Living Life Like You’re Dying

Those of us with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer are actively dying. Yet, death is not immediate. The median life expectancy is 2-3 years and I am meeting and hearing of more and more “outliers,” those women who have lived far beyond the median and beyond. Until we know why there are outliers, the newly diagnosed are stuck with the average statistics.

When I learned that I was metastatic, my then radiation oncologist awkwardly gave me a few examples of women who had lived around ten (10) years after being diagnosed. I think she was trying to give me some hope; however, I had just learned that I wouldn’t be celebrating at the end of treatment since treatment would never end and it felt hollow.

Really hollow.

At that point, when I was still grappling with the new reality of living with a terminal diagnosis, my version of living life like I was dying was to radically change my life. To drop the many balls I was juggling and simplify everything so that I could spend whatever time I had left with the boys.

Now that real life has intruded a bit, I find that there is a significant difference between my medical treatment and all that entails and the regular stuff that I have to carry. Laundry, homework, etc., the normal chaos of life with kids and a husband and extended family commitments.

So, how does one live like one is dying?

I’m still figuring that out, but I can definitely say for sure that I don’t wait to do the things I want to do, the things that I enjoy. Others plan trips, go see all the places they’ve always wanted to see. Others make bucket lists of all the experiences they want to have.

All of that feels odd to me.

It feels like counting down to ones last days.

I get that we’re all doing that to a certain extent, especially those of us have already been told that our expected life expectancy will be much much shorter. The reminder of counting down a list is just too much for me. Way too much.

And so, my version of living life while I’m dying is to focus on the present, not put off that which gives me joy, and to keep my cancer life away from my boys. They will have to deal with the reality at some point, but #NotToday.

A long time ago, I stopped making New Years resolutions. It always felt a little odd to me and I just didn’t find myself adhering to any of them anyway, outside of the first week of January. A few years ago, I joined an amazing executive women’s group called Arete and the founder, Dianne Ogle, introduced me to picking a word each year. I’ve been picking a word each year since then and even though I can’t participate as much with the dear women of Arete, it helps me feel close to them.

So, as I live while dying, I will be looking for the sacred in every day life.

What do you hold as sacred in your life?

28 thoughts on “Living Life Like You’re Dying

  1. Wow!

    I hold my new friendships dear to my heart. There’s something very unique about them because if it hadn’t been for cancer I would never have met them in person, online. To me they are all friendships.

    I no longer make new year’s resolutions, I just live and enjoy life, warts and all!

    Thank you for sharing Abigail and for always liking my posts 🥰

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t like the term Bucket List, but I do have Goals. Right after I wad diagnosed Stage 4, I was so, so, so down, and I went with Hubby, my two sons, and a granddaughter to these beautiful gardens near where I’ll be living soon. I casually told my husband that one of my goals was to have our 50th wedding anniversary celebration there. My husband called to reserve it! (He is been amazing throughout all this shit.) The woman laughed and said it was eight years too soon to reserve the space. Since saying that was a goal, I’ve made OTHER goals. for me, it is hopeful.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think many people are confronting their mortality (or the possibility of the mortality of a loved one) in the days of coronavirus. Those of us already living with that reality may have wisdom so share about staying positive, present and even proactive. Thank you for this lovely post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is exactly what I’ve been telling everyone around me! This fear and worry and anxiety that’s so novel for so many is just another day for me. The biggest change right now is having to unexpectedly homeschool my pre-K and first grader! Thank you for reading and commenting. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My friend lived 3 years, almost to the day. She said the whole thing was a “mind fuck”. She couldn’t wrap her head around it and none of us could either. We were optimistic about the outliers and thought for sure she’d be one too. That’s what the “goal” was, for sure. So many people were shocked when she wasn’t.

    I’m a death doula and I’m always thinking about this stuff. It’s my every day. But it changes and evolves and grows as life and I do too. My sacred things are time, my beloveds and all the little things we tend to take for granted that make up life.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I hold life sacred. We are born dying. It’s life around us that we love and want to continue living as long as possible. That’s why it’s important to live to live.

    Regarding statistics, my oncologist said that they do not distinguish between the types of breast cancer cells neither underlying health issues, nor lifestyles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that statistics are generally helpful but cannot be applied individually. Sharing those statistics is important, I believe because others need to know how serious the diagnosis really is when we all look so “good” on the outside.

      And yes, it is important to live, every day. Thank you for reading and commenting!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s hard for me to believe that others read statistics or anything else unless it pertains to them. Or maybe people I meet are strange. 🙂 Two weeks ago I met a breast cancer survivor (8 years) who did not know what type of cancer cells she was treated for.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. A very thought-provoking post and I don’t feel I can comment all that well because while I’ve come close to dying and still consider my lifespan as short and limited, I’m not in your shoes. I do like the idea of savouring the small, simple joys. Not waiting to do things too long or doing things simply to tick them off a list. Doing things that matter to you, not to others or because you feel you ‘should’ want to do them. I love the word of the year strategy (or month/week/day as some do).
    Caz xx

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for candidly sharing your journey. I appreciate and respect you for your honesty.

    I hold my son sacred. I should have this long list but at the end of the day, the truth is the truth. And also thank you for giving me the opportunity to sit and ponder your question. I enjoyed that. Hoping you and yours stay safe from the current chaos 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Abigail, my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2008. She had her first metastatic brain tumour in 2012, then again in 2017 and recently in 2019. She was declared a stage 4 in 2017. Her quality of life has deteriorated much from then. But she finds happiness in small things in life. Like our daily Skype calls, the special dishes that my father prepares for her. We have grown tightly cocooned around each other, to cushion the inevitable fall once it happens. She lived a full filling life and is happy that we are with her. I’m sure that you do too, your posts are really an inspiration to people like me- it gives us hope. I’m really glad that I found your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sacred is a big deal to me there’s two things I hold sacred:
    My word and Love
    You’re word is something you’re born and die with so if it’s tarnished you’re not trustworthy nor can you have deep relationships. Love and hope speak for themselves and without your word it’s difficult to hold those sacred. A virtuous or viscous cycle.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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