A friend I had looked forward to seeing for lunch called and asked to reschedule.
She had a terribly bad week. A relative died.
As a late-50s baby boomer, I understood and offered condolences. Illness, long-term care needs and death are claiming more of our parents and other kin in that Depression-era generation.
Many boomers carry a growing burden of grief. We have to support one another. Often, we’re all we’ve got.
Then my friend added that she’d seen her doctor for a long-overdue checkup. The result wasn’t good. She has breast cancer.
None of us wants to hear the C-word pinned to a family member or friend.
It’s worse when we learn that our own bodies — which rebel as we age — face a hostile cancerous takeover. Cancer doesn’t care about the pain and suffering that it causes or that it can kill the host.
Her news launched us into a different conversation. Instead of our usual laughter, we talked about life, focusing on the things that matter and the future.
Life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, strokes, multiple sclerosis and cancer stop us in our tracks. They force us to see that the best friend we’ve ever had is the one we most took for granted: our good health.
When that best buddy disappears, a reassessment follows because everything we were chasing that seemed important pales in comparison to first grieving the loss of good health, and then fighting with everything we’ve got the thing that’s trying to kill us. But that grief is no simple thing.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on grieving
is instructional. First is denial. We can’t accept that the diagnosis is real. It seems hard for our self-focused, party-forever, me-generation. Anger follows with boomers asking “why me?”
Then comes bargaining. We bargain with ourselves. We bargain with friends and with God, saying we’ll give up whatever, become regular church-goers and start donating to good causes if the life-threatening health problem goes away. The depression that follows is tough.
It’s like that Kris Kristofferson country song, “Why Me Lord,” which was a hit single my freshman year in college. The chorus hits between bargaining and depression: “Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so; Help me Jesus I know what I am; Now that I know that I’ve needed You so; Help me Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.”
My friend didn’t know that in 2011 I became a prostate cancer survivor after surgery. With radiation’s help, I am fighting cancer again. I suggested that she look at the battle against cancer as the start of a great journey toward a new future, all about a refocused love for life.
Since first being diagnosed and with the recurrence this year, I have a new appreciation for each day. The last day of every month now gives me great joy because I’ve inched a bit further in life. I don’t ever again want to take that feeling for granted.
I love visiting and helping my daughters — one in New York, the other in North Carolina. I love driving to St. Louis and talking with my 96-year-old dad, who still refuses to accept his age.
He told my sister, Renee, and my partner, Bette, that he is just 48 years old. Renee replied, “I guess I’m only 9,” making us laugh.
Moments like that are life’s treasures. So are true, meaningful friendships, which ask for nothing yet give everything if needed.
Enduring friends are priceless. So are children. Seeing them playing, laughing and learning brings smiles during the most miserable moments.
My friend is starting a new journey, best traveled by looking forward. It’s how she’ll come to enjoy more beautiful tomorrows.