A Friend's Cancer Fight Imparts Life Lessons

Tuesday, 24 Aug 2010 04:38 PM

By Dr. Laura

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Yesterday I received some very bad news about a friend. A year ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She never smoked and had been very physically active and religious, with a positive personality and she never even used a curse word.

I called her every day as she went through surgery and chemo. It looked like all was good. But it wasn’t. It isn’t.

This cancer is aggressive, and spread even in the soup of strong chemotherapy.

Now they’ve told her they cannot operate. She will have radiation every day for seven weeks and then be on chemo daily for the rest of her life.

Then they told her what her life would be like. Her esophagus probably is going to be severely impacted. And then there's the nausea, acne, and on and on.

She told me she was going to fight and win this and just tolerate whatever comes. I’m going to be calling her every day again. I left the conversation feeling deeply sick to my stomach.

I had to go do a buoy race in my sailboat. I got to the boat later than usual. I felt bad doing something so frivolous when my friend may be dying.

We started the race and not one of the seven of us noticed the course we were supposed to take. That meant we had no idea — in the midst of a dozen possible combinations — where we were going.

But it was a beautiful, cool night with a gentle breeze with some puffs to keep the boat going.

I didn’t care that we didn’t know where we were going. Usually I would be pretty annoyed that we’re competing with that kind of stupid handicap.

It was something she’d said: “I think everybody should have a bucket list.” Meaning, we should live each day fully, assuming that is the only day we have left.

I was out on the ocean amongst friends, in the cool of the early evening, sailing along in the rolling ocean. What a blessing.

I asked the crew to vote each time we rounded a buoy as to what the next one probably was. We guessed wrong and went from first place to last place as we went farther out to sea for a more distant buoy than the one we were supposed to go around.

I said to the crew, “You know, it doesn’t matter. We know we were first. Now we are having a beautiful sail out here almost alone, and getting more practice. All is good.”

My tactician, who was nervous that he would get in trouble for forgetting to note the course, had to be calmed down. I told him, “What does it really matter? What matters is that we’re all having a great time and actually doing a great job.”

And — even though the Type A personality that I am — I meant it.

I don’t think I had a more satisfying finish to a buoy race ever.

Life is for the living and should be lived with relish. When people are fighting for their lives, it points out how precious life is. So nobody should waste any of it.

And so many people do waste it: holding grudges, not letting go of past hurts, holding themselves back from happiness because of anger or fears, letting disappointments and frustrations consume them, using drugs, being drunk, sitting in front of a TV or computer screen playing games alone, and on and on and on.

I still feel sick to my gut that someone so kind and sweet is facing this cancer horror. I am in awe of her attitude, and grateful for the reminder.

Here she is facing sickness and pain every day. Yet she said she wakes up every day grateful for another day.

We should all not wait for cancer to do the same thing.


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