Summer: all things must end

Just a couple of weeks ago, Peter picked this bounteous collection of blackberries in the brambles out back. He then set up shop at the end of the street, selling 4 oz cartons for $2.00 each. He sold out quickly, and our young gentleman farmer added pink lemonade ice to his menu.

Several mornings ago Pete and I traipsed through the brush to gather more berries, but for the most part they’ve already gone by. There is also a definite chill in the air at night, and a few leaves are changing color as well. Ah summer…

Yesterday I enjoyed a solitary  meal of shrimp cocktail, corn on the cob and sun burst tomatoes (Peter called them ‘nomas’ when he was a little guy) out on the deck; I was entertained by the circling hordes of dragon flies.

Seasons and the cycle of life. Everything that lives must die.  Recently I was speaking to two very close friends about some of my concerns for my three children in regard to my own passing. “Don’t even think about it!” one of the friends interjected. But I do, because it is part of my reality. As I explained to my friend, even though I look so healthy and full of life, when I awaken in the morning I hear the wheeze in my lungs. I remain active, but I can’t help but note my slowly increasing shortness of breath. I’ve lost a bit of weight and have become aware of other subtle signs that my immune system is once again struggling with a pernicious invader.

I acknowledge that I am going to die:  advanced lung cancer is not classified as a terminal illness without reason. Although that fact was not initially easy to accept, I am fortunate that I have had some time to work it out. As I said to Jemesii one day (gotta love those adult children, I can be my baddest self in front of them), “thank goodness I’m dying slowly”.

I’ve had the luxury of being able to move through all the stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.

I’ve also come to understand more about the nature of fear, and that it is inextricably tied to a lack of experience and things unknown. Cancer, or the big ‘C’, is right up there near the top tier of all things fearful. When first diagnosed, I was terrified. But not anymore. Sad, tired, pissed occasionally, and even a little bored.

The same goes for dying. Death has become my familiar. Not a friend or someone (indulge me in a bit of anthropomorphizing) I would invite into my home; but an oddly intimate and somewhat constant presence.

As uncomfortable as it may occasionally make those close to me, I believe it is important to honor my need “to go there”; to actually embrace (however reluctantly) my own mortality.

It is in no way a morbid obsession; I could hardly be more engaged in the act of living. My willingness to look clearly at what what lies ahead has allowed me to really understand the terrain, and so I can better prepare. Hopefully, not just myself, but those I am close to.

After all, death is really just part of life. You can’t have one without the other.

20 responses to “Summer: all things must end

  1. Your words are inspiring and I thank you for them. I am the youngest daughter of my mom who has lung cancer and am scared to death that I will see my mom suffer beyond belief. She is living with myself and my husband and has been for almost a year. I would like to know and understand what to exspect so that I don’t have that shocked looked when something happens. My mom is going to require someone strong at her side and I want to be that for her, she’s my rock and I want to show her how important she is and will be til the day I die. I have searched the Internet and have yet to find answers to my questions. Do you know where I would go to find out what to exspect for my mom down the road. Good or Bad I just want to know so that I can now be her rock. thank you.

  2. Colene, I am sorry you are dealing with this. However, I can’t really tell you what to expect as not only are all of our cancers different, so are we and our individual responses to our situation. If your mom is open to talking about these issues, she might provide some of the answers you are seeking (per the emotional side of things). You might also see if you could have a private consultation with her oncologist and ask he/she what to expect. In the meantime, your love and support is what she really needs, and it sounds like you are on board that way. Take good care, Linnea

  3. Linnea, your blog is so very helpful to me. I have advanced lung cancer, too, and so much of the time when I read your blog I find myself nodding and saying, “yes, yes, that’s how it is for me, too.” There is great comfort in hearing/reading other lung cancer patients talk about their experiences. It helps me feel less alone, less anxious.

    Once, shortly after diagnosis, my husband and I were driving down a road past a cemetery. My mind had been racing with fearful thoughts of dying but when I saw the cemetery, I felt a calm wash over me. I thought, “if they can do it, so can I.” Just knowing countless others have gone through the process of dying and knowing countless others are preparing themselves for that transition just like me gives me a strange kind of reassurance.

    Thank you, Linnea!

    Diane

    • Diane, I understand exactly what you are talking about. It is so easy to be egocentric and view ourselves as ‘special’, but we really are not separate. Where others have already gone, we too will go. I also find comfort in that, and I think it is beautiful the way you stated it (“if they can do it, so can I”–in fact, I remember thinking the same thing about driving a car, which also scared me, when I was a teenager!) We are literally all in this together; each of us cycling thru a continuum of life. Take good care, Linnea

  4. Pat & Will Plattner

    friday we will celebrate life and friends and just being. we love you.

  5. Dearest Linnea,

    I view death as a transition of the soul into a new life. Another dimension in which we are still able to guide and protect those we hold dear, but without the restrictions placed upon us by our human bodies.
    I won’t tell you, “don’t even think about it”, because as a Mother myself I know that it would be impossible not to. But, I believe it will be your hands that guide those who are caring for your children and you will always be present in their lives.

    Blessings,

    Tracy

    • Tracy, I do cherish that notion. And, as always, I get such a powerful comfort from knowing that you are out there, reading my blog, and sending your blessings. Thank you. Linnea

  6. So often you say exactly what I’m thinking and that helps me articulate things myself. Have you read the article “Letting Go” by Atul Gawande in the August 2, 2010 issue of The New Yorker? If you have not, please do! Thank you for all you do for us kindred souls.

  7. Your writing, once again, is powerful and full of wisdom. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Linnea, mi amiga:
    loveable and reliable, can be reincarnated as a Real bitch!
    In that dream world I will be asking
    How much is that doggie in the window? [Arf, arf]
    The one with the waggly tail
    How much is that doggie in the window? [Arf, arf]
    I do hope that doggie’s for sale.

    Reading the inspired last, hum, I better say latest entry “Summer all things must end” and looking at the picture of son’s harvested fruit for sale I imagine advertising myself as “On sale, merchandize over ripped and slighted damaged”.

    A butterfly flaps its wings and we meet, patients live? suffer similar fates.
    On “Letting go” published on August 2nd. just on time for my birthday on August 3rd, the young, patient is also offered Tarceva. For our lung cancers, this chemo targets a gene mutation common in non smokers, like us, we didn’t have an EGFR mutation and failed, unfortunately I was not tested and resulted in new painful damages, for me the treatment was worse that the disease.
    We were treated to carboplatin and pemetrexed cocktails and both got a blood clot. Bloody Mary any one?
    Lets toast to Stability! My CT scan shows Slight progression so I got slightly angry and a bit depress. Now I take Oxycontin, is the most popular drug in the streets, and get constipation. My cancer is a pain in the but.
    https://lifeandbreath.wordpress.com/ Summer: all things must end? follow the birds south my friend, Summer never ends
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/02/100802fa_fact_gawande Please read article
    Dr. Atul Gawande’s latest New Yorker piece Letting go, must read to be prepared

    Digging up a bit of the past we can find our future
    From The Rubaiyat
    “Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
    Before we too into the Dust descend;
    Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
    Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!”
    This little fellow die of pain, being attached to his boy friend.
    Last line my updated version for your wonderful clay man:

    The trip plans are wonderful, going back to your roots with your son.
    I still have memories of my trip when I was only 12
    A friend of mine from a sailing trip is doing The Way of Saint James by bicycle, something like this enclosed
    http://homepage.mac.com/verbier7/home.htm
    I visited Santiago de Compostela in 1951 in spring time, with my parents and sister left Argentina in March, early fall, 2 weeks by boat to Cadiz, Spain. Toured Andalucia first, then Castilla and Galicia returning to La Coruna, town that my mother left 20 years earlier and returned without notice surprising my grand mother! After that we went to the Basque country and surprise my father’s family!

    I hope to feel better in the fall and travel again, something like this:
    Here is one for the Guadalquivir in Andalucia, I did the Guadiana Portugal Spain frontier in a sailboat
    http://www.cruisingholidays.co.uk/eriver.aspx?hid=E188
    This one is car, Pousadas and river cruise in Portugal
    http://www.sunmedholidays.net/uploadedimages/douroazul_oct_layout_1email.pdf
    I will travel with you and my friend from my armchair.
    I don’t Let you go alone.

  9. Guillermo, I’ve already responded to you in an email, but let me add that my blog has achieved a state of equilibrium, now that you have commented. Thank you. And, for those of you who read the comments, I will share the link to the video I shared with you (pretend it is my dog Buddy):

    http://jezebel.com/5625827/this-is-a-video-of-a-dog-dancing-the-merengue

    Linnea

  10. I just lost my response by getting lost in the tour of Portugal (I did my own version in 2003 and loved it!) We have a trip to Guadalajara and Morelia in the works. “Something to look forward to.”

    The familiar at the end of the road – I see him waiting as well. I needed to read this tonight – I woke from an evening nap and a very dark nightmare. Very unusual, out of character. Acknowledging our reality can be eye opening, even at times, comforting. The article by Atu Gawande is a must read. It sparked pretty great conversation on Grace.

    Your photographs of Marfa blow away the ones just posted for an article at Dwell. Here’s the link to the upcoming story:
    http://www.dwell.com/articles/two-days-in-marfa-texas.html

    • Stephanie, I did check out that article–it was fantastic and hit close to home in many different ways. Congrats on your own travel plans (after taking an armchair tour via Guillermo) and I did check out those Marfa photos. Not really up to the Dwell par, are they? Maybe I can get a job 🙂 Linnea

  11. Bill & Barb Horvath

    Linnea
    As we write this, wife Barb is preparing to begin Crizotinib through a trial arm at Ohio State University. Barb is a 6 year stage 4 BAC lung cancer survivor, has fought hard to stay with the family. She is coughing a lot lately, but still has the will to fight!
    And yet, her faith has let her and me and our family stay at peace through it all. We are convinced that this is not all there is, but that we live forever, and consciously. So Barb [and I!] have been focusing on the growth in character that must happen if we are to enjoy that “forever”, and enjoy it with those who have gone ahead! Just think what a “forever” would be like if we got only 1% grumpier every year, after 10,000 years! Not a good thought! And the flip is true – 10% less selfish per year – do the math!

    We like to read the Bible, and receive a lot of encouragement from friends and family and church family, no matter how the next round of the fight goes. Here are a couple bible cuts that we like..

    “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

    1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

    6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7We live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

    THANK YOU for your gift of open sharing through our blog!

    I will begin to pray and ask the Father for blessings to you and your journey and your family!

    Bill [and Barb] Horvath

  12. I am newly diagnosed with adenocarcino stage 2b…The doctors performed a left upper lobe lobectomy and found two completely separate tumors….I start my first round of Chemo Therapy next Monday…they will be giving me CisPlatnin and Alitma….I am scared…I am trying not to be…I can’t let my family see me cry…I have always been the rock the one to keep it together. My sister died of lung cancer two years ago she did nothing to stop it she lasted 5 years. I have an 11 year old still and home and I have 4 grandchildren and two adult daughters. My husband is wonderful but he likes to bury his head in the sand thinking it will go away. Can you guide me to some helpful literature to help me get my little ones prepared. God is my rock and my salvation. I feel that I have healed amazingly in just 4 weeks post surgery. I still have to wear oxygen but I am down to 2 liters continuous. I have an underlying condition that makes treatment really tricky. I have an IgG deficiency (no immune system of my own) was born with it but they didn’t find it until 15 years ago. I have severe intractable asthma that is triggered by infection. I have already been on the ventilator 7 times for the Asthma in the last 5 years. I now am afraid to get intubated again because I am afraid they would not be able to get me off. I am sorry I am babaling but I don’t know who to talk to. I have been reading your blogs. I know that this is a late blog and I hope that you see it. My name is Cindy if you would like to contact me my email: brown247@comcast.net Thank you for sharing your experiences,

  13. I would like to commend each and everyone of you: the patients, the caregivers, families and friend’s for your on-going courage and love of life. My father was diagnosed with stage III bladder cancer, (which you don’t hear much about) back in August 2012. He had his bladder, prostate gland, and 22 lymph nodes removed. No cancer was detected in his prostate gland or his lymph nodes, so he was given a good prognosis. In preparing for his surgery, he had a series of tests. One of them found a few suspicous nodules on his lung. The doctor’s wanted to monitor them to see if they would grow. He had a chest xray last month, and the nodules have grown. He had a PET scan a few weeks ago and we received the resulits today. The doctor said he is treating it like a tumor until he proves otherwise. This means another biopsy, then meeting with his board of surgeons, and oncologists for the “action plan”
    During these past few months spending the time with my father taking him back and forth to the doctor, has brought a little prospective into my life. He said to me one day when we were leaving the hospital, “I don’t look like all these other people. They are in wheelchairs, and hooked up to tubes and machines. I don’t feel sick.” But once the surgery was over, the disease took it’s toll on him. He lost 30 pounds, and ended up in a wheelchair, connected to tubes just like all the people he saw at the beginning.
    Today we did the cancer walk again. The cancer walk is walking in silence, trying to process the information the doctor just gave you before you get to the car. When we got to the car my father turned to me and said ” I have a feeling this time, things will be much worse.” I just shrugged and told him we will cross that bridge when we get there. But inside we both know what’s coming.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you all

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