Those who can truly be accounted brave are those who best know the meaning of what is sweet in
life and what is terrible, and then go out, undeterred, to meet what is to come. - Pericles

The Breast CancerStories Project

Words that speak of courage, words that speak of hope, words that speak of determination, words that speak of despair, words that sing, words that cry. Words that heal us, words that empower us.

These are our hearts and souls and spirits - these are our stories.

Claire's Story

Looking Toward the End (revised)
I've been putting it off for a while now. I guess I'd better try to write about it, my health and future. What has happened and what is happening, and how I'm handling it.

We all know that it is going to happen someday, but we don't think about it much, if at all. But now I know, I know that I have a fatal disease that will kill me. And it most likely will not be very long down the road. I don't know when and there are lots of questions, but it has a name and I know what it is. I'm looking at the end of my life.

Recently I've been looking back at my life through the years and reliving many experiences.
I've had some wonderful times and known some splendid people!
I don't have many regrets.
I think I have been quite fortunate.
I don't feel cheated or deprived.
I don't want to die. I wish it could go on and on. But I know it can't.
I do care how I die. I hope to God that I don't have to end up like a vegetable sitting in a diaper, being spoon fed and a nuisance to the world.
I would much rather take my own life than have that happen. I would like to be reasonably sound of mind at the end.

I hope that when I die my loved ones, family and friends will feel at ease about it and have a large party to send me on my way to whatever awaits.
I hope and pray that I don't leave a lot of problems for them to take care of.
I hope that my family will enjoy what I have left them, and will think of me kindly.
I hope they all have lives as wonderful as mine has been, and even more so.

Since I've become aware of this condition of mine, I must admit that I am sad and frightened, but I'm not surprised. I'm seventy-five which is pretty old, but I've packed a lot of living into those years. I don't sit and think, "Oh how I wish I had done that." or "I wish I had gone there." I haven't done everything or been everywhere, but I have had enough and I don't mind that now it is time for me to be quiet and move slowly as I enjoy all the pleasant things I now have around me.

I no longer need to ask "why" or "how". I just don't know "when".
Because of my physical condition, my activities are quite limited. I am unable to walk more than a short distance without stopping to sit. This is due to a combination of ailments, some known, and some unknown. However, my condition is terminal.

I can, however, manage to get around the house nicely and have oxygen within reach when I need it. When I go out in a car I take oxygen and water with me. I also have a wheel chair to use if necessary.
I am taking a great many medications, and I thank God that I have the medical care that I have. I have a doctor who has proven that he cares about my well being.
I'm forced to depend on my son and others to do the shopping and drive me to appointments. For this I am profoundly grateful.

Having said all that I want to try to make sense of it all.
We're born, we grow up, we live and age. Then we're just old with a lot of physical and mental problems, not better, not happier, but worn out, ill, tired and faced with death. We ask ourselves, have I done my best? Was it good enough? Should I have done things differently? Does it matter? Does anyone care? Have I accomplished anything real? What was it all for? We're sad and confused, wondering what it's all about. Is there a payoff? Is there a reward?

Having a worn-out malfunctioning body is no reward.
Looking and feeling like an unmade bed is no reward.
Being forgetful and dependent on others is no reward.
Mental confusion and bouts of sadness is no reward.
Why do we have this system? What's it all about?
This is where the devoutly religious have the advantage. They believe they have all the answers and God bless them.

I did all the usual and expected things more or less at the expected times: I went to school and learned stuff.
I got married because I met someone to love.
I had children and raised them as well as I could.
I worked and paid bills and taxes.
I supported organizations that made sense to me.
I made friends with people I enjoyed the company of.
I took care of my homes and tended my gardens.
I cooked good and nutritious food.
I gave to charities and went to church.
I pursued intellectual enlightenment and encouraged my children to do the same.
I enjoyed and supported the arts: music, singing, painting, sewing, dancing, theater, ballet, writing, etc.
I exposed my children to all of these.
I experienced the joy and wonder of nature; camping, hiking, fishing, boating, exploring and such.
I've been an avid reader and encouraged this in my children.
I've had many fine friendships.

And now I sit here and wonder "why?" Why all this effort and energy?
What was it all for? Have I really done anything at all? If so, where is the payoff? Where is the purpose? Shouldn't there be something that I could hold to my bosom and feel good about?

Then I look around me and realize that all living things were born to procreate, to continue the species and, perhaps, ideally, to improve the species, and then die.
I've had three children and, so far, they've collectively given birth to four more who have had, at last count, eight. Therefore I'm partially responsible for adding fifteen people to this planet. Hence my immortality. My genes live on.

Over the years I have interacted with hundreds of people. We have given and taken from each other ideas, humor, philosophies, as well as beauty, companionship and intelligence. I am wiser and richer because of this. I think the rewards and payoffs have been given to us along the way, through the years of our lives.

As I age, I find that I am satisfied and pleased with less. When I was younger I wanted to see the world, do everything, go everywhere, try out everything new or different. Experience it all.
Now I enjoy being home, it's appropriate. My house is comfortable and pleasant with a patio to sit in, a well-appointed kitchen, where I spend most of my time, a nice bed and bedroom. The house is climate controlled and I have a PC for writing and games. good music to listen to. I still have my eyesight and enjoy the morning paper and books. My dear son has lovely flowers and vegetables growing in the back yard. We have one old cat, a three-legged dog and lots of birds outside.
I have a great deal to be glad about.

There is one thing that I feel rather strongly about: When I go, I don't want people to cry and lament and feel very sad. Dying isn't a dirty trick someone is forcing on you. It's as much a part of being human as one's birth. It's normal and natural and when it comes, it comes.
We all will have an end to our lives, all of us. No one escapes this. Think of it as a natural course of events and understand that, it's simply my turn.

Don't cry for me. Just come to my party and be glad I've had such a full life.
There's a wonderful quote from E.B. White that I love.

"Thus I, gone forth as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning."

Claire Rodgers Nov. l999

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