"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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Be nice to me. I'm dying.


The above headline is the title of a blog entry that caught my attention on a website I hadn’t visited for quite some time. It’s written by a woman named Mary Beth Bonacci.

I’ll let her be my “guest blogger” this week. There’s no way I could improve on the point she makes.

She writes:

When we were teenagers, my brother used to say “Be nice to me. I’m dying.” I’d ask him of what he was dying, and he’d say “I don’t know yet. But I’m dying.”

Indeed, we all are.

Okay, I need to stop there for a minute to say that, as humorous as the above statement sounds, I stooped low enough during cancer treatment to play the “cancer card” . . . uh . . . more than once (or, in my case, it was more the “Be nice to me--I may be dying” card). When I think about it now, it makes me laugh.

My husband came home from a particularly bad day at work and was complaining about something which, in the scheme of things, I had deemed rather insignificant. I listened to him complain and then my daughter started whining about some sort of ache or pain or (again, what I deemed to be) a rather insignificant malady, whereupon I blurted out, “Try going through chemo! At least you’re not bald! At least you’re not worried about whether you’re going to be alive in two years . . .  or five! At least you don’t have cancer!” End of conversation. <Insert sound of crickets chirping.>

You know the saying, “Don’t try to kid a kidder”? Well, don’t try to out-complain a cancer patient. <smirk> Hey, there have to be some advantages to having cancer besides free hats and pink lapel ribbons.

Where was I? Oh yes, continuing on, Mary Beth writes:

It’s a fundamental truth of the spiritual life that we need to be reminded of the inevitability of our own death. This ride doesn’t last forever. Indeed, it doesn’t last particularly long. I’m not interested in hastening my own death, but neither am I particularly interested in living forever. An eternity of the daily to-do list just doesn’t appeal to me. We need the sense that we’re moving toward a destination, and that one day we will actually arrive there.

But we get very distracted by the trappings of the journey. I love buying new clothes. I love decorating my house. And yet, it isn’t my permanent home I’m decorating. Nor is it my permanent body. I don’t like that. When I die, some poor family member of mine is going to have to schlep through this house and all of the clothing and “stuff” it contains – most of which will probably be carted off to Goodwill. A lifetime of accumulated possessions reduced to a loaded charity truck and a tax-deductible receipt.

It helps to think in those terms once in a while. It isn’t pleasant, but it helps. I suspect that’s why God usually starts taking all of those things away while we’re still here. I see the lines start to form on my face, and I realize I can’t hang on to youth or to physical appearance. It reminds me that, in the end, I can only hang on to God. And that’s good.

She goes on to write about how people who are dying, if they are open to God, often make very significant spiritual progress very quickly.

She continues, “I thought I was dying once. I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. It took a while to ascertain exactly how serious it was, and what my long-term prognosis would be. It was amazing, in those first few days after I was diagnosed, how radically my priorities changed. I found myself repulsed by mass media. Couldn’t stand to listen to the radio. Standing in a shopping mall I felt surrounded by trinkets, junk. It wasn’t that I had thought my way to some kind of conclusion about the uselessness of media noise or consumer goods. It was visceral, instinctive, instant. I just saw it all through new eyes. Of course, once I completed treatment and realized I had every reason to expect a long, healthy life, I went back to the radio and the Banana Republic.”

Boy, can I relate. This is one of the things that has bothered me since finishing cancer treatment. It’s as if the year of cancer treatment peeled back a layer of life and allowed me to see the big picture in a way I hadn’t before. And, little by little, as I regained health and vigor, my memory began to fade. Once again, I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. It truly is a double-edged sword. In many ways, I welcome the return to “normal life.” It’s exhausting being forced to think about my mortality every minute of the day (or night).

But as much as I’m getting back to the rat race, I’ve recognized that something has changed in me. I find it harder to ignore what used to be the still, small voice of God. I’m not able to distract myself as easily as before. It’s not for lack of trying, believe me. I’ve got the Facebook thing down. I’ve laughed at stupid videos on Youtube. I put in my hours at work and plan new projects. Yet, I’m brought up short. Nothing seems to satisfy like it once did. I used to look forward to a fantasy vacation in some tropical location. Now, not even the thought of sipping margaritas on a white sand beach does anything for me. Everything comes up short unless there’s something of eternal significance connected with it.

I’m not sure what all of this means for whatever life I have left to live. I think of this shift in my perspective like the character Adrian Monk (from the TV show, Monk) thinks of his obsessive-compulsive disorder: “It’s a gift,” he says, “and a curse.”

It’s probably pretty apparent why it would be a gift. But I’m discovering it’s also a curse (of sorts). It’s as if life here on earth has lost its luster. Not the really important things, mind you, but the day-to-day trivialities. None of it makes sense. Well, it never did pay off before anyway, but at least there was some kind of illusion that it did. Now the illusion has been stripped away for me. The other day, I found myself tearing up while in line at Taco Del Mar. What’s wrong with me?

Well, the truth is that I’ve been through a pretty life-altering experience and I think I’m still processing it and will be for quite some time. I knew that post-treatment was going to be hard, but I guess I thought I’d already dealt with it. Apparently not. I Googled “post-traumatic stress” and read the following symptoms:

Bad dreams
Frightening thoughts
Feeling emotionally numb
Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
Feeling tense or “on edge”
Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts

Well, yes, I have (and am) experiencing all of the above symptoms, particularly the “emotionally numb” part. Here it is almost Christmas and I feel like I’m sleepwalking my way through the holidays (and life in general). In turn, I experience guilt about it due to the fact that my daughter won’t be home much longer and I want to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of the holidays as possible. Then I worry that something’s wrong with me and I get depressed. Aaaagghhh!!!!! Is it any wonder that I just want to gorge on chocolate and wait for the suger-high to kick in?!!!!!

I’ve had a hard time admitting to myself that I’m depressed. But now that I admit it, I feel that I’m on the road to recovery. People complimented me on how well I did throughout treatment. Well, I’m finished with treatment and now it’s catching up with me. All of the fanfare has died down and I’m picking up the pieces. I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s the truth.

From the beginning, I wanted to share the truth about how cancer has affected me and this blog is my way of dealing with it, a healing tool. I am not going to hide from it. Rather, I believe that bringing the dark things out into the light will help me. Which is why I have decided to see a counselor in a couple of weeks. There’s a whole lot of jumbled up stuff going on down inside and I need some help sorting it out.

I will keep you posted, dear reader, because I’m running the race . . . . and I’m not to the finish line yet.

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Reader Comments (3)

Wow. Great post. I can relate. Not totally on the same level, but at some level. I can't seem to enjoy life because I tear it apart and look for the meaning of it all. I think most people don't look at life too closely until they begin to lose it. They do the same thing with relationships. If I look for the Love of God in all this, it begins to make more sense.

December 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErik Bohlin

Great blog Dana. I can relate. You really should consider writing a book. As an avid reader, I can diagnose what is fresh, enjoyable reading and what is not. Your writing is a pleasure to read. It has a universal appeal, and that's the thing that is so hard to teach someone if it doesn't come naturally to them.

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim Storey

Thank you, Eric and Tim, for your comments. I always have a little trepidation just before I hit the "Publish" button for my blog entries . . . it's a little scary putting myself out there to the world. But I ask myself, "Is this true?" (and it always is), so I go ahead and click that button. I'm finding that as I write about these things, there are many people out there who can relate on some level. So it's a blessing for me to hear their stories as well. This is one of the reasons I wanted to set up a new blog--one where I could receive comments and enter into more of a dialog with readers. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. :~)

December 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana Chrysler

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