My good friend, Mona Jones, died last week from breast cancer. As I have written in past postings, I regularly start my week by lighting three candles at www.gratefulness.org. The first candle is always for all people on a cancer journey, sending them love and support while also sending my best wishes for health, healing, and hope. The other two candles are lit in gratitude for cancer caregivers and cancer researchers. This week I lit one additional candle in honor of my friend Mona who is being buried today in her Kentucky hometown. Cancer did ultimately claim her body seven years after her initial diagnosis but never laid claim on her fighting and loving spirit.
Also last week, I had looked ahead on the calendar to count down the days until my husband's birthday, making sure I figured out how old he would be - 58?, 59?, yes 59! - oh golly, that sounded so old. The next day I heard that Mona was very close to death. Mona is my age, 58, and in a flash, both 58 and 59 seemed so young.
Although I have had more than my share of cancer experiences with associated fears of a too young death, I have not walked as far down the cancer path as Mona did. She and I did not talk about our similar yet different paths in the deep sense of what were our fears and our hopes once her cancer had spread to be considered incurable. It was certainly much easier to talk about the "technical" or logistical details related to cancer and more enjoyable to talk about the current lives of our grown children. I sensed an awkwardness and a distance, more a sadness rather than bitterness, on both of our parts about bridging a discussion about one of us having higher odds of living longer than the other, with hopes of experiencing more of the future of our own individual life and those of our children.
I have tried reflecting on the number of friends, relatives (including my father), coworkers, neighbors, along with the large number of friends of friends that the world has lost to cancer, all taken prematurely while still loving life and having much to give. I confess that I have lost "count". The vast number almost seems mind-numbing. However, it would be a dishonor to all these courageous people to permit the overwhelming number to become numbing. Instead, I hope reflection of Mona's death along so many others leads to an individual and community call to action that in some meaningful way contributes to prevention, caring, or curing of this difficult and unfair diagnosis.
Mona had a peaceful and pain-free death, at home, with her family who loved her dearly, in stark contrast to a description of death in today's New York Times, "Perhaps Death is Proud; More Reason to Savor Life". One quotation that I keep near and dear to my heart, with a deep understanding in every cell of my body, is a Russian proverb that I saw stitched into a square of an AIDS quilt many years ago: "Hope is the last to die". Cancer is a tough taskmaster and may claim my body one day too. I finally accepted and came to peace with that possibility many years ago. However, my hopes are that I too, like Mona, will have a peaceful, pain-free death, at home, with my family, will have led a purposeful life, loved and savored life by creating my own community and beauty right up to the end of my life without letting cancer lay claim to my spirit. Otherwise, I will have given cancer permission to kill me twice. No way, no how, will I allow that.
Thank you, Mona, for showing us all how to live and how to die. I am sending you love and a hug up to heaven. With love and friendship, my heart and home, along with those of of your neighborhood friends, will always be open to Wayne, Jeremy and Jenny.