This past weekend was very strange for me. Extremely disconcerting. And very sad.
Last weekend I drove out to the town I went to college in and met three friends from college. We hadn't seen each other in a while, and it was nice to see them. It would have been even nicer under different circumstances.
We met at a benefit dinner for one friend's younger sister. Her sister has been battling a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. She has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for 30 weeks. They plan on continuing for another 24 weeks. She has been experiencing terrible side effects from the treatment: nausea, weakness, intestinal bleeding, diarrhea, vomiting, sores on her skin, losing her hair, and a plethora of others. She has had days where she cannot hug her small children, for fear of catching their "sniffles." And her prognosis is poor. They do not have on record any patient who has lived past 6 years of diagnosis.
She looked so little and frail.
She is 37 years old.
I see her, and I can't stop thinking of her as Jane's little sister who came to visit at college with her curly curly hair and her baggy sweatshirts. How we would all cram into Jane's room and bring snacks and watch movies with her little Roz. How we would tease her and make her laugh, though she pretended to be mad. How she said she couldn't wait to go to college. And now she is dying.
It's easy for me to say, since I'm not in her situation. I'm sitting at home, safe and sound and healthy. I may think differently if I were in her shoes. But I don't think I'd do it. I don't think I'd undergo 54 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. I don't think I'd want to spend the remainder of my life in hospitals, hooked up to IV's. I wouldn't want to be nauseous and weak. I wouldn't want to be told not to hug my nieces and nephews.
It seems so backward, the way we approach chronic illness. We surround ourselves with toxic chemicals in our homes, our yards, and our water supply. We eat foods loaded with artificial ingredients. Even the "natural" ingredients are genetically modified. And then when we get sick, our bodies are pumped full of toxins aimed at destroying rapidly growing cells. They are very non-specific in their effects and end up weakening the immune system; our body's defense against illness. And making us sick with their side effects.
It just seems like there has to be a better way! Shouldn't we be focusing more on preventing chronic illness -- limiting the use of toxic chemicals in our homes and our environment? Eating cleaner food? Strengthening our immune systems? It just seems like common sense.
And what about me? I made a big decision to change my life completely -- quit my job and pursue a lifelong dream because I said "Just because my life isn't broken doesn't mean I can't fix it." Then decided failure wasn't an option. Yet applying "Just because I'm not sick doesn't mean I can't get better," I fall short. I allow myself to rationalize when I fall off the clean eating wagon. I opt for more toxic solutions because they are easier or more convenient. I let failure be an option. Even though the stakes are much higher. Where is my common sense?
We -- I -- get so many things wrong!
But we did get at least one thing right.
Roz and Jane both were so happy we came. They were genuinely touched. "It means so much to have friends surrounding you when you really need them!" they said. And for a little while that night, we sat together and made little Roz in her baggy clothes, minus the curly hair, laugh and laugh. For a little while, it was like we were back in college, crammed in Jane's room, having the time of our lives. For a little while, everything was good.