“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Hamlet to Horatio
These last weeks I have been playing a minor character in the last production in the life of my friend Meg. She is dying from late stage breast cancer. I have written before about my views of using war analogies for treatment of disease. Meg is one reason. Her time has come – not because she wasn’t brave enough, or tough enough, or smart enough, but because eventually death comes for us all.
When I was working myself up to visiting a doctor last fall, I called Meg first. She came over with books and articles. She talked to me about treatment options more throughly then any of my doctors. She offered to come to my appointments as an advocate if I needed it. She impressed upon me the importance of Choosing my treatments, of not just going along with the standard of care without question. She continued to offer encouragement and practical information all throughout this year. Despite dealing with her own circus of appointments and treatments for her metastatic disease.
Her tip about using a a specific anesthesia technique for my mastectomy, the paravertebral block, was based on a research paper that was presented at a national conference for anesthesiologists just weeks prior to my surgery. She had learned about it from a doctor friend, after she had asked that friend for suggestions on my behalf. Neither my oncologist nor my surgeon knew anything about it. I changed anesthetists so I could use the block, and That anesthesiologist ended up giving me a copy of the very same study that Meg had already passed on to me.
If not for the information that she gave me, my care would have been much less well rounded. I feel that even though we chose different paths- we were very aligned in our fierceness around choosing each step, rather than obeying without question. I feel so grateful to her.
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
Polonius- Hamlet Act I scene iii
Meg researched every aspect of her care- and made the best choices for herself. Many of them were unconventional- only marginally did her choices align with the “Gold Standard.” She sought out options that felt right to her, and outlived her diagnosis. I believe it is a result of aligning her treatment with what aligned best within her. I believe that the treatments she used were more effective because she chose them- the additive benefit of mind body medicine at play.
Anyone facing a cancer diagnosis must make many, many choices, and for some- standard of care is the best possible option. I am proud of Meg that she traveled this journey without using either chemotherapy or radiation- not because they are always a bad choice- but because they were not the right choice for her. She remained true to herself through this whole long journey- which requires great fortitude.
“Not a whit. We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.”
Hamlet to Horatio
While thinking about how to tell her tale- I wanted to use some quotes from Shakespeare, whom she dearly loved. When I asked her if she liked Hamlet- She replied “God Yes- “The readiness is all. The readiness is All” Readiness for her, in this moment- is about the readiness to die. Of course she chose the perfect passage to quote from. None of us can know when the exact moment will be, or what we will experience on the other side, Regardless it is clear that her moment of special providence is very near.
One of the hospice volunteers gave the wise advise of “You can’t push the river.” Each time I look out her window I see the river and I am reminded. Each time I look out my window, I am reminded. Like the tide Death takes it’s own time, not the time of our choosing.
“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.”
Hamlet to Horatio
Last week she asked that I make sure her story is told from her perspective. I feel honored, and somewhat like Horatio- to be trusted with her story, though in truth I am truly playing just a bit part in her final scenes.
“Don’t let it be said that I lost my battle with cancer- I won my battle with the Cancer Industry!”
I can only tell one small piece of her story. She is a fierce and loyal friend, to both woman and beast. She is smart and creative, and paid great attention to the small details that make life more beautiful for all of us. She is dearly loved by her family and friends.
Those of us who have spent time at her side, as her ladies in waiting so to speak, feel what a privilege it is to be in the sacred space of her impending death. There is much gratitude that she is able to stay home until the end like she wants. That we will be able to give her a home funeral and natural burial is a great gift. I have come to trust that when she is freed from this mortal coil, it will be the perfect time. She will make her grand entrance onto the next stage, right on cue, and true to herself.