As I face the end of my life due to metastatic colorectal cancer, I’m preparing my loved ones for my death — from determining who gets my stuff to writing my eulogy and making my memorial service playlist.
Receiving the news that you have six months or less to live is a harrowing experience.
I’ve been living with stage 4 colorectal cancer since June 2018. Before my initial diagnosis, I had a seizure caused by a brain metastasis, which was the tip-off that something wasn’t right. Shortly after my seizure, I underwent a craniotomy to remove the brain tumor, gamma knife, then chemotherapy to kill my rectal tumor. After a year of treatment, I thought I was cancer free, until a lung tumor developed.
I’ve been in and out of treatment (mostly in) the past four years. Aside from some hiccups, like a brain tumor recurrence in January, I’ve been relatively stable the past two years.
This August, things changed. My latest brain MRI revealed that my brain tumor adapted. I was diagnosed with leptomeningeal disease (LMD). Only 5% of cancer patients get LMD. Lucky me. LMD is cancer that has spread to the cerebral fluid and, according to my oncologist, is very difficult to treat. There is no cure, and most patients are given months to live.
Receiving this news was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. My husband was away that week on a First Descents caregiver trip, a nonprofit group that gives free adventure trips to patients with cancer and caregivers. While he was having the time of life learning how to white-water kayak on the Rogue River in Oregon, I was at home in New Orleans trying to grapple with a dire prognosis. I waited to tell him after he got back so I wouldn’t ruin his trip.
Aside from the emotional impact of a crummy diagnosis, there’s also the practical side. Back in January, I went on a week-long artist/writer residency in Mississippi. I’ve always been a writer, so I chose to pen my obituary and eulogy on that trip. I was tasked with writing my grandmother’s eulogy three years ago, which prompted me to write my own. In a situation that I have little to no control over, it comforted me knowing that I would get the last word in.
I wanted both the eulogy and the obituary to truly reflect my personality instead of being a dull, cookie-cutter document. They’re both hilarious and self-depreciating but also tender. I also made a memorial service playlist, replete with songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Runnin’ With The Devil,” and “It’s My Party.” I want my services to be a celebration of life. I want to lighten the mood.
I’ve started making a list of accounts my husband will need, such as my email passwords, websites, etc …. I gave him a tour of my computer so he can find documents, such as the lease on our rental. Since I’m a photographer, a photographer friend of mine offered to manage my archives for me once I’m gone.
I haven’t made a will. My husband and my names are both on our car loan and the mortgage. I’ve instructed him to sell all my camera gear and clothing, with the caveat that he can keep whatever he wants. I’d like for my three-year-old niece to inherit some of my jewelry, but that’s it. As I’m nearing the end of my life, my stuff feels just like that — stuff. I don’t have a huge sentimental attachment to any of it, but I realize my family might take comfort inheriting some of my things.
While it’s completely devastating that I must make end-of-life plans at 42 years old, doing this for my friends and family helps me feel like I’m easing some of their burden when I’m gone and gives me some control over an impossible situation.
I’ve also tried to shift my mentality, pretending that I’m in my 80s. It’s helped me shift my mindset. I’ve lived a very full, rewarding life. I’m trying my best to make peace with my early demise. It’s easier said than done, but it’s even more painful to resist. If I get more than six months, I’ll consider that precious time a bonus.
This article was written and submitted by Christy Lorio.
Christy Lorio is a New Orleans-based writer and photographer. Diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at 38 years old, Christy decided to center her work around her disease as a way of processing her diagnosis. Her photography has been seen in “Vice News,” “In These Times” and in art galleries both nationally and internationally. Her writing has appeared in numerous local outlets as well as literary magazines. Christy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of New Orleans. She is currently anticipating publishing her chapbook with Belle Point Press.
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