Trigger warning: this article talks about dealing with impending death, dying and cancer.
At least not when you’re in your early 30s. It’s not supposed to go like that. My parents aren’t supposed to be planning for what happens when they bury their only daughter.
But I’ve found myself again, clutching my hands in my lap as I sit across from these very clever doctors who speak with soft voices and say words I’m not supposed to be hearing.
They suggest timelines (a literal deadline) that only adds up to months and it feels like the world is ending. Because it is. My world is ending. A lot quicker than I’d intended.
My parents are on the other side of the world, but my wonderful friends are there for me; with me, beside me, or in my phone. But although they do more for me than I could ever imagine or begin to ask for, they are also elsewhere. Because they have other books in which they are the main character, so their lives keep going on. But mine won’t. In this moment, as I sit across from my Oncologist, it is ending.
But then it’s Thursday and the bins need to be taken out. And I need to cook some dinner. And somehow the sun keeps going up and down and I take long baths and prepare for the chemo they worry won’t do much.
And I realise that in this moment the world is not ending because I am still alive. And probably tomorrow too. And next week. I just turned 34, after my first week back in chemotherapy, and I think just how lucky I am to be able to see another birthday.
I hate when people complain about getting older, because each year we live is another year on this planet and more chances at living this joyous, yet nuanced life.
But in my darkest moments I can’t help but think further ahead; the pension I have but will never need, the dream holiday house in Greece I will never have.
Will I ever get back to Australia to see my parents? Will we get to play music together again? I find comfort in watching the documentary I made the last time we played, when I got trapped in Sydney for 10 months during the pandemic. Time which I cherish now that we’re so far apart.
When I die, people will start calling me a loser. I can’t control how I’m spoken about, but I dread that moment. I’ll become a brave warrior who fought a battle and lost.
Because as soon as I got diagnosed with cancer, there needs to be a compelling story for my existence to still be valid – I’m conscripted into a ‘fight’, where the outcome was somehow within my control.
The reality is less glossy. I was ill. I accepted all treatments offered. They failed me. I died. It might not be what you write movies about, but it’s the truth.
And I hate that my truth isn’t allowed to exist, because other people want to feel better about it. That I have to be one of the brave ones who was somehow ready for this fate, put on a pedestal and elevated beyond human existence and suffering.
I’m not ready for any of it, I never was. I’m terrified of dying, of the idea that the world will keep going on without me, and I’ll just exist in memories that continue to fade as time goes on. I know it happens to all of us, but it shouldn’t be happening yet. My life was only just starting.
I know that when I die, people I only met once or even some I’ve never met at all, will post about me on Instagram and say how much they miss me and how much I meant to them. While my actual friends will see these empty tributes and prickle at all the people who thought they knew me, but didn’t. There are always people who want to jump on the grief train.
It’s mostly well-meaning, and I’m very aware of how fast connections can form over Instagram, I’ve made many myself.
But I’ve seen so many times, how quickly we post tributes on Insta Stories of someone who has died who meant so much, then an hour later it’s what we ate for lunch or some new product we’ve tried that’s working wonders for our skin.
But real friends and family can’t just move on so quickly. The loss of someone they love will hang over them like a shadow. We hope it will get easier as time moves on but I’m not sure it ever really does.
I still miss my friends just as much as the day they died. And they also died too young.
And so I write words, I create music, I make memories with the people I love. I live as loudly as I can imagine, and with abandon.
I do what I love, without caring what anyone else thinks. I let society’s expectations brush off me.
I take up space, and I ensure that I am living a life true to myself so that whatever of it I have left, I will be able to look back and say with confidence: Yes, I did it my way.
You can follow Jen Eve’s journey at The Cancer Chronicles
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