Death, I’m Not Afraid of You

At this point, I’ve read a lot of blog and message board postings and watched a fair number of YouTube videos by people with colon cancer. It’s natural to want to know what other similarly situated people are thinking and feeling, in the hope that perhaps they might have some pearls of wisdom that will help me. People talk about what you would expect — appreciating every day, recognizing all the reasons to fight for life, being positive, taking one day at a time — which are all good perspectives to have. But, except for those people who are really on the brink, they don’t talk about the elephant in the room — Death.

So, I want to talk about Death. After all, the possibility of my death due to this cancer (very real possibility depending on how you calculate my odds of survival) is why you have all rallied around me. I want to talk about Death because it’s looking right at me. I’m not sure how close it’s hovering, but I certainly feel its presence more than I can consciously remember feeling ever before. I say “consciously” because I know my subconscious, my soul if you will, remembers being on a tiny Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Seas when I was three years old, crammed together with 300 other people for endless days, thirsty and famished. It must be that once you have been so close to Death yourself and survived, you do not fear it as much when it comes again, even if you were too young to remember the experience.

But I don’t think that is the main reason why I’m not afraid of Death. I am not afraid because if Death came for me tomorrow, I would extend my hand to it, at peace, knowing that I had lived the gift of my life on my terms. I have kayaked through the other-worldly waters of Antarctica and stood before the mystical wonder of Machu Picchu. I married the love of my life in a beautiful stone chapel atop a mountain awash in autumn colors. I mourned deeply the loss of my beloved grandmother. I swam during long summer days with my siblings and myriad of cousins (who might as well have been my siblings) with the joy and abandon that should characterize every childhood. I held two squirming and slippery healthy newborns in my arms. I spent many hours laughing and philosophizing about love and life with lifelong friends into the wee hours of the night in dorm rooms and tiny New York City apartments. I have pulled all-nighters closing multi-billion transactions along side the most intelligent colleagues in the world. I feel privileged to have lived that much of the human experience in my 37 years.

Once I became a mother, I feared death in a way that I had never before. While riding on the subway alone, I would wonder, what would happen if the train were bombed in a terrorist act? What would happen to my little girls? I worried often about this possibility. Ironically, since Death sent cancer to threaten me, I no longer have that fear because I have felt the incredible compassion, love and support of family, friends and even complete strangers. I know that if I were to die from this cancer, Josh will pull himself together, and he and our amazing network of support will step in to care for, guide and teach my daughters. I have faith in Josh. I have faith in you all. And of course, I know even in death, I will be watching over Josh and my babies.

To be clear, just because I’m talking about dying doesn’t mean I’m waving the white flag. The truth is that despite confident statements of “You’ll beat this,” from my army of supporters, no one knows whether I will beat this. Let’s not delude ourselves. Contrary to the advice of some to not worry too much and look into the future, to take one day at a time, I find, as I have always found, that looking at the bigger picture helps me more. It’s unrealistic to ask someone who is facing a life threatening disease to not think about Death. Even assuming that my body responds to this six-month chemo treatment and that I don’t have to undergo any further treatment or surgery, I will live under a cloud of uncertainty for many more years, going in for lots of scans and probably diagnostic laparoscopy, forever fearing that the cancer will come back. Uncertainty as to whether one will live or die is much easier to tolerate when one is not afraid of either alternative. That is why I look into the future and think about Death.

Of course, I want to live. I want to go dog sledding in Greenland and walk among hundred-year-old tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. I want to grow gray and old with Josh in our Tuscan villa. I want to watch Mia walk down the aisle and Belle graduate from college. I want to hold my grandchildren in my arms just as I once held their mothers. These are my dreams. But I understand now in a very powerful way that there are no guarantees.

So Death, as I battle for my life, hear me. When you come, whether it be tomorrow or in 60 years, I will not be afraid. I will gladly go with you if it is my time, knowing that I have lived my life the way I wanted to and that those I leave behind will carry on in the manner in which I would be proud.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nybookworm
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 08:45:37

    Lovely and heartbreaking. Put me and the girls down for the Galapagos trip with you.


  2. Shan
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 16:06:03

    So beautiful and honest, Julie.


  3. jessica
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 22:00:06

    beautiful and brave, Julie.


  4. Jang Yeo
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 04:12:29

    You are my hero, Julie~!


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