Reframing the “D” word
For those who have been following along with the bouncing ball that is my life, you know a few things about me:
I have two primary cancers
I am extremely optimistic and positive (mostly)
I cannot stress this enough - I am not going anywhere. I plan on living for many more years and, when I die (which we all do - I hope that wasn't a spoiler for anyone) I will die with cancer, not from it.
I have no doubt at all that I am going to beat all of this and come out of it a better person with a higher degree of Burtness than how I went into it all. I am already on my way.
Ok. Let's discuss the elephant in the room, death. It's a taboo subject. No one talks about it or likes to acknowledge that it happens to every living thing at some point. Guess what? It does.
Despite the fact that I'm not going anywhere I'd be lying if I said I've never thought about it. Especially since early July 2022, when I was diagnosed and in the hospital. My first thought, due to the incredibly unintentionally successful marketing campaign that is cancer (maybe a future book!) was "Am I going to die and how long do I have?" I asked those questions because of what I've been led to believe in our culture, movies, tv, etc. The accepted belief is that cancer = death. Guess what. It doesn't. I was going to quote some data but it gets complicated quickly. Suffice it to say that cancer death rates are dropping quickly due to medical and lifestyle changes. So cancer is not the death sentence people think it is. There are also so many types and different degrees of cancer and so many variables. Cancer is an umbrella concept, not a condition in and of itself. And we are all different people. As my new fave Dr., Donald Abrams says, cancer is a weed and our job is to better tend the garden. All of us are different gardens.
All that being said, in our culture the perception of cancer is death. So I think about it. And I am obsessed with pop culture (Netflix anyone? Don't watch "From Scratch", that was a tough one!)
I've been wrestling a lot with how I feel about the subject and finally had some clarity in a recent therapy session. I am actually not afraid of dying. I am afraid of not living. Death is final in my opinion. If I die, I'm dead. I won't know it. I won't feel it (how I die is another topic altogether not for this post but please don't knife me, strangle me, or drown me).
What scares me the most is not living. Despite what I'm going through I love my life. I love the world, the planet, my family, my dog, my friends, fresh air, activities, laughing, crying, thinking, feeling, and sharing. I love being Burt, and I am proud of my Burtness and the level it's at, despite everything.
So, my thoughts on dying are that I am not afraid of death at all, I am afraid of giving up what I have, what I experience, who I love, and what I feel. I don't know if this clarity helps you, but it sure as shit helps me. And it drives a lot of the decisions I make and my focus on living as much as I can.
I've talked a lot about how I feel like cancer has given me so much. It's taught me a ton about myself and the world. I am so grateful for all that I have learned and how it's changed me. I am beginning to believe that we all need a cold hard slap of reality to help us make the most of our lives, get us off of our treadmill of routine, and help us to really appreciate everything. I am more appreciative now of absolutely everything from any type of weather, food, people entertainment, scenery, music, clouds, etc. I won't be one of those annoying people who say everything is the most amazing thing ever, but I am much more amazed by everything around me.
So, here is the tough part. How can you help people (or yourself) with death? For starters, don't distract or change the subject. Death is as much a part of life as life is (in some ways more. People spend a lot of life thinking about death. I am pretty sure that people don't spend much time at all in death thinking about life!). Think about things. Celebrate things, and experience the things you want to. Yes, even making a bucket list was a big, therapeutic help to me (I will share mine soon). As I said, I don't plan on going anywhere but making a list of experiences I want to have was healing and fun! And I don't have to have them all in the next 3 days, I have many years to accomplish my goals.
Most importantly, if it's you thinking about it, let yourself think about it, it's completely normal. And if you are scared or sad, that's ok too. Give yourself the space to feel the feels (as the kids say). It might help you focus more on what it is that truly matters to you. It's a good thing.
If it is someone you care about talking about death, listen and acknowledge their thoughts. Don't try to make it better. Allow them the space no matter how hard it is for you. We all want support and to feel heard, we don't always need solutions. It's really tough but try it. If you listen and let the person process (however they do it) it will be beyond helpful to you (in dealing with it) and to them.
This is a long post for me, but I think it's such an important topic that is just not talked about a lot. And anyone who says they never think about it is either lying to themselves, lying to make you feel better, or completely disconnected.
As Phil Esposito once said (hall of fame hockey player) when asked about achieving some milestone (I am taking a lot of licenses here!) "I want to do it because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow" (complete paraphrase).
Guess what, we could all get hit by a bus tomorrow. Let's make sure we make the time we have, the time we want.
I would love to hear your thoughts if anyone feels like sharing. It's a tough topic for sure but one that we shouldn't be afraid to talk about.