Not long after my diagnosis, a family friend gave me Amy Robach’s book Better. I didn’t want to read it. I wasn’t ready to read about other women and their experience with breast cancer, but the day I received it was the day after a particularly horrible night. I had just done my third chemo treatment and was having a horrible reaction to one of the drugs. That night, I’d sat on the floor in my bathroom, sobbing, telling my husband I couldn’t do this anymore. It was too hard, and that night, it was too hard. The next day, I woke up, went to the mailbox, and found a package. Inside was Better and a note from my friend. I threw it in my car and left it there. I didn’t think I was ready.
I drove to work. When I got out of my car, I grabbed the book. I have early morning hall duty, so I thought I’d just glance through the book in between checking tutorial passes. Instead, I was sucked in because I didn’t know her story. I don’t watch the morning shows…they come on at 7 am. I have to be to work by then! So, I didn’t know Amy Robach, her story, or any of it.
I read Better over two days. I texted the friend who’d sent it to thank her. I wasn’t ready, but I needed to read Robach’s story. It helped me. And, a line stuck with me: “Don’t die before you die. We’re all terminal cases.”
I’m a pessmist. I see the worst. I believe the worst. The glasses isn’t just half empty…it’s completely empty. My diagnosis felt (and sometimes still does feel) like a death sentence. But, isn’t that life? We’re all terminal.
We choose how we live. For weeks after my diagnosis and appointments and tests and more appointments and starting chemo, in the back of my mind, I thought, this is my life from now until I die. For weeks, I didn’t live. I existed, and some days, I still just exist, but lately, since I read Better and learned more about Robach’s story, I’ve begun to live again. I don’t want to die, and I really don’t want to die before I die. That’s not how I want to be remembered if this journey goes south. So, slowly, I’m letting go of the pessimism. It’s hard. I’m scared to hope. My experience is that when I start to hope, the powers that be (fate, God, whatever) slap me down and remind me why I’m a pessimist. Yet, I don’t want to die before I die.
I don’t know how this journey will end. None of us do. We hope to live a long, healthy life, but the winds of fate can toss us where it wills. Mortality looms large for me. But, I’m not dead, and I don’t want to just exist. So, that leaves me with one option: live my life, whatever it is or how long (or short) it might be. I owe that to myself, but even more, I owe that to my children and my husband.
I’m not better. Not yet. Not by a long shot, but I am choosing my life over my existence. I think that’s one of the best lessons I can teach my children as we walk this journey. “Don’t die before you die.” Don’t just exist waiting for the next shoe to drop. Live…whatever that looks like. Live.