that attending CancerCon, or going kayaking on a First Descent, yoga with The Gathering Place or even just attending my oncology YA group would lead me to the sadness of making new friends, but never knowing how long I’d have with them. The reality of this exclusive club is that it can be a revolving door of members in and forever out. And every time I see a new obituary, I consider disengaging myself from this cancer world. Trying to forget everything over these last few years, and live life like a normal 25-yr old.

But I can’t.

Alfred Lord Tennyson said “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. While I think it was intended in a romantic aspect, I think it applies to friendship. My life is fuller because of these cancer friends. I have so many dear memories of fun times with them. Seeing their resilience, hearing about the joy they spread to others, the courage and strength they exhibited, the thoughtfulness they had for others, is always a challenge to me. Am I living the life I have been given to the fullest extent that I can?   I need to make each day count. It’s not easy to do, and it’s certainly a daily choice to make that day count. But we owe it to the memory of those we’ve lost to do our best.

There’s a Charlie Brown cartoon I keep seeing, where Charlie Brown says “We only live once, Snoopy.” Snoopy replies- “Wrong! We only die once. We live every day.”. Let’s live today.

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