I have now been fighting cancer for two and a half years. I’ve become the most-radiated patient my doctors know of (although I do not yet glow in the dark). My doctors have predicted my imminent death several times, but I have outlived all their predictions.
Even if you have terminal cancer, you don’t know exactly when you are going to die. You may die earlier than expected or later than expected. You may even survive long enough for a cure to be discovered. In the end, how long you end up living is less important than what you do with the life you have left.
I am still fighting hard. I’m working to take care of myself and stay as healthy as a cancer patient can possibly be. I’m finding activities to do every day to better myself.
I just can’t give up on life.
As difficult as it may be, when you are terminally ill it is important to make funeral arrangements as soon as possible so that your loved ones don’t have to worry about how you would like to be remembered.
My mom and I started my funeral planning entirely spontaneously. We were out running errands and happened to pass a cemetery full of headstones sporting tacky fake flowers. I couldn’t really tell her that she could only use fake flowers over my dead body – after all, they would be situated over my dead body. But I did let her know in no uncertain terms that there would be no flowers over my grave. Instead, I wanted for all of my friends and family worldwide to send in a rock or a stone of some sort to be placed on the gravestone. (This made for a funny mental picture of the postman trying to deliver all the rocks, struggling under the weight, thinking to himself, What the hell’s in here, anyway? Rocks?!)
Then my step-grandmother died. As her five sons and their families drove in from Texas and Oklahoma, her daughter had to make just one phone call to set all the pre-arranged funeral services in motion.
That led to an appointment with my rabbi to discuss funeral arrangements and customs and cemetery plots. The rabbi doesn’t usually plan funerals in advance, but he was willing to explain the general process to my mom because she is not Jewish and had never been to a Jewish funeral before. We bought a cemetery plot, discussed the headstone design, and found out which funeral home the local Jewish community used and where to buy a casket. We even had a conversation about what kind of casket I wanted (a plain pine box) and what clothing I wanted to be buried in (a plain white shroud and my chai necklace, since even though we all die, I still believe in the power of life and G-d’s promise of a bodily resurrection).
I think that making funeral plans in advance was a huge relief to my mom, since it got a lot of important choices out of the way. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but you just have to dive in head-first and get it over with.
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but it is also the least favorite holiday of many Jews. We go for 25 hours without food or drink (and some other pleasures in life). Every year during the pre-Yom Kippur season, Jewish circles are abuzz with advice for how best to approach the fast – what to eat the day before, how to stave off hunger- and thirst-related headaches the day of, and how best to break the fast afterward. Those who are sick, like me, are exempt from the fast, although we do our eating and drinking discreetly and out of sight of the rest of the community, and stick to water and light meals.
A friend of mine remarked that she’d trade places with me any day, but that’s coming from someone who lacks perspective. Yom Kippur is just one day out of the year. And once it’s done, it’s done. But when you have cancer, you have to fast many days out of the year, and once you’re done, they poke you and prod you and perform all sorts of tests on you, only to make you fast again! I spent way too much time fasting the first year I had cancer, and I will go for Yom Kippur over medical-related fasting any time. (Let’s not even talk about the time where I could not put food in my mouth for a whole month while I was undergoing whole-brain radiation.)
So, be careful what you wish for. I’m sure you most likely don’t want to trade places with me.