Catherine

Catherine, my partner of nigh on 29 years, has been living with metastatic breast cancer since the fall of 2014 (she would never say “battling” or “suffering from,” and I can attest that she has, indeed, been very much living).

While the last five years have seen many twists and turns, some of them wrenching and painful, like chemotherapy and radiation, and others, like travel, and Oliver’s completing high school, and the simple fact of living to see another year, filled with joy and contentment.

As I write, Catherine is still very much alive. But she’s moved to the PEI Palliative Care Centre, and has stopped being treated for cancer; her life from here will focus on relief of pain, comfort, and quality time with family. In the coming days or weeks she will die.

This is desperately sad, but also not empty of joy and insights and deep, deep emotion of the sort that one seldom gets to experience. We are well-supported by friends and family–the Island blanket is wrapping itself around us, I wrote earlier in the week to a friend–and while we’re not entirely prepared for what the next days and weeks will hold, we know we will weather them together.

Many have written me over recent weeks to ask if there’s anything we need, anything they can do.

We are, I am happy to report, blessed with a well-stocked larder.

But there are things you can do, right now, that will help:

  1. Go out and buy art and craft made by women. Pay a fair price. Repeat.
  2. Go and read about Metastatic Breast Cancer. Five years ago I was breast-cancer-illiterate; now I’m not. It helps.
  3. Learn more about palliative care, and about how “in palliative care” doesn’t mean the same thing as “about to die.”
  4. If you live on Prince Edward Island, read about the Palliative Home Care Program, which has been a godsend to our family, and is a model for integrated, compassionate healthcare delivery. Mention it to your MLA next time you see them in the grocery line.
  5. Read How to talk to people about cancer.
  6. Organize a party for the spring equinox. Set a date. Invite some friends.
  7. Walk instead of driving.
  8. Find a young person who wants to learn something, and then learn it with them.
  9. Accept. And release.
  10. Make an Advanced Care Plan. Right now, instead of “when I have some spare time.” If not for the utility of the plan itself–which is significant–then for the deep and important conversations it will spur you to have with those you hold dear. Everyone should have one, even if you think yourself immortal.
  11. Invite a friend out for coffee tomorrow. And invite a stranger out for coffee for the day after tomorrow.
  12. If you have something you’d like me to tell Catherine, let me know.

Catherine needs all the energy she has, and so isn’t accepting visitors, but I will pass along messages to her.

Thank you to everyone who’s offered a kind word, a coffee date, additional patience, solidarity.

I’m taking a sabbatical from this space for a while, but I shall return.

Me, Catherine and Oliver

(Me, Catherine and Oliver, Summer 2019)

Comments

Khürt Louis Williams's picture
Khürt Louis Williams on January 7, 2020 - 00:53 Permalink

I appreciate your sharing.

Leo Cheverie's picture
Leo Cheverie on January 7, 2020 - 03:55 Permalink

Thanks for sharing these heartfelt words - Catherine is an amazing and incredible person whose light continues to shine - Her ongoing love and concern for others and The Planet continues to inspire me - sending you virtual hugs

Robert Charles Paterson's picture
Robert Charles ... on January 7, 2020 - 07:58 Permalink

Bless you all Peter

Cheryl G's picture
Cheryl G on January 7, 2020 - 10:43 Permalink

Front Seat Oliver and I speak about you, Catherine, and Back Seat Oliver daily and revel in your family's love. Thank you for sparing the energy to keep us informed here and in your newsletter. Sending my love.

Henriette Weber's picture
Henriette Weber on January 7, 2020 - 11:05 Permalink

Thank you for telling this Peter. Thinking of all three of you. Tell her that I love our connection and the fun we’ve had. It’s cherished deep within me. Hugs!

Henriette Weber's picture
Henriette Weber on January 7, 2020 - 11:05 Permalink

Thank you for telling this Peter. Thinking of all three of you. Tell her that I love our connection and the fun we’ve had. It’s cherished deep within me. Hugs!

Henriette Weber's picture
Henriette Weber on January 7, 2020 - 11:05 Permalink

Thank you for telling this Peter. Thinking of all three of you. Tell her that I love our connection and the fun we’ve had. It’s cherished deep within me. Hugs!

Catherine Boeckmann's picture
Catherine Boeckmann on January 7, 2020 - 13:08 Permalink

Peter, Thinking of you and Catherine and wishing you both comfort. May she know relief from the symptoms and stress of her illness (thank you for the references above). If it helps, here is some verse for you two to read together. "Evolution" by Langdon Smith (1858-1908). I am sorry that I can't include the usual Almanac picture. https://msuweb.montclair.edu/~furrg/int/evolution.html

Kevin Lewis's picture
Kevin Lewis on January 8, 2020 - 11:48 Permalink

That is a brilliant poem. Thank you for introducing the two of us, poem and person.

Simon Lloyd's picture
Simon Lloyd on January 7, 2020 - 17:40 Permalink

Wise, courageous, and compassionate words, Peter. Thank you for sharing. Metastatic breast cancer took my Mum in 2011, but, like Catherine, she was able to live for (as it happens) about five years between the diagnosis and her passing. At the funeral, my Dad shared these words from Thorton Wilder (The Bridge of San Luis Rey): "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." Blessings to you all on this hard path.

Joan Sinclair's picture
Joan Sinclair on January 8, 2020 - 10:44 Permalink

That is a lovely family picture of you all this summer. I will hold you all in my heart now, think of you often, and wish Catherine peace, and freedom from pain.

Debi Mais Murphy's picture
Debi Mais Murphy on January 10, 2020 - 19:44 Permalink

Your thoughts are deeply heartfelt Peter and your love for each other radiates in your smiles. Thank you for sharing this. Thank you as well for the list of ways we/I can help right now. Wishing Catherine peace, freedom from pain and comfort in being with those who love her deeply. Wishing you, Catherine and Oliver comfort in spending time together.

Maud Anschutz's picture
Maud Anschutz on January 10, 2020 - 23:46 Permalink

Peter,
I am so sorry to hear about the health problems in your family.
I will keep you and yours in the Light, and hope you will enjoy every good moment that comes your way!
Maud
PS My first message didn’t seem to go anywhere, so I will try again and press “save”

Maud Anschutz's picture
Maud Anschutz on January 10, 2020 - 23:46 Permalink

Peter,
I am so sorry to hear about the health problems in your family.
I will keep you and yours in the Light, and hope you will enjoy every good moment that comes your way!
Maud
PS My first message didn’t seem to go anywhere, so I will try again and press “save”

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on January 16, 2020 - 19:04 Permalink

Thank you for sharing this Peter, in your own unique way. I have been working with palliative care movements in the US the last few years, and I echo much of the advice in your list. We also nursed a friend and neighbour through her death a couple of years ago and the experience is how you describe it so well: "This is desperately sad, but also not empty of joy and insights and deep, deep emotion of the sort that one seldom gets to experience."

Death is an inevitable part of life, death of ourselves and of our loved ones. If we are privileged enough to actually LIVE the experience, it becomes a deep part of one's journey on earth, and we discover parts of ourselves that we could never find elsewhere.

I appreciate your feeling the fullness of it all, and for Catherine I hope her suffering is short, that she remains present to it all, and her heart remains full of the love you all share.