One Year Anniversay

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Recovery

One year ago today, almost to the hour, I was in surgery having a tumor removed from my head. At that time we didn’t know if it was low grade or high grade, though my physician suspected it was low grade.  Had it been the grade 4 glioblastoma that 47% of adult malignant brain tumors turn out to be, I may not be here typing this. The average life expectancy for the grade 4 glioblastoma multiform tumor (GBM) is 12-18 months….with treatment. So naturally, on this day a year later, I’m thinking about this and realizing how blessed I am that I’m still here!

I think it’s fair to say I have a complicated and lengthy relationship with death.  The idea of death invisibly lurking around every corner in my life has been the greatest source of anxiety for me. If you’ve been reading my CaringBridge consistently, then you already know this “death phobia” started when my dad died from cancer when I was five years old.  It recently occurred to me that my father’s death was not unexpected to my father or mother.  They knew his death drew closer, every day he remained alive.  My problem stems from it being completely unexpected when my mom gently sat me down on my little bed in my bedroom and told me my dad had died.  At five, I knew enough about death to know I’d never see my dad again, and I still remember screaming and crying trying to run out of my room, running past my grandma, while my grandma tried to grab my arm to stop me.  I don’t remember anything after that.  But the pain I felt that day still lingers.  So here I am, 50 years later still thinking about death.

Over the years I’d ask myself a not so uncommon, philosophical question; Would I rather know ahead of time that I was going to die or would I rather it be quick and just get hit by a car?  I think there are advantages to both.  However, having now been diagnosed with cancer, I do feel for me personally, I’m happy to know ahead of time. Keeping in mind, my cancer has caused me very very little pain.

I’ve always envied those individuals who’ve been able to live in the moment. Those who truly live in day tight compartments. Anxiety is the exact opposite of that. Anxiety is the result of anticipating the worst of an unknown future. So one who is anxious doesn’t live in the moment.  They live in a possible future and if you’re also a fearful person, that future is usually pretty awful. I can say this with confidence because it’s how I’ve lived the majority of my adult life.  And it really sucks! For a long time now, I wondered how those individuals with terminal diagnoses, get to that point where they seem to be so at peace with life.  I’ve envied how they were able to let go of that anxiety and just live. Not just exist but live and live happily. Knowing that I have a brain tumor that I will never be able to cure, that will more than likely grow back in my life which may or may not be the result of my inevitable death, has allowed me the opportunity this past year to really reflect on what’s important to me. I’ve had countless hours to work on my relationship with The Lord and come to terms with many of my issues.  I am grateful for that.

But I’ve also realized that not everyone makes the choice to live in the moment and accept their fate.  What I’ve found is that people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer or any other dread disease that will require long-term care and most likely result in death, choose one of two paths. (I feel I need to preface this with a disclaimer of some sort.  The two choices below don’t come instantly and aren’t as simple as I’ve typed out. Many factors play into how an individual responds to bad news or illness.)

  1. They choose (and trust me, you’ve always got a choice as to how you’re going to respond to something.) to view the impending illness as an opportunity to make amends in their life and live that “bucket list” so to speak.  They embrace what life they have left and choose to make peace with the fact that death is inevitable for all of us.  That’s not to say there isn’t disappointment with knowing they’re not going to have the longevity they may have hoped for, but there are still opportunities to be had with the time  left.  OR
  2. They choose to believe that they’re the most unlucky bastard in a cruel and vicious world, where they never win.  A world that will always be filled with misery and cruelty and they will always be on the receiving end of a very short stick. They choose to blame God, their upbringing, etc. on their circumstances they deem to be unfair.  They repeatedly question “why me?” And ruin whatever time they have left in the world, wallowing in a self-imposed mire of despair.

When I was a senior in college I did an independent study in the hopes of using it as the basis of my master’s thesis. At the time, I was already accepted into Madison’s graduate program for Educational Psychology and Bob Enright was to be my major professor.  Dr. Enright is now world-renowned for his work on Forgiveness.  I had always been interested in the medical and physical aspects of psychology which was my major so I did my senior study on the Physiological Effects of Forgiveness.  I spent hours in the med school library researching articles on what very few had written about or did studies on (this was in 1988 and 1989).   That being said, I will never forget reading a study that had been done on cancer patients.  They were put into two groups.  1. Those who blamed someone or something (usually God) for their illness and 2. Those who did not.  What the researchers found was that those individuals who harbored so much anger towards God (or whomever) and dwelled on the negative, did far worse in their recovery.  Of course, at this point, I can’t remember specifics.  But the mind-body connection is now very well known and established. I’ve never forgotten about this study and I think because it’s always been in the back of my mind, it wasn’t that difficult for me to NOT go into blame mode when I was diagnosed with the tumor. All of this to say, I’m a choice number 1 sort of gal.

How do I do it?

For me, I rely on my faith in Jesus to get me through each day. I believe what the Bible says and that when God says “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” In Hebrews 13:5, he means it.  Or in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you;I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.”

To read Matthew 6:25-27, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Is easier said than done! But now that I’ve watched The Chosen 4 times through, I imagine Jonathan Roumie saying this to me.  And it sticks!

It’s taken lots of effort and reading and re-reading and prayer to get to where I am today in my faith life.  BUT every second of effort has been worth it.  Because, for the first time my life I’m able to live in the moment. I could not have gotten to this point if my life had been taken quickly, so to me, my brain cancer has been a blessing from God. It’s allowed me to shift how I view my life and get my priorities straight before I died

I’m going to close this post with two things. The first is the attached video. It’s the short story of The Three Brothers, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  After watching this for the millionth time I realized that I’m not all that, unlike the third brother. The one who hides from death under the cloak of invisibility until he reaches an old age and them removes his cloak greeting death like an old friend.

The second is a passage from the book Between two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad.  I’m currently rereading it for the second time, and came across this paragraph I had highlighted the first time through:

“I began to think about how porous the border is between the sick and the well.  As we live longer and longer, the vast majority of us will travel back and forth across these realms, spending much of our lives somewhere in between.  These are the terms of our existence.  The idea of striving for some beautiful, perfect state of wellness? It mires us in eternal dissatisfaction, a goal forever out of reach.

To be well now is to learn to accept whatever body and mind I currently have.”

How powerful are those words?! To be well NOW is to accept whatever body and mind I currently have.  In short, to live in the present.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s trying to overcome living anywhere but the present.

I’ve included two recent photos.  The first is of the love of my life, my husband John. He’s been the greatest supporter to me this past year and I would not have made it without him! The second pic is a “who does Julie look like today?” Pic. It’s a side-by-side of Juliette Binoche with her Oscar win for the movie Chocolat.  We recently watched this movie for the first time and I had to recreate it.  Not really all that funny, but fun to do.

About Me

In February 2022, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and it changed my whole life perspective. This blog is dedicated to my Journey through cancer diagnosis, recovery, and finding the humor in life.