Note: Share this message with #VibrantCruz. This hashtag is especially for the most cheerful person I have met till now. I am glad Cruz chose this platform for sharing her story.
Over to you, Cruz.
I’m going to answer a question no one asks. People must wonder. I certainly would. I’m going to tell you about what it’s like to know your time is limited. It’s a taboo subject. My aim in revealing this side of dying is to help aid those who may be going through similar situations.
I cannot tell you what watching someone waste away is like. Those in the unfortunate position of watching it happen might better understand the process. Once those questions are answered, you might be able to enjoy better your remaining time together.
By preparing for the worst, you can make the absolute most of the time you have left. Be free to be happy in the best of times.
I’m a 31-year-old, single mother of seven children, five girls, and two boys. My oldest is 16, and the baby is one. My marriage ended before the diagnosis came down. I was a student chasing my career dream of becoming a surgeon. It happened the year before I was due to start medical school.
I was a student chasing my career dream of becoming a surgeon. It happened the year before I was due to start medical school.
Eight years of foolishly ignoring obvious symptoms like chronically swollen glands left me with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Now stage four, chemotherapy didn’t work for me. Going through the treatment process exhausted my debilitated body.
Now stage four, chemotherapy didn’t work for me. Going through the treatment process exhausted my debilitated body.
Simply put, I quit.
Today, I work at a freelance writer for my site, The Freelance Dance. I’m actively searching for alternative options to help me extend my time here. My kids need me. So it’s my job to research potential clinical trials and diet trends with hope.
Still, I know the day will come. I feel my body slowing down. Aches and pains are now chronic, debilitating, and frightening. There’s no stopping it. It’s like a train heading toward me at an unknown speed. Some days it feels as if it’ll be here in days. My kidneys are failing. My liver is affected. Nothing makes sense.
It’s like a train heading toward me at an unknown speed. Some days it feels as if it’ll be here in days. My kidneys are failing. My liver is affected. Nothing makes sense.
My oncologist likes to remind me that I’m far too young to be experiencing these problems. I didn’t understand what he meant until I started treatment. The radiation queue and chemotherapy waiting room was packed with elderly folks. I was the youngest person they’d had. I was 28.
I didn’t lose hope keeping this thought in mind:
Everyone who goes through this remembers the day his or her situation went from crappy to dire. Mine was Thursday, April 24th, 2014. That was the day I learned I was terminally ill.
My doctor brought me in to investigate a series of complaints I was having. My head, back, and hips hurt. Scans revealed my cancer had moved into these areas and was setting up condos. He said they’d radiate my head, and re-start my chemotherapy sessions. After warning me not to get my hopes up, he smiled, hugged me, and sent me on my way.
He said they’d radiate my head, and re-start my chemotherapy sessions. After warning me not to get my hopes up, he smiled, hugged me, and sent me on my way.
First came the anger. It’s the first stage of grief. I grieved for a life I hadn’t had, for time I had forgotten to waste. So many shoulders, so little time. I was afraid.
No one wants to die. It’s not natural. And here I was faced with the impossible. I was losing a battle against a threat I could not even see.
Talk About It, Even If You Don’t Want To
Listen to them
When you love someone who’s just heard the worst news of their lives, listen. I certainly went on and on about what I was going through, but I needed to process it. I needed to understand what it meant to die.
I promise it’ll stop. But initially, for the first six months at least, love them enough to hear them say the worst words and phrases you’ve ever listened to.
This part of it is all about making sense of it. We’re not designed to know our end. When we do, our minds can’t process it. It’s like learning a new language. Please hear it all. It’ll hurt your heart and turn your stomach, but we’ll make up for it.
Then, we plan for the day we won’t be here. That’s what comes next. Initially, we’re obsessed with planning. We know the day our breathing will be no more.
We hyper focus in on planning for that day. At this point, we think it’ll happen any minute, and we don’t want to get caught with our proverbial pants down.
I went through my insurance, debt, and credit issues. Financially, I wanted to make sure my children would be fed well and cared for with their father.
I went nuts.
All I needed to know was that I wouldn’t leave them broken hearted and broke. The news wasn’t good. It sent me into a tailspin to try and pick up more work as a freelance ghostwriter.
We realize we’re leaving people behind. All the planning turns into this grand realization that there are people who will be left to sit in the aftermath of something we’re going to cause.
Our hearts break for the second time. In the first we grieved for our loss. This second one is about grieving the people we’ll leave behind.
Protecting our loved ones
The realizations, all the planning, all the epiphanies, they all end here. From this point on, we’re stuck on protecting them by informing them.
I’ve done this with my entire family. Every little thing they know. Because information is power, I tell them what I can. But, I don’t just spill the beans. I buffer bad news.
By doing so, I think I’m benefitting them. I don’t want to interfere with their hopes for my recovery. Hope is all we have, after all. Instead, I want them to prepare mentally for what’s coming.
We won’t reveal it all. At this stage, you’ll just get the foundation of the truth. If cancer spread and it’s in someone’s pancreas and spine, you’re likely to only know about the spine.
So you won’t ask why it hurts when it does. We count on you to not ask.
Don’t Reject Them
When you get the phone call at 2:00 A. M. from your ailing family member or friend, take the call. Yes, we’re likely to understand that you’re human and need sleep.
But we no longer do. Time becomes increasingly precious. The number of good days we’ll have will stop. We see it. We feel it. Please know this.
Usually during these phone calls (especially in the beginning), I’ll talk about the best times I, and the person on the other end have had. I go on and on about trips, meals, and conversations. Don’t ignore it. Take the call.
Accept every invitation
I’ve invited my friends to every dinner I’ve made. In the year-and-change since I learned about this, I’ve slowed down. My body doesn’t respond as easily anymore.
Where last year I prepared the entire Thanksgiving Day meal. This year, I only made the turkey. Even then, my teens helped me. I couldn’t have done it without them.
If we ask you to come, it’s not for us. It’s for you. It’s our way of being considerate to your pain, the pain we won’t be there to carry you through. It’s a chance to make memories and laugh at our jokes.
Please remember them. Laughter will help you heal from your grief. Wounds will scar more quickly if you’re able to laugh. Offer invitations. Please do this. Please don’t ignore this part.
Don’t ever say, “If you feel up to it…,” because even at our worst, we’ll probably say yes. The only time we won’t is if we’re nearing the end. This is your rubric. This is how you’ll know you have days to weeks left.
People always ask me if I need anything. My answer is always to ask for a steak dinner and a margarita. Mind you, I was once a vegan.
Now That You Know…
Take them wherever they want to go. Feed them. Love them. Don’t forget to do it their way. They’ll probably ask you for a cigarette if they’re brazen enough. Don’t read them the side of the box where the surgeon general warns against fetal deformities. Hand them one if you’ve got it.
All we want is for someone to love us through it. If you’ve read this far, you do. You love them enough to talk to them and give in to their whims. Good for you!
Since T-Day, I’ve gone skydiving, bungee jumping, and rock climbing. I was pretty active. Now, my body couldn’t handle any of it. But that’s okay. I’ve made peace with it.
I realize now that my life isn’t about me. It’s about all the people who will feel my absence. Everything I do is about buffering their pain. I’m glad they let me try.
Author Bio: Cruz Santana is a mother of seven, a professional freelance writer and an editor in San Antonio, Texas with a background in science and medicine. A ghostwriter since 2007, she recently switched her focus to writing for the web, a journey she chronicles in a project called, My Sweet November