The MCA BlogConnecting with others one story at a time
“Jane” is 65. She hasn’t been herself since she had a cold about six months ago. She’s still coughing, still tired, and a little short of breath. She’s also lost a few pounds, but she’s wanted to lose weight for some time now, so she’s happy about that. Jane’s son finally talks her into going to see her doctor, who determines that Jane has been having a number of additional symptoms. The workup leads to a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Jane is shocked to learn that she has cancer, and that her life expectancy is probably around 12 to 18 months.
As Jane’s shock wears off and she settles into a mesothelioma treatment routine, she finds her emotions are all over the map. At times she is okay, but sometimes she feels completely overwhelmed and as if she may be losing her mind. She’s afraid to mention this to her oncologist because she’s sure that other patients are handling their cancer treatments much better. It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t bring this up, because her oncologist would tell her these feelings are absolutely normal.
After a while, Jane finds herself not wanting to get out of bed or get dressed. What’s the point? She won’t get to enjoy her retirement or watch her grandkids grow up. Everything feels entirely hopeless.
In a situation such as Jane’s, hope may not be an easy thing to grasp. After all, Jane is not likely to be cured of her cancer. So, while hope of a cure is something to hold on to, Jane will need more kinds of hope than this to optimize the rest of her life. Herein lies the option that most people aren’t aware of: they can choose to be hopeful in even the most dire of circumstances. You may be asking what there is to hope for if survival isn’t guaranteed. In fact, many things remain: hope for meaningful relationships, quality time spent with people that matter, the opportunity to do things on your “bucket” list, for being able to make your own decisions when it comes to your medical care, and to live until you die.
What does “live until you die,” mean? Isn’t it obvious that we will indeed do that? While it is obvious for our bodies, the expression goes far beyond that. It is a call to arms for people stuck in ‘Cancerland’ whether they are dying from the disease or not. It means taking each opportunity that comes your way and living life on your own terms. Not letting cancer define who you are; not backing down and not giving in. Continuing your life, as mundane and/or fascinating as parts of it are, for as long as you can. Being grateful for things both large and small.
Is there any kind of gift that comes with cancer? For some people, the answer is an adamant NO. Many others, however, say yes. While we are all aware that we will eventually die, most people don’t know it unless they are dealing with a terminal illness. That knowledge gives clarity of vision like nothing else can. It hones the focus of your life like a laser, and allows you to identify who and what really matters. It is sad that it takes a terminal diagnosis to get people to think this way, but typically that’s the case. We should all be living as though we were dying – focusing on who and what truly matters to us and letting go of and avoiding all of the things and people that are unnecessary, bring us pain, and waste our precious time.
Live until you die. No one has, or will, beat death. Knowing that there are no do overs, that you only have from today forward to complete your journey, how do you choose to live?
Norma Lee knew from a very young age that she really enjoyed helping others. Starting as a nursing assistant during her college years, Norma went on to become a registered nurse, a visiting hospice nurse, a physician, and then a board certified anesthesiologist. After becoming a mother to her twins, Norma realized she missed the connection she felt with her patients that she had as a nurse and visiting hospice nurse. Norma returned to school once more to complete her master's degree in psychology. Today, Norma is now a child, individual, medical and family therapist and has years of experience in helping people deal with difficult situations like cancer, grief and loss, and death and dying. You can contact Norma at her website, Norma Lee Therapy.
Resources for Mesothelioma Patients and their Families
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- Locate the Nearest Comprehensive Cancer Center