Just two days ago, a former co-worker at a former company informed me that our former boss died from lung cancer.
She was 62.
I simply couldn’t believe it. My former boss was so vibrant and alive. She was too young for cancer.
Why the shock that someone died relatively young from cancer? Why the shock that it was lung cancer? Why the shock that it was someone I knew? Why the shock the victim seemed destined for a long life in my mind, only to have it crashing down?
Then I caught myself.
I, of all people, should know better. That cancer strikes people from all walks of life and at all ages. That cancer doesn’t give a sh*t who its victim is. That it is an insidious, ruthless disease that tries to destroy the body. That the whole “one is too young for cancer” is a bunch of rotten baloney.
Yet I still felt shock, disbelief, anger, and grief about my former boss. Had to read the message from my former co-worker over and over again. Couldn’t — wouldn’t — believe it.
Today, my friend with leukemia received her second bone marrow transplant. I was shocked that the first one was unsuccessful. I thought she would be in remission. I even convinced myself she was cured. Then the doctors found cancer cells. She needed to start her treatment all over again.
I pray that this second transplant works. I know I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t take, as I am in the process of lying to myself that cancer cooperates.
And my co-worker’s husband is faring poorly. Metastatic cancer. And I am surprised. How could cancer metastasize so quickly?
Clearly, I am not a naive person, but it’s unsettling how much I’m lying to myself these days. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one to cancer and I know what it’s like to have cancer young.
The truth is all wrapped up somewhere in the lies I tell myself.
The lies serve to protect me from the real possibility that I may soon lose some people dear to my heart.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a woman who is 62 and whose parents are alive and well into their 90s. The mom of my friend with leukemia lived into her mid-90s and was hardly ever sick. My friend and I always thought her genetic line was strong.
We were wrong.
My family dies of old age or cancer in their 90s. Does that longevity bode well for the future for me? Probably not. Family history doesn’t seem to correlate to long lifespans. I’m the youngest in my family to have cancer. I’m the family’s cancer pioneer.
Well, life’s longevity may not be all it’s cracked up to be, I tell myself. The key is to seize the moment and savor all the days we have left on Earth.
And to be less shocked.