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:
- Go out and buy art and craft made by women. Pay a fair price. Repeat.
- Go and read about Metastatic Breast Cancer. Five years ago I was breast-cancer-illiterate; now I’m not. It helps.
- Learn more about palliative care, and about how “in palliative care” doesn’t mean the same thing as “about to die.”
- 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.
- Read How to talk to people about cancer.
- Organize a party for the spring equinox. Set a date. Invite some friends.
- Walk instead of driving.
- Find a young person who wants to learn something, and then learn it with them.
- Accept. And release.
- 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.
- Invite a friend out for coffee tomorrow. And invite a stranger out for coffee for the day after tomorrow.
- 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, Summer 2019)