Arts & Entertaiment
This Saturday, my sister will be dead 3 months after a brave battle with cancer. A harsh reality that isn't just confined to my world. You see, the cold, hard facts are that someone you know will get cancer. It's just a sad fact of life. Be it a family member, relation, friend or someone you know of. Someone in your world will get cancer. A scary thought, but unfortunately a truism. Think of your own circle and you'll find that cancer has knocked on a door you know. The only thing that you can wish for is that it isn't your doorbell that's ringing.
Cancer is a horrible, horrible disease. It eats away at the cancer sufferer until eventually there is nothing left. Cancer has no dignity. It is an equal rights killer. It attacks people from all walks of life, and reduces them to dust. My sister was 44 years old when she died. 44. She fought a steadfast, and heroic battle that ultimately ended in defeat. And yet it reduced her to nothing. A strong willed, and stoic lady, cancer ravaged her body as she endeavoured to remain upbeat. Until it took her mind. Then the battle faded, and the game was up. Her mind was precious to her and once that was gone, it was hard for her to carry on.
Once you lost a loved one to cancer, you realise how awkward a situation it is for someone on the outside to understand. First things first. No day you die is a 'happy day'. Having watched her battle from pitch side, the one thing my sister wanted more than anything was time. A simple request, and one that went both ways as all we wanted was more time with her. One of the most heartbreaking conversations I have ever had with anyone was one I had with Jo after her devastating diagnosis when she cried, and was begging for more time. "All I want is time" she repeated. It was a conversation that was repeated a month before she died, of how she was going to spend her time once she recovered. She had so many plans, and so little time. And that's all we wanted for her. Time. More time. But more is never enough. I used to utter the "a happy day" mantra myself before, but not now. A family who lose a loved one won't appreciate the happiness of the loss of someone they never wanted to lose, no matter what the pain endured. For a cancer sufferer, pain equals time.
Another mistake to avoid is that if you don't understand the diagnosis, please don't speak. I had a laughable conversation with an elderly lady a few months from the end, who knew of my sister's illness. The lady enquired after her, and I replied "Era, not great. She's beginning to fail a bit." The lady was completely non-plussed, and replied "Era go on. She's that way a while now" with a dismissive tone of Jo's suffering. I was flabbergasted and took a moment to compose myself. "You do know it's cancer. Terminal cancer has a habit of killing people." I was completely taken aback that someone could be so rude. If someone is diagnosed with terminal cancer, don't try to belittle it. Cancer kills, and terminal cancer definitely kills. Take it from me.
Another emotive platitude is when someone tells you that your loved one has "gone to a better place". There is no better place than home. For the sufferer or their family. Where do you think they would prefer to be? At home trumps death every time. Also, what if you don't believe in "the better place"? Then you've opened a can of worms that just won't go back into the can.
People mean well, and I have uttered every sentence that I now scoff at prior to Jo's illness. I truly believed that people suffering would welcome death. An end to their struggles. I now know that to be wrong. I would always try to find the silver lining in all diseases, and will continue to do so. But not a disease of terminal diagnosis. I now know the futility of hoping against hope. The house always wins. I also struggle with the idea of passing over. Over where? How will we recognise them? How can someone in the prime of their life diagnosed with terminal cancer face a God who bestowed the disease? I know I wouldn't be too welcoming of that God. But, that' s a conversation for another day.
One of the things that broke my heart concerning Jo's illness was my helplessness. I would have done anything for Jo, but yet there was nothing I could do. Nothing. I didn't have the cure, so all I could offer was insignificant in comparison. And yet I offered. Every time. "If there's anything I can do, just shout." And there was nothing. Nothing. I often think of how stupid I must have sounded. If it were me, I would have replied "A cure would be nice". But Jo was a classier human being than I will ever be. Friends rally round, and the good ones offer everything imaginable. But, the one thing Jo craved was normality. She never wanted to put any one out, or intrude in any fashion. If she had her way, she'd have run away to die, and sent a quick note to say she'd died. Company and normality. That's what she wanted. All of the gossip, and usual banter.
How she faced into life after the initial diagnosis, I will never know. I'm quick to say I'd just throw the towel in but I'd like to think I'd fight a good fight. But Jo fought the ultimate fight to the very end, and it was cruel to watch. She wanted to live so badly, and it was horrendous to watch someone die when all they want to do is live. Even her last 24 hours on earth she spent fighting to stay alive. I can't even begin to imagine what was going through her mind as her brain flickered intermittently. Was she crying for us to help her? People will tell you that the hearing is the last thing to go, and I hope for Jo it was. The people who mattered most to her got to tell her how wonderful she was, and how we loved her. And this time she had to listen!
Terminal Cancer is a double-edged sword. It not only takes the sufferers life, it leaves a huge void for the family and friends left behind. I know from my own point of view, I miss her terribly. I miss the weekly phone calls which developed into daily texts in the last year of her life. It's her company I miss the most, and I can pay her no higher compliment. I know my parents are devastated, and no parent should bury their child. We have all lost something. Jo her life; my parents their daughter; My brother and sister a sister; her nieces and nephews an aunt; and her friends a friend. Time will heal, but we will never heal fully. From once Jo was diagnosed, everything changed and life will never return to normality. It's how we deal with the 'new' normality that will define our future happiness. Life continues no matter how much we'd like it to stop for a brief moment. There's that word again. Time.