Now that I am vaccinated I have started venturing out in the world a little. I went grocery shopping for the first time in over a year. I had my teeth cleaned. (My poor hygienist had to use a chisel and pick axe to get them clean!) I practiced the organ in an empty church. I met my childhood friends for dinner in our favorite restaurant, where we sat in a heated outdoor patio. I had not seen them since October. I even took my college-age son shopping for odds and ends. I hope I never take these things for granted again.
I followed a Twitter thread today that discussed anticipatory grief. It refers to a feeling of grief before an impending loss, but not necessarily death. One can experience anticipatory grief before a scheduled move or job change or major life event. The particular Twitter thread today discussed the anticipatory grief that people with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) experience.
I grieve the life I won’t experience.
My husband and I often talked about what we would do in retirement. We were high school sweethearts and have been together for 34 years. I always pictured us growing old together, enjoying life on the farm and traveling wherever our kids live for visits. I immensely enjoy watching my kids grow into adulthood. You work so hard to raise them so you can see the kind of people they are as adults – independent thinkers. You want to see them making choices that are solely theirs – that you put enough “good stuff” in them to sustain them through their life.
I grieve the life I had before cancer.
Sometimes it is hard for me to remember how I felt about things before cancer. What did I worry about? What kept me awake at night? My cancer was already at Stage 4 when I was diagnosed, so we don’t know exactly when it started. When I look at photos from several months before my diagnosis my mind starts to play a horrible game called, “Where was the cancer at this point? Was it already in my liver? When did it reach my bones? Was my adrenal gland already covered in a huge tumor?” I miss living a basically pain-free life now that I battle pain every single day. I don’t miss my hair but I sure do miss my eyelashes! (Those things come in very handy, beside looking nice coated in my favorite mascara.)
I work very hard to keep my focus on living rather than on dying. But that anticipatory grief creeps in when I least expect it. Listening to people talk about retirement plans or when they will retire will do it. Seeing parents talk about their kids getting married will do it. My solution at the moment to handle anticipatory grief is to face it head on. I certainly don’t want my friends and family to avoid discussing certain topics around me. That’s not living! So when I feel the sadness creep up, I throw it up to God silently while staying in the conversation or situation. I also try very hard to instantly think of things I can do, today, to make up for the thing I think I will miss. I am enjoying spending much more time with my family and friends. I am trying to put much more of me into life, versus sitting back and waiting for things to happen.
Someone today told me they think I have such a positive attitude and they cannot believe I laugh so much. My grandma said, “You can laugh or you can cry. Laughing is much more fun.” I try to follow her advice. When people ask, “How are you?” The first thing that usually pops up is, “I’m fine except for the terminal cancer.” There is a lot of truth to that.