Some of my favorite people died within the last month. Seven of my favorite people, to be inexact. I only started counting when the death notices started to become overwhelming. I have unsent cards on the kitchen table meant for some of these people. I have not only grief because these people will be missing from my life, but also regret because these people will never know what I meant to say. Or maybe my regret is not that my thoughts and feelings were not heard, but that I never expressed my thoughts. Those thoughts and feelings are still inside my heart, the potential to interact forever gone. By withholding my thoughts, I didn't fully participate in their lives. I failed to engage in life when I had the chance. Particularly inexcusable because of my status as a Cancer Survivor.
I have been surviving with cancer for almost 4 years now. I would like to say I have been living with cancer. I like to think I have mastered the diagnosis-thing, the treatment-thing, the patient-thing and the dying-thing. The living-thing that happens between all those other things gets lost. My life has narrowed as my body has become less reliable. I am most comfortable closer to home these days. I have been searching to redefine living. I get out of the house most days. I make sure I have activities on the calendar. I go places and see things. I show up. That's not quite enough. As I walk by that pile of unsent cards on the kitchen table for the umpteenth time, I realize what has been lacking. I need to engage, to lean-in. (Pop psychology reference intended.)
I am a reluctant Cancer Survivor. As I move further from my diagnosis date, as I survive longer, I feel the weight of expectations settle around me. I know the statistics, about 70% of my fellow sisters won't be survivors 5 years after their diagnosis. I look around me and watch my sisters fall. It seems that many fall in their 6th year. Will I? Will we die in vain? Can I carry the memory of their existence? How many can I carry before the weight overcomes me? Why is ovarian cancer still so deadly? What can the few survivors do to change that for the future? Will we live long enough to accomplish anything? I don't have enough time. So why even try? So I don't. I haven't. I don't want the job of Cancer Survivor.
Yet I have the job. I have been in training under the protective wings of my sisters who have traveled this path before me. It's my turn now to mentor. I probably won't start a charitable foundation or discover a cure. My job might be smaller in scope, but not importance. My job is to engage. Engaging in human contact is living. I can offer an example of how to live with cancer by actually doing it. I can show up at support group meetings and share a story that will bring a smile and hope to someone newly diagnosed. I can share my medical knowledge and help someone get the care they need. I can reach out and offer human kindness. I can actually mail those cards on the kitchen table.