Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Death and Dying - at Midlife

I was out of sorts yesterday. Just felt meh-ish, after a several week period in which I was up-and-at-em. Am I crashing, I thought. Oh no, oh woe. But then I did what I have learned to do at such times (at least when I can remember) and that is to just accept that I'm feeling meh-ish. And know that it too will pass. While I was working at achieving this pseudo-Zen state--and wishing, really, that I could have a Stepford button installed in my brain because who needs to feel meh-ish even if you know it will pass--I realized the source of my state of mind. The day before my friend M called to tell me that our friend Sharon was dying.

I saw Sharon when I was in LA a couple of weeks ago. It was a reunion of sorts of our book club and Sharon, who hadn't been feeling at all well, particularly wanted to come. She needed to see her friends. The group of us hung out as we have done so many times in the past, and we talked, really talked, 'checking in' with each other as only women who have history together can do. My check-in was to relate not only the ghastly year I've had, but also the much more promising one that seems now to be taking place.

Sharon checked in with her medical report. The doctor saw a spot on her lung and said it was probably sarcoidosis. Or maybe lung cancer. Sharon wasn't buying that diagnosis; she much preferred the sarcoidosis, which is an immune system disease that is rarely fatal. She would do what she has always done (sometimes with disasterous results, it must be said) and trust totally in Alternative non-Western medicine. She was refusing the steroids that would be prescribed for the sarcoidosis and she was refusing the second CAT scan that would rule out cancer. But oh, she was so tired, and so weak, and so very very depressed. The doctor wanted her to go on anti-depressants and until now, she had refused them as well. But we, her girl friends (some of whom were loaded up on Prozac and Effexor themselves) urged her to reconsider. Think of the mind-body connection, Sharon, we told her. How can you hope to get well without your full emotional strength. And she finally agreed. When I hugged her goodbye, it was with the knowledge that she too would soon be loaded up on Effexor and feeling 100% in just a matter of time.

I don't think she ever got that prescription filled. The next day I'm told she was so weak that her sister came to take her to the doctor. She had the second CAT scan. Stage IV lung cancer; metastasized already to her bones. She died yesterday, just three weeks after I last saw her. When M called to tell me, I thought, Aha--the meh-ish feeling made much more sense than I had originally thought.

I've reached the age when I'm starting to lose my friends, all of whom are midlife women. Not that cancer doesn't take young people as well, but I am suddenly aware of how vulnerable we all are to the ultimate breakdowns in the body. How vulnerable I am. And it makes me feel--well, very vulnerable.

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