Thoughts from the dying about living

Nancy shares her thoughts

Two years ago, at age 80 I was a perfectly a healthy woman. I lived with my daughter and grandson and did my laundry. I brought my grandson to school, I did groceries. All of those things. I was very independent. One day, I noticed some bleeding, so I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with stage 4 endometrial cancer. I was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. After the radiation was finished in March 2017, I had a full year with no symptoms or pain. Then, in 2018, my symptoms returned and I had more radiation. After that, we had a family meeting and decided for everyone’s best interests that I should be in palliative care.

There are really three main points I want to share with people.

1. Keep a gratitude journal (written or mental)

I’m very grateful for the quiet and I like to read. I’ve also liked writing notes to myself, quotes or something I thought of and wanted to remember. Simple things. Here’s one: “We are limited only by the boundaries of perception. Love binds us together for eternity.”

I have quite a tremor in my writing hand, so that means I can’t write in my journal now. I thought, how am I going to express how I feel? So I decided instead of writing in my gratitude journal, I would go through my mind and say what I was thankful for. Even a simple thing like, I had a good dinner. I’m so blessed with so many different things, and remembering that is very calming. It’s important to appreciate things.

2. Find your place of calm

I have done a lot of travelling and one of the most beautiful trips was to the Arctic on the west coast of Greenland, where there is area called Jacob’s Harbour. Close to that is a large glacier called Ilulissat. We would get off the ship and onto a zodiac, and we would paddle into this beautiful lagoon. Pale teal blue water with the reflection of the glacier, and it was totally quiet. When I have a situation I feel is anxiety producing or I feel unsettled, I just close my eyes and try to go to that quiet place, with all the beautiful blue water and white of the glacier, where everyone is silent.

It could be that you have a picture at home that is your favorite, or a piece of weaving from your travels. Maybe it’s a special plant. It helps [in difficult times] to focus on something that takes you to another level.

3. Think about what constitutes a gift

A few weeks ago, my daughter-in-law asked if I’d like to have a pedicure. In all my life, I’ve never had a pedicure! So she did it herself for me. She brought the footbath and creams and tools. She also set my hair. Again, she borrowed the tools and we worked out a time.

My grandson, he made all the pictures on the wall in my room. He painted them at school. I liked them so much I asked if he’d make me another one.

It’s all these little things that are a real pick up! It can be so small or something said, or a little poem or something shared. A newspaper or some food. Gifts don’t have to involve a lot of money. They don’t have to be expensive or purchased. So when people talk about, ‘we have to bring Nancy something’, well, bring something or do something? There’s a difference.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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