My sister, who I’ve introduced before through her blog, A Cancer Journey With Chris, is very sick. She hasn’t put up a new post on her blog since April because living with metastatic cancer has become more than a full-time job for her, it’s 24/7, it’s exhausting, it’s the central, all-encompassing reality for her and for those of us who love her, it’s at the point that her illness is a globe of existence we move into when we’re with her because when you’re with someone this close to the end of life, someone trying to make sense of the hard truth that soon the mystery of time is going to become a closed absolute, everything except figuring out the next meal and a trip to the doctor and helping her up and down the stairs and into the bathroom and rubbing her back while she cries drops away. I know. I’ve been here before.
In Chris’s last blog post she shared a piece she’d written in a journaling class — “Pay attention to the space you are in but stay open to all the possibilities to come. It is the small things that matter. It is the becoming that becomes the being. Always becoming. Pay attention to the process; that is who you are.”
The cancer in Chris’s central nervous system is creating pressure on her brain that makes her cognition fluctuate but she’s still working hard at paying attention to the process. Sometimes she can keep track of what’s going on and then she’s sad, because she understands that she may very well have come to the end of her extraordinary span of beating the odds. Twenty four years ago, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctors said she had a 10% chance of living five more years. Two and a half years ago, when the cancer was found in the lining of her spinal column and her brain, her doctors told her to make her final plans. Soon.
She spent a few months planning her memorial service, talking to her family about what was coming, writing letters to those she loves for them to read after she dies, writing an essay to be read at her service, having a memorial bench installed on the beach in Scituate, Massachusetts where we grew up. Done getting ready to die, she then spent two years living with a close attention to what brought her joy — family and friends, colors, bright blossoms, the ocean, writing, meditation, movies, qigong. She was becoming and being. She sat on her bench
I’ve been spending a lot of time with her and am in awe of her remarkable spirit and the full life she’s created in the face of debilitating illness. Who knows how much time she has left. I do know that I want to spend as much of that time with her as possible.