Recently many people Tweeted, blogged, and FB statused (!) reflections on two dear friends they lost to metastatic breast cancer a year ago in February. I knew neither woman; they were, in a sense, before my time. Before my time with blogging. Before my time with breast cancer social media. Well, before my time with breast cancer.
So many have spoken so highly of these women, I decided it would be worth my time to get to know one–albeit posthumously–through her blog. So I turned my browser to The Cancer Culture Chronicles and met Rachel. I’m not a patient reader so I started at the beginning and skipped around quite a bit. Funny, smart, and engaging. But I couldn’t read it all.
The way I have been able to deal with a cancer diagnosis has been through my ability to write about my experiences, be open and honest about them, and cut through the fear of most situations with a sarcastic wit. I have had a great response to hormonal therapy, pain management has been nothing short of miraculous, and I am back at the office. But what will the future hold?
After I read Sue Handler’s book Dying in Public: Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer, I was shaken. That median prognosis became a little more palpable for me. And I found the same unease as I read through Rachel’s blog. I am annoyed that I was not able to read it in a relaxed way. Absent was the linear fashion of getting to know a blogger, rising and falling with their triumphs and challenges. That serendipitous and virtual friendship was instead replaced with the desire to know what the next door revealed. What were the symptoms of the next stage? Would it happen fast? How would it affect those around me? Will I not survive past the median? Will I be different?
I have learned that reading the experiences of those who have seen this disease to its end is not a good choice for me. It interrupts my sense of time, urges me to anticipate, and encourages a state of anxiety I would rather not experience. On a level as intimate as this is, I cannot read the words of the past. Dag Hammerskjöld once wrote that feeling uneasiness is a sign that you still have life left in you. This is an ironic statement for individuals with stage iv disease, for our unease is about how much life that may be left.
My condolences to Rachel’s family and her many friends.