Cancer: Balancing Reality With Optimism

The unknown is not always as obvious as you may think.

Cancer is a disease that, although we have known about for a long time, we still know very little about. It has been my goal throughout this cancer journey to focus on what I know and can control, and to work on reasoning with that of which I cannot.

Since I am a control freak, that has been a very challenging logic to follow. I like to know what is going to happen so I can plan things like school, my health, my sister’s doctor’s visits and my future career. But I am also an avoider. I have had to face loss during my sister’s battle with cancer while balancing the idea that the next funeral that I plan or attend could be hers. It is a harder concept than some may understand.

While she is in remission now, at times, she has been very ill and the idea of her dying was an ever-present reality. A Five-Wishes document was something that was requested before her bone marrow transplant. Though sad, if we don’t plan or ask questions, how are we to know? If we don’t share and discuss those desires and ideas with the ones that we love, then if, or when, the time comes, the burden that we are leaving our loved ones will be a lot to carry.

Our attitudes in much of western culture are starkly different from other regions in the world. When somebody that you love is dying, our personal beliefs come into play. Our family dynamic would drastically change if you took away one of seven. It was a truth that was faced when discussing our aging parents, but not one that I thought we would face when talking amongst us “kids.”

To wrap my head around the situation set before us, I often find myself trying to set aside my emotions in favor of logic. That became a difficult task with death, so I found that balancing a wise mind of logic and emotion has been most beneficial. I try to understand those fears and how can I relate to that pain. The feeling of being alone and isolated, leaving us behind and missing out on life’s milestones, were very common themes when I would talk to her about the end.

When it came time to fill out the five wish book, it was a hard day. To try and be strong while listening to her state her wishes for end-of-life care, burial plans and memorial service songs was a very difficult feat. For your sister to spell out what life would be like on the day that you say goodbye is harder than I can adequately explain in words.

While some losses can be unexpected and traumatic, the death that she faced was a methodical one. In her case, her final days would either be spent at a hospital or at home, under the comfort of palliative care. It is a mind warp to think that we knew what was going happen and how, just not when. The anticipatory factor was a hard pill to swallow.

I have tried to talk openly about the sad possibility, because for the longest time, it was just that-- a possibility. Although it took a very long time for conversation to happen, it is one that I am happy we had. She may not realize it, but if that time comes, it will be much easier. Not just for her, but for those of us that love her.