Our greatest (life) teacher has got to be adversity or traumatic events. How often do we hear Actors, Athletes or musicians talk about their road to fame which includes detailed stories of child abuse, abject poverty or a serious life threatening trauma? It is these very events that can motivate or paralyze. There comes a point in their life where they choose which it will be: push through and beat the odds or let it consume them.
Fighting stage 4 Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia was a tough life teacher for me. Toughest battle to date. There were days when I wasn’t sure I would ever have a life even close to what I had pre-treatment. I was physically and emotionally drained. I had a very physically demanding job that I struggled to even get through a half days work. I enjoyed an active social life but couldn’t muster much energy past dinner time. Added to that was emotional battles. While I expected the physical battles, the emotional ones were unexpected and unpredictable.
Soon after diagnosis was the first punch in the stomach. I quickly realized who my real friends were. Even some family members fell silent and grew distant. I don’t know what was going on in their lives, but I’m sure they felt they had valid reasons. I know myself, in the past, I had felt the urge to pull away from my brother in his final days. I didn’t want to see him suffering like that. I didn’t want my last memory of time with him to be like that. I wanted to selfishly hold on to the good times, the laughs we had together. To remember his lifeless, frail body in a hospital bed… no. Didn’t want or need that visual. With much encouragement from my wife, I didn’t run. I stayed. I offset that visual with the memory of holding his hand and kissing his head one last time. I remember all we exchanged without words in those final moments.
I can’t in clear conscious really fault those that pulled away and fell silent. I don’t mean to sound vindictive or spiteful when I say, I remember them and what they did or didn’t do. I had expectations that were, surprisingly, not met. In contrast, there were friends and new friends that really came into our lives with such love and support. I remember them too.
Although it’s been a few years now, these life lessons have stuck with me. Some who left in my time of need for support have come quietly back in now that the dust has settled. While I welcome them, I see them in a much different light knowing where their boundaries lay.
My adult children are another story. I have not spoken publically about their silence and lack of support in my battle, but the emptiness I feel even to this day is worse then the pain of the cancer treatments. My own flesh and blood have been estranged for several years now. I have reached out to them on several occasions, even brought my daughter to one of my last infusions thinking it might spark a reconciliation or re-connection. What is my lesson here? What is this pain supposed to teach me?
It would seem that I still have more questions then answers.