Today, we had a guest speaker in my Death and Dying class- Louise Diamond. She was one of the three ladies who spoke at my End of Life Care class last semester. She told us her cancer story and I wanted to reflect on some of the things she talked about.
First off, some background on Louise- of course this is just a very poor summary of a wonderful and unique women and her cancer journey, but here are the main points (please correct me if I’m wrong).
- Louise found a lump during a self breast exam when she was 29. She had a mastectomy. This came at a very stressful point in her life- she was separating from her husband and had an 18 month old daughter.
- A second lump was found in her other breast that was not related to the first lump they found. She underwent another mastectomy.
- She was cancer free for thirty years (although the life expectancy back then was maybe two years), and in that time she was able to: explore herself and her connection to the world around her, make a career in international peace maker, began meditating, and fun doing other natural and spiritual ways to reflect and live.
- In 2004, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after going in for a scan for abdominal pain. She went through chemotherapy, seven years remission, chemo and then decided to stop treatment.
- Now, she is doing well, she is living life, and not waiting around for death.
Louise is a very authentic person. She talked about her spiritual journey- “I gladly traded my breasts for spiritual awakening”. She adopted many Native American beliefs and begun to connect to all the energy that ties the life force together. “The way I was living changed from solid and rigid (like her tumors), to a free flowing connection to the world”.
It was really touching to see after all these years it was still emotionally difficult to tell her parents. She talked about how helpless her parents looked. That’s literally the word I would use when I remember my parents. I kind of felt like I let them down, you know? Obviously I know I didn’t, but your parents work so hard to protect you from the big bad world that it must be devastating when there was nothing you could do to prevent something like this. They help you with homework, deal with your thing hormones during puberty, and watch you go from kindergarten to your first “big girl” job. The last thing they want is for something to be wrong and not be able to anything to help.
The other thing I loved about this (although I just loved all of it) is the fact she brought one of her best friends. They have been friends for 65 years… sixty-five!! That’s amazing! Its really cool that some of the people I reached out to really responded to me and my needs. I don’t expect people to know what to do (I don’t even know what I need most of the time), but I feel safe confiding in you all. It’s important to have those people you can look to for help, and I know they will do their best to ease any of my suffering. I hope you all feel the same with me. I have made some really great friendships through this that I know will last me a very long time. She also talked about how some people just showed up out of the blue and really “came out of the wood work”. I have a friend like that- I’m really glad you and I were able to reconnect. You’ve been really wonderful to me even through the rough time you’ve been dealing with in your own life.
While listening to her speak, I formed a few questions and picked up some from other classmates that I wanted to contemplate on:
- What do you think of death?– I’m actually not afraid of death. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I am confident that it will be greater than anything I can imagine. I have confidence that whatever comes next is something amazing. The thing that does upset me, is the fact that I’m going to miss out on all the people I love and their accomplishments! Like… grandkids going to college, the invention of the flying wheelchair? What if one of my friend’s kids is in the olympics!
- Do you ever wonder what your life would be like without cancer? Do you think you would feel as fulfilled or enlightened?– I would not be where I am today without the opportunities for self exploration that are presented in a serious diagnosis such as cancer. This situation made me face my life and myself and think about what is really important to me. How I want to carry out this life even out helps me realize how I want to live my life and deal with the rough patches ahead- and the people I want right by my side through it all.
- What was the hardest thing to accept on your cancer journey?– Accepting that this is a substantial deal in my life. It’s funny, the way people treat you is the way you treat yourself. Of course we all know I’m going to be fine and beat this, but people treat me like it’s already over. I have to remember that this is my cancer journey and that even though it won’t be in the forefront of my mind every day years down the road, it has really helped me figure out what’s important in my life. Right now it IS a big deal, and I need to remember that and not feel self conscious about it. I need to learn to give myself more credit and be proud of myself- sometimes I have to be my own cheerleader.
- Did religion play into your journey?– I would say so. To me, being a UU is seeking spiritual growth and the freedom to find and truth and meaning. I think that I practice this every day in growing and finding out who I am as a person.
The optimist in me said “alright cancer, let’s make this an adventure”.
PS- I already made $100 for my Relay for Life! my goal is $500 by April 25th! yay! And I’m still waiting on that thyroglobulin test!