Connections: The impact of terminal illness on relationships

Who wants to die without seeing everyone you’d want to see and saying all the things you want to say to the most precious gifts life has to offer: of friends you make along the “long and winding road,” to quote Lennon and McCartney. I’d venture to guess very few people, if anyone, would pass up such an auspicious opportunity. Or would they?

Receiving a terminal illness diagnosis, like metastatic cancer, can cut the human heart out like a serial killer with a hunting knife. Stunned we watch in horror as in his hand your life quickly fades to black as he shows your heart to you, blood through his fingers right before the light in your eyes burns out, extinguished forever.

Why do I imagine such a vividly gruesome metaphor for what should be a series of happy reunions?

A day in a life

Ahhhh. My bath time. The time of each day when I reflect on my self care and I give myself a physical and mental check up. Some time to meditate, listen to an audio book or music or both. Or do a Zentangle focused drawing tile. If you’re not a visual artist like me but want to learn to draw, try the Zentangle methodology. It’s great for concentration and for relaxation and it truly improved my confidence in my ability to create hand drawn artwork. I’m even proud of a few of my pieces!

Stumbling into my peaceful bath ritual came The C. Innocent as the slightly autistic driven snow, he offered,”If you need to travel to say goodbye to some old friends don’t worry, I will take care of your travel costs,” offered C last night as I sat in a hot bath. I sat with tears falling into a bathtub of steaming water. Such a thoughtful gift brought about a tearful response. He tore at my heart while giving with his own. He left me alone shutting the door, quietly walking away, feeling upset and confused.

Why did I cry instead of showing my gratitude? His generosity shattered me into a hundred little shards of painful fragments. Pieces of sharp broken promises of a future. Another day in my life, post-terminal illness diagnosis. I’d heretofore avoided the subject of visiting old friends. There are people I frequently daydream of seeing again, who pop into my minds eye along witht the feeling that I might not see them befor I die.

Relative mortality survival time with statistics - but I try not to follow numbers since they mean nothing to anyone’s individual cancer.

*See stage 4, that’s my survival chance beyond five years but I could never play by the rules so these numbers are mere poo flung out to scare me from Dr. Mary’s monkey cage. It’s been four years and two months since my diagnosis and likely much longer since I’ve had my chance to begin with before it went raising my body like a pirate.

On our way home

I hesitated due to the ravages of chemotgerapy to visit with an old friend who came from Paris with his 22 year old son to the Bay Area. He and I last saw one another 12 years ago when he dropped me at the train station in a small town down in the southern mountain region of France. We were not too happy with eachother at the time. But maturity and sense took over in the span between then and now. Meeting him for an hour before he had to check in I was not nervous but excited to see him.

Funny how cancer gave me a strange confidence in knowing it didn’t matter how good I looked. It didn’t matter what I wore, because neither of us will remember our relative fashion sensibilities as the highlight of our brief yet meaningful encounter. We will recall how it felt to hug one another and to feel the connection of a true friend and the kind kind of love that’s without beginning or end.

Moved to feel the connections we make along the way with those who travel along life’s path with us, authentic and deeply touched and indelibly changed by that very beautiful place only we know while joined with another spirit. Through the years we expand on our experiences together and fold them in on our consciousness. Our expression then takes on a higher power, two squared if you will. We better ourselves because of an instinct to find other souls in a sea of possibility. This I believe is where our instincts must take over.

I trust my instincts more than ever because sometimes that in and of itself is what was changed by another person. The innstinct infuses us with life and light and love. For what is love but the purest form of human instinct.

Ticket to Ride

Try as I could I couldn’t but cry for being happy to have seen him… knowing it may be the last time. But perhaps not so until we meet again…I am here and as long as I am alive there is hope. With hope comes possibility. And I have hope there will come a day when we can hug again.

Yet we can only live in this moment. It’s all anyone can do. And I ripped the bandaid off of my fear of the next time I see an old friend, perhaps being the last time we may see eachother. Maybe C’s right and it’s time to get traveling and live again to see those people who have meant so much to me over the years, and to the person I’ve become. Because whether or not they know it, I would never have the strength of spirit to dig up the tenacity required to go the distance with metastatic cancer.

Never underestimate how you’re loved. It’s more than you think and never too late to find out.

7 thoughts on “Connections: The impact of terminal illness on relationships

  1. Hi Ilene,

    “Never underestimate how you’re loved. It’s more than you think and never too late to find out.” I absolutely love that.

    It sounds like you’re a real people person, so I’m glad you got to see your old friend, and that you are making plans to see others. I’m more of a loner. An introvert. Since cancer, even more so, which might sounds like an odd thing to say considering I sorta put myself out there via my blog.

    Cancer or no cancer, relationships shift. Some dissolve. And yet, some remain constant, which is a beautiful thing. Tending to relationships that matter to us is time well spent. Thank you for your eloquent writing. x

  2. Liesl
    Your commentary on my blog never cease to inspire me to keep writing and always bring my heart to a quick stop. You remind me of why I started this blog – so those with terminal illness and cancer diagnoses know they’re not alone in their experiences, emotions, and high and low points. While not the same, dimensionally similar enough to feel a virtual hand holding yours and have someone to walk with even if just for a little while. I love you and I care about what you feel and how you feel. Your feedback means so much to me. What a day too – I have my last Taxol treatment Monday next week and then a little break and back on the Ibrance. Maybe the lighting of fatigue and chemo brain can give me the strength I need to write more and start the first book. I thought it would be poetry but it won’t be. And as the draft starts to take form I’ll reveal the type of book and why I chose to focus that aspect of cancer.

    Looking forward to ringing the bell on Monday!
    Ilene

  3. Dear Ilene,
    I hope you are able to see the people … that are dear to you.

    Your writings and kindness have brought tears of gratitude … when I needed it most.

    Sending much love and hugs,
    -Liesl

  4. Beautiful! Thank you so much for you vulnerability in sharing. Understanding how to navigate a terminal diagnosis is not for the faint of heart. Love and light to you.

    1. Abigail…terminal diseases will turn a coward into a superhero, a shrinking daisy into a tall redwood, and push us to the edges of ourselves that we never dreamed we could see. Thank you for a reading and thank you for the encouragement for my writing. There’s no other way than to put it all out there regardless of the facet of cancer that I might focus on that week or day. There’s a lot of layers of emotional pain and energy to explore, though the tendency is for the most prevalent to wind up on my blog. Yet there are so many issues if I have the time I will try to cover – I wonder what people want to read about and would love any feedback regarding topics you find most helpful or interesting to read.

      With much love,
      Ilene

  5. I also feel tears at kindness received from a friend or loved one – even though it’s a pretty regular thing. Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that someone has really seen us? I don’t know. This piece is both poignant and sad, Ilene. I’m sending love and a virtual hug from across the pond – that’s the best I can do for now with most of my friends, who are scattered around the world. xox
    “Never underestimate how you’re loved. It’s more than you think and never too late to find out.”

    1. Julia how it’s it so hard to do this some days and others it seems so easy like nothing’s ever happened, nothing is wrong. Like day into night…I slept less than an hour last night thinking a lot about where my friends are, who I am as a result of their involvement in my life, some had a huge role especially people who I’ve remained in touch with for many years, people who I can see if I hadn’t seen them in 5, 10, 15 years and pick up where we left off. I think there are people I want to see regardless of cancer but in spite of also, if you know what I mean.

      My relationships have shifted so much even with Craig, that instead of intimacy I have people I can rely on…it’s so strange. I would much prefer intimate, warm, relationships. Some friends have that some do not. I’m naturally a hugger and a physical person and I give love to people I care about very naturally.

      I suppose it comes down to not thinking about it as if we have terminal diseases when we see them.

      That said – If we didn’t I would not be in the company of women who I’ve come to appreciate as my peers and my friends- you included – and I absolutely think I may want to get over to the UK and maybe we all can get together for a day or two and I don’t think it’s out of the relevant range to believe that women like us cannot get a weekend together some by plane, by train, by car, to laugh and talk and actually meet. Wow that’s a thought. And given six months and some funding potential for rooms and such I bet we could do it.

      Have a think on it…I believe in anything I want to manifest can come true if I put my all into it. And speaking of all, time to get ready for chemo and oncologist appointments! Yikes. Always late!
      Love
      Ilene

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