This week marks eight years since my life was turned upside down.
Life is always...difficult. There are always, always, challenges, stress, strife. But generally one charts a course and pretty much stays on it through thick and thin, better or worse.
And then something happens to change all that.
For me it was the untimely, much-too-soon death of my brother. I will never forget the phone ringing, shortly after 7 pm and the voice asking "Your brother is turning blue - is he allergic to something?" "It's his heart" I said.
And dammit if I wasn't right.
I didn't want to be. Oh, how I didn't want to be.
I thought surely, he is young enough, fit enough, strong enough, to get through this. Surely he can.
But he couldn't. He just couldn't.
And then the phone call from the coroner. Since he died at work, his death had to be investigated. So she phoned to talk to me and find out if heart disease was an 'issue' in our family. Well, yes, it was. And so she recommended that I get checked out.
And dammit if I wasn't having 'issues', too. As I found out more, I began to put the pieces together. The increasing fatigue. The shortness of breath on exertion. The purple fingernails - something I had noticed both my brother and I had at our last family dinner at Christmas.
After months of adverse medication reactions, I was finally on a medication regimen that seemed to be working. But the fatigue never stopped. Yes, I was 'better', I was back to a regular routine, I could do aerobic activity without tiring quickly. I was even back to being able to walk up four flights of stairs. Everything was looking...normal. Except I knew that it wasn't. I knew there was something wrong.
Never in my life did I think that the other Big C was in the wings, slowly eroding my health. And so I went through chemotherapy. And as I got over that, it was back to 'normal'. Until gradually it wasn't. Back with the fatigue, back with the shortness of breath under exertion. Back to not being able to walk up four flights of stairs, or hills.
This time surgery. Major surgery. Surgery I really don't want to go through again. I don't want to go through chemotherapy again, either, but my cancer is 'incurable', although indolent (slow growing) and even though I am now well past my due date, as of October I was still in remission.
So what has all of this done to my life?
Well, it has 'saved' it, for one thing.
There is a meme on Facebook that says something to the effect that Big Pharma doesn't create cures, it creates patients. Well, I am here to say that, thanks to Big Pharma, I am still here. Yes, I take lots of pills, but I AM still here to take them.
While I feel I need to tweak the medications to have a better quality of life, I am still here to moan about the adverse effects, not under six feet of ground. Like my brother.
So what has really changed since this week 8 years ago?
Having to repeatedly stare reality in the face, I am all too aware that life is uncertain. Life can be sharp and short.
And this realization has made me feel - well, many things. First of all, survivor guilt. Why am I still here when my younger brother isn't? Why him, not me?
Then gratitude. Yes, I am still here. Therefore, I have been given more time to do...what, exactly? Try to become a better person, mostly.
Having gone through both of the Big C's, I find myself less judgmental. I never thought I was very judgmental until I became even less so.
I find myself reacting less to situations where I may have gotten angry. I am more accepting of differences. More...mellow...if you will.
I try to be more helpful and encouraging. I find myself less tolerant of things that I feel 'waste' my time. Because time is precious, the less of it you have (thanks Bonnie Raitt).
Ultimately none of us knows how long we have. Illness can sneak up on anyone, regardless of fitness level or health. Accidents can happen to anyone, at any time.
As I look back on these 8 years, I am reminded that I have wonderful supportive family and friends. And really, what more can anyone ask for?