Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Looking Death Right in the Eye

Last week the city of San Francisco announced the future plans for upgrading the Golden Gate Bridge with a suicide prevention net.  Its about time; considering it is the most popular suicide spot on the planet!

Between 1937 & 2012; over sixteen hundred bodies were pulled out of the bay resulting from self termination.  In just the first six months of last year 88 people chose to end their life right there on the bridge.  The 240 foot drop to the water has a 98% kill rate.  The announcement of the suicide net went on to say the "net" will be made of stainless steel mesh and located some 20 feet below the walkway.  The given logic was that suicidal people want to end it all, not break a few bones in a non-lethal fall, so they'll go elsewhere.  Nice to know the city prefers to make life harder instead of helping them.
I hope they will at least fix the suicide hotline phone on the bridge in the upgrade.
             

Teenagers and young adults under 30 are the most frequent jumpers; no doubt inspired by depression, despair, disillusionment and unbearable emotional pain.  In a good many of these cases the lack of coping skills drove people to seek the most permanent solution to a temporary problem; so they took the leap and became just another statistic for all who never knew them.

I think we have become "comfortably numb" to death; what with its daily dominance in the news across the face of our little blue world.  We've had to harden our hearts more and more just to continue functioning in an increasingly dysfunctional society.  When it comes to death we tend to avoid thinking about it until we're staring it right in the eye. 

"Its Only Life After All"
  ~Indigo Girls~

It's all about LIFE; that which we prize above all else, indeed that which encompasses all else.  Without noticing it we can get complacent and slip into a mindset that takes life and our participation in it for granted...that is until a close call on the interstate or some other impacting event snaps us back into reality. 

Just such an event came crashing into my personal reality a few months ago when my best friend broke the news that his wife has an aggressive and fast moving cancer. 


Ivan & Martha were literally among the very first people I met upon moving to California 17 years ago.  We use the term kismet when speaking of those with whom we feel exceptionally strong ties that go deeper than just being friends.  It's like that with the three of us.

You know how very often the spouse of a good friend is just part of that friendship?  This ain't like that at all. The very first thing I noticed about Ivan and Martha is that they are what I call authentic people; not counterfeit, phony or aloof in any way.  They are both strong and dynamic individuals; and I consider myself to be double blessed to have each of them as a friend.  I like to think that I have distinct, separate and individual friendships with each of them; as well as with them as a couple.

While Ivan pursues a career in technology and engineering, Martha has made a career in the hospitality industry; and is employed at one of the areas premier upscale Inn's with a Michelin Star chef and an international reputation.  Every other week Martha would tell me about meeting this celebrity or that famous person at work.  Knowing my feelings about the man, she wisely waited till he'd gone to tell me Trump had recently been there.

Martha is one of those people who is always smiling, always has something positive to say about nearly anything, and who is always making you laugh at her wit and wisdom.  She is also a virtuoso in the kitchen being an accomplished nutritionist and cook.  She eats right, lives right, runs the Human Race marathon every year, and works out at the gym twice a week.  Probably the healthiest person I know, and absolutely the very last person on earth to deserve getting cancer.  Upon learning she would have to undergo chemotherapy sessions, her immediate response was to change her hair color from brown to purple, just to put the cancer on notice!


I had my own bout with cancer a few years back, but I don't call myself a cancer survivor because it was skin cancer, and on my big Roman nose.  A few passes with the laser scalpel and it was gone, leaving me with a disfigured nose and yet another harrowing trip to the VA hospital.  I didn't have "real" cancer; the kind that takes over your life and feeds off your hopes and dreams as it eats you alive. 

A little over a year ago the upstairs apartment went vacant at the same time Martha and Ivan were looking for a new place.  The entire time we've known each other we've never lived in the same town, always 30 to 40 miles away, so I didn't get to see them as much once I traded my truck for a wheel chair.  Having them living upstairs is great, especially at times like this when family draws closer together.  They're my adopted family.

When I first learned of Martha's cancer diagnosis I was actually more Godsmacked than if it had been me getting the Big C.  I get almost daily updates on Martha and it seems like a whirlwind that won't let any of us catch our breath for a minute.  I fixed her up with a tablet full of movies for when she was at chemotherapy, something to keep me from feeling utterly helpless & useless in her darkest hours.

I must have prodded Martha to write a blog just enough times, because last week she took the plunge and began a blog for family and friends to keep us all up to date, etc.  I always suspected she would be a good writer, and none too surprised to see I was right.

"I've been informed by my OBGYN Oncologist that my cancer is not ever going away, I will always have this cancer and inevitably I will die from it.  It's aggressive and is growing at a rate we need to control, and then maintain with the right treatment."


 Having recently finished chemotherapy, Martha now has three different treatment paths ahead, and must choose which one she feels will be best.  Actually her choices are down to two different clinical trials, and trying a different kind of chemotherapy.  She feels chemo didn't help before so that its a last ditch option for her now.  So she must pick one of the trials to take part in. 

"The decision is actually very hard. I am in panic mode, what if I don't do the right treatment?  What if the cancer gets more advanced than it is after I begin treatment.  I am literally trying to beat the clock, my cancer is growing; causing me issues and pain I can't describe, (please don't ask me to)"

From the day Martha was diagnosed I've been watching my two friends deal with this turn of events; seeing in each of them, strengths previously untested, and a steely eyed determination to fight back against this cancer with dignity and love.  Martha has accrued a following of friends numbering in the hundreds who know her from work, the gym, or where ever.  Being such a social person, who loves people; she in turn is loved and admired by every one of them.


"I want all of you to know I am Okay.  I am still strong, positive, me and moving forward.  Please respect my wishes and don't tell me things I already know, or try to sway me to something not medically proven, I am all about a healthy lifestyle, believe me."

Beyond my own minor brush with skin cancer I've really never had such direct exposure to it, and feel totally helpless most all of the time.  What I can do is to keep sending her lots of pure white light, saying that she should apply as/where needed.  It is most difficult to see someone you love go thru this process and to feel totally helpless; wanting to do anything that you know will help. 

This Woman just can't catch a break

Every time there has been a glimmer of hope or good news, it seems to go south.  Every time I get an update from Ivan, the news is a bit darker and harsher than what we all wanted to hear.  The hope throughout the chemo process is that the cancer would go into remission, removing the need for harsher measures such as radiation.  Chemo didn't work, and now my friend is running her own Boston marathon; in a race for life itself, staring death right in the eye every day.



 For someone as socially active as Martha, having to be homebound is like a prison sentence on top of having the cancer to deal with.  I know a little something about that what with having lost the use of my legs to atherosclerosis three years ago, and being essentially homebound ever since.  We share this nice duplex house on a steep hillside full of redwood and hemlock trees.  After a while of not being able to leave the property, all those trees begin to look more like prison bars than anything else. 

"Another thing I must ask you not to say to me is that I am going to beat this. (I don't mean to offend) I am so overwhelmed with advice and false hopes as I am truly running this hard core race.  I just ask for your support at this time."

When I read the words above I felt really bad, because I have been telling her from day one she would beat this.  It wasn't just idle chatter to sound positive.  Martha is a very strong willed and dynamic person who is normally very positive and optimistic.  She knows the power of positive thinking and how to use it, so when I read those words I knew she has crossed the Rubicon.   Martha is doing this strictly on her own terms, not backing down an inch.  I think there is a distinct difference between "giving up" and accepting reality as it is.  There's no quit in this lady, and no denial either...just a ton of dignity.

"I may never see the finish line, but I can keep track of my miles and just keep going at my own pace; starting over if need be, and helping others on my path."

I mentioned that helpless feeling; of not being able to do anything to help someone we love who is undergoing a life threatening challenge.  It is our human nature to want to help; but we must temper that with the wisdom that in such times people are going thru what is in their spirits highest and best good; for reasons we may never get to understand.  When Martha is the focus of my prayers I always ask source and the universe to align my energies in harmony with her highest and best good, and the journey she is on.


Before they moved in upstairs I didn't get to see my friends very often, and for a little over a year now that has changed, as Martha keeps insisting on having me up for dinner and socializing a couple times a week.  That has changed too now, as she is having more bad days than good regarding the pain and discomfort she experiences.  She can still get out and about pretty good, just not every day like is her normal.  When I do get to see Martha; I can see in her eyes what this cancer is doing to her.  Martha's body is being consumed by this ravenous disease, but her eyes tell me it will never get as much as a taste of her soul.

It isn't so much about ignoring the cancer as if it wasn't there.  It is more about not allowing it to take over your life and become all of what you are about.  I've had one or two close calls with death, but never was tested by having to stare it down every day upon awakening like Martha is doing with such grace and dignity.
 
"In about 6 months my organs will start to shut down;
 so I really don't have the time to waste."

I got to visit with Ivan for almost an hour early last night; Martha had just fallen asleep despite the pain she was in.  He brought me up to date, and it was the first time I heard him use the word terminal when speaking of Martha's cancer ... it kinda shook my soul a little ... I wasn't ready to hear that despite knowing it, as he does.

I've lost friends to cancer before; but I've never been this close to the day by day living thru it with someone...never been in the loop before.


Ivan returned upstairs when we heard Martha up and moving about; an hour later he texted me from the hospital.  These late night runs to the hospital are like a minefield for hope.  You just get to harboring and nurturing some optimistic, hopeful thoughts about remission and seeing your friend be another cancer survivor; then its another midnight run.  They were still there this morning, she was admitted last night.

Not knowing is the worst.
and waiting, its also the worst.

Every day it seems we have people being shot dead on facebook, and in Fresno, for no reason beyond an expression of insanity.  In a very real way we are all, every last one of us, looking death right in the eye whenever we leave the safety of home and venture into this increasingly insane world.

BART trains held up due to a suicide threat at a 'terminal,' another tormented soul turned away from the golden gate.  How very surreal it is to see some people so despondent they can't wait end their life while watching another fight with everything she has to keep hers.  Wouldn't you think life is so precious that each of us has an equal respect for it? 

~The Fukushima Factor~

Talking about death and having cancer makes some folks uneasy, so does talking about Fukushima radiation pummeling the Pacific coast for six years now; but when our beaches are lined with the corpses of hundreds of whales & sea lions and with the incidence of cancer in the population of western states steadily rising - it's time to talk about it.  Even if we can do nothing to alter this reality, talking about it is still better and healthier than just ignoring it.

Just in the last two years I can recall Ivan and Martha telling me about the number of folks they know who have also come down with cancer where they used to live.  What does the federal government do in the face of all these rising cancer cases?  Why they increase the minimum safe levels of radiation exposure, of course.  As for myself, well I'd already lost about all the hair I was going to years ago; but nowadays when I brush my hair, the brush comes away full of hair.  Lots of hair.  So that's just another confirmation. 

If you live in the west, do you sometimes get a momentary sharp pain or burning sensation thru torso shoulders and feet?  Do you get unexplained little micro-headaches only lasting seconds, a few times a week?  If so there is an excellent chance those are hot particles from Fukushima zipping thru you.  Now you know.

Whether it be from global warming, Fukushima, or the Trump presidency; whether it comes slowly or quickly- we're all looking death right in the eye!  Death is the one great equalizer. We're all in this thing called life together, and none of us will get out alive; the only thing that matters is how we meet that inevitable end.  When we do stare death right in the eye will we do so in abject fear, or with a degree of dignity?

© 2017 full re-post with permission only