This is a guest blog post by MyLifeLine.org member, Roberta Aberle. Roberta will be presented the George Karl Courage Award at MyLifeLine.org’s annual Jockeys, Juleps and Jazz event.
Throughout my journey, I’ve lost loved ones, some to cancer, some to other conditions. Recently, not just one but two of my former classmates went to their final resting place. Both only 50 years old. Both too young to depart.
Of course, losing friends who are my own age shakes me to the core. Lisa died after barely 3 years; originally having been diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer, considered early detection and highly treatable. I am confident with that staging and with the known successes for breast cancer treatment in particular, it’s unlikely her oncologist uttered a prognosis of only a few years. She passed through her first phase of treatment successful, achieving remission and went on about her life.
But the cancer metastasized and returned in her liver, lungs and bones. So she went after it again. The 2nd treatment regimen was successful too and she achieved cancer-free designation. It was her 3rd and final battle that she didn’t respond to treatment and ultimately lost her life to the disease.
I can’t help but draw parallels between her fight and my own. It is virtually impossible to not go down that path. She had a fighting attitude and never once believed that she couldn’t overcome her diagnosis. And she had every reason to feel that way. Early diagnosis. Early stage. Highly successful treatment plans. High cure rates and survival statistics. She had all the odds on her side.
How do you not compare and contrast?
My diagnosis was extensive, wide spread disease status. Inoperable. Rare and relatively little known about this particular form of cancer. Grouped either with stomach, colon or ovarian cancer, none of which are highly curable and are often lethal forms in a given period of time. Heck, we don’t even have our own cancer color for Primary Peritoneal, it’s that distinct.
I don’t deserve to live through this any less than Lisa did. She has a family, a husband, a daughter. She was devout and learning to live her life as an example for others to model. She also expressed herself through writing, poetry in particular. She had a mischievous streak and a heartfelt laugh. She had made mistakes and lived through pitfalls in her life. But she was a good person. A really good person.
I guess my point is that it brings to the forefront again how indiscriminate this disease can be. No amount of money – like Steve Jobs or Farrah Fawcett – can protect your fate. No amount of religious or spiritual strength can cure you. No amount of intention or focus can guarantee you longevity. It is simply whether you respond to treatment or not. But then you can start out responding and the cancer changes form and then you don’t.
Like a daily game of rolling the dice. Will it roll in my favor or not?
As hard as a it is, saying goodbye to a friend like Lisa. Losing another individual like Bart. Talented to his very core. But he has left us as well as this young age. It’s hard to stay upbeat about my chances for survival.
I have friends who have lost a parent at this age. Decades ago thinking about death before the age of 50 was hard enough. But now that I am at this age, it is even harder to comprehend. It hasn’t been nearly enough time. I don’t wonder about how much time I have left to live, I have a specific projection and prognosis. Then again, neither Lisa or Bart had a short prognosis and yet they are gone. No one knows what the outcome will be.
If anything, sad events like these remind me of what I am up against. But it also reminds me that anything can happen and for that it’s important to remain living in this amplified state of awareness that I live in now.
Every experience is another memory being built. Each interaction is a chance to show someone what I value about them. Each days brings an opportunity to learn or to teach. I get to live with an heightened sense of what is precious to me and why. What is important to spend my time on and what isn’t.
This diagnosis has put me in a precarious place, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a discouraging place. I choose to not let another day go by that I don’t acknowledge and appreciate at least one specific aspect of my day. Whether it is the crystal blue skies on a unseasonably warm December day or the scent of a wood burning fireplace permeating a cool night. Whatever moment it is that you choose to focus on in a given day, I just hope that you can experience as fully and completely as I seem to be able to do now.
About the author: Born in Rapid City, South Dakota, but raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, Roberta Aberle has been surrounded by cancer her entire life. Diagnosed with the rare cancer, Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma Stage IIIC, on Leap Day, 2012; after a total hysterectomy in 2009 was performed to reduce her risk for developing cancer, Roberta has been both a fighter and advocate for rare, sub-types of cancer. “I’d love to see other cancers reach the level of awareness and fundraising that breast cancer has with the Susan G. Komen Foundation,” she says. Roberta has been on multiple treatment regimens since her diagnosis in 2012, with the goal remaining to see some phase of remission. Her treatment has included clinical studies, surgery, intraperitoneal/hyperthermic chemotherapy, but has also incorporated many holistic approaches such as journaling, meditation, aquatics and nutritional strategies. Her primary goal is to not only reach remission but to use her experience to help demystify the cloak around cancer for caregivers by speaking honestly and authentically about the insights gained living the role of a cancer patient.