Cancer: Another Dance with Death

Today I remembered Barbara’s death. Funny how it comes back from time to time. Today it came at about 5 in the morning, right before it woke me up. In the dream, she still had the cancer, but she was getting better, as many breast cancer patients do. At least when they catch it early on. The day seemed ripe for the taking, and we were planning our usual summer trip to the Riptide Hotel at Hollywood beach. I hadn’t been there since I was about 16, and somehow the dream evoked the same giddy anticipation, knowing my cousins and I would have hours of unsupervised fun.
Barbara was one of my mom’s best friends; an aunt by affection if not blood. I grew up with her carefree antics, and had the best, most adventurous sleepovers at her house. I remember the manhunts, the Halloween treks, the pizza binges, with Jenny, Ismael(ito), and Carolina along for the ride. I remember Barbara, always quick to laugh things off. For me, she was a symbol of impenetrability–nothing could really harm her because her disposition to live and be happy was so great. I wish I could write this as a sort of inspirational piece but I’d be lying to you. The symbol has been dashed and her passing was like the end of an era. It all happened so quickly, I could hardly grapple with it before my mom told me the news. I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye. That’s what kills me. We never get to finish so much of what we started.
I think there’s an underlying reason it hits me so hard though. I hesitate to say it out loud, much less write it. Cancer is so indiscriminate. It could hit anyone, at any time. The thought paralyzes me. What if that happened to my mom before her time? My dad, my husband, me…
It just doesn’t do to dwell on these morbid thoughts, I know, but once they slip in, they become indelible. I wish I could say I’m not scared; that I’ve embraced the inevitability of dying. If only the realization that we approximate death with every breath came with a stillness of the soul. Things are possible as long as we are living. How do we cope with death, the “end of all possibilities” as Heidegger referred to it? I envy those who face death with a feeling of accomplishment. What if you’re not yet done with life?


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