My mother-in-law (the last one in this case) and I were very close. I called her Mom. She had polio as a child and somehow survived. Over a period of three months in her 40s, she completely lost her hearing. She had breast cancer in her 50’s. When her breast cancer returned in her 80’s, she told me she wasn’t going to have treatment. This was a death sentence according to her doctors. I begged her to have the treatment; she couldn’t leave me because I needed her. Not long after that conversation, I told a friend about Mom’s decision and my reply. Her response wasn’t very kind or gentle. She told me that it was none of my business. She went on to say that I had no right to tell anyone how to face their illness and that it was very selfish of me to expect her to go through what would be an especially difficult treatment at her age. I knew my friend was right, even though I cried at the thought of what was to come.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I put that advice into practice in my own life. I opted for a double mastectomy for several reasons. My oncologist wanted to do very aggressive chemo to reduce the chance of it returning as much as possible, and I agreed. Putting my journey on social media was not a decision but rather something I was guided to do. By being so open, I let other people know they had a choice on how to approach their own journeys, whatever they may be. Today, I am able to be supportive to others. Because I chose to be so vocal, people that know of others diagnosed with breast cancer or other illnesses will pass along number and for that, I am truly grateful. It is a very small way of paying forward for all the love and support I was given during my journey.
Recently, I went to visit my friend Mae. We met at a Verizon store when I was sick. We hit it off as soon as we began chatting. It was obvious I was sick since I was bald. She immediately offered to help me in any way she could. Little did I know at that time how ill Mae was. Based on our chat and her generous suggestions on how she could help me, I would never have imagined her own personal medical challenges.
Fast forward two years… Mae has been in and out of the hospital countless times. Her condition will never get better. At best, she can maintain her frail figure with $800/day treatments and liquid meals. I went to visit her in her home on a Saturday. The house has been converted into a small clinic. The dining room table is covered with boxes of medical equipment and supplies. The refrigerator is full of the liquids that are keeping her alive. Her life consists of her bed and a chair in the living room. She rarely leaves the house, except to attend multiple doctor’s appointments each week or to visit the hospital. Once in a blue moon, she might make it out for a meal.
I don’t know how the conversation turned to this subject, but Mae told me she felt like her body had decided to stop fighting. She looked so tired. I told her that only she gets to decide when she wants to stop fighting. Nobody has the right to tell her what to do because there isn’t a person in the world that knows what it feels like to walk in her shoes. There is no right or wrong answer. She has been an amazing warrior for longer than the four years I have known her. Being tired of being sick is something I understand. Gratefully, I got well… that isn’t her story. I told Mae that I say the same prayer for her that I say for others and said for myself, that she have the faith, strength and courage to accept God’s will. We aren’t all supposed to get well…that’s reality, as difficult as it may be to understand.
Before I left, she thanked me for the conversation she apparently needed to have with someone. It wasn’t easy, but it was where I was guided. Mae apparently needed to share how she felt.
Sometimes, I think we need permission to stop trying when we know how the story is going to end. The actual end date isn’t in our hands, but our choices allow us to have say in the way it will end.
Mae – you have used your long illness to increase your faith and be there to help others whenever you are able. You’ve never used your illness as an excuse for self-pity or doubt. You inspire me more than you know. I pray if I am ever faced with long-term illness like you, I can walk through it with the same dignity that you are facing it with.
*I have permission to write about Mae. She approved this before it was posted.