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  • Tracey

Facing death

My mom's 9-year-old Pomeranian passed away yesterday. His name was "dou dou", which means "little bean" in English. He died of heart failure, same as how the last one passed away 9 years ago. It's a crushing feeling to lose a pet in my family, something we've experienced far too many times in the past 20 years. Because the dog is just like family, much like the sibling I've never had, much like a friend that would listen to you in silence at all times. As I type this, my eyes are filled with tears again, thinking how relieved he must have been to say goodbye to this world in my mom's arms. Have you ever wondered, how you will say goodbye to this world?

The word "death" comes with so much darkness and desperation. It's an end to life. It almost feels like death could equate to a silent film where the shot continues into the wheat field and just keeps going. Frankly, I haven't thought about death much before this year. I lost 3 grand parents in the course of the past 3 years. My maternal grandfather also had Papillary Thyroid Cancer. He was diagnosed at the age of 70 and lived until he's 83 years old. At the time, the doctor said he had less than 10 years to live, even after he's had 2 surgeries to remove nodules from his body. In a few days, it will be 3 years since his death and my biggest regret until this day is to not being able to say goodbye to him in person because he lived in China. From the photos, I could tell he lost a lot of weight towards the end of his treatment. Even my cousin told me that when he visited grandpa, grandpa didn't recognize him anymore. The medication, chemo, and the loss of ability to eat all made him very weak towards the end. I wish I spend more time with him, really.

All this is to say that death isn't unfamiliar to me, even thyroid cancer isn't unfamiliar to me. But it wasn't until the truth really hit me that my death could be much closer than I thought, I realized, how short this life is. In the face of death, nothing else really matters. All the stress, anger, annoyance towards a particular person or incident are now minimal in front of death.

Wait, who said I'm dying? Remember when the doctor said it's the 'best cancer' to have? It's probably not the best, because the word cancer itself implies a negative outcome. You can't really have a 'best' negative outcome so maybe we should just leave it as an 'early diagnosis' of something critical.

My ENT doctor said Papillary thyroid cancer patients have a survival rate of 95% in the next 25 years, the 5% get hit by a bus or whatever accidents happen these days. My first thought was, the next 25 years? I'll only be in my late 50s, I still wanna live to see my grandkids growing up! The anger, the despair, the sadness, are like tickling time bombs. In the first few weeks after my diagnosis, these emotions took their turns to attack my most vulnerable self-doubts, saying this as a challenging time, is an extreme understatement.

I remember doing so much research about the diagnosis, feeling frustrated, lost, and overwhelmed with all the information online. At one point, I said this in my head: You know what? If death can be a 'person', like how the movies portray it, I just want to have a civil conversation with the 'person' for cancer. It's best that we sit down, and have a logical conversation about this experience. What exactly do you want from me? what lessons are you trying to teach me? and why me??

After a few days, it finally hit me, I need to see this experience as a blessing. I am so fortunate to have so much in my life. I grew up in a loving family, no one was divorced. I don't have a step mother or father or sibling or any painful memories about my upbringing; I have a loving husband, who showers me in love and spoils me by feeding me fried chicken from time to time (fried chicken is such a guilty pleasure of mine); I have a good job, doing what I enjoy doing and have met many people along the way who are so inspiring; I live in Canada, where healthcare isn't a cause of my stress in any way; I also have a golden retriever who has a constant smile on her face at all times. So really, I am so lucky to have so much.

In the face of death, I feel so fortunate to have tasted the feeling of losing everything so early in my life, so I can now appreciate what I have. To that, I'm eternally grateful. I still want to have that conversation with cancer but you tell me when you are ready. :)

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