One Advantage of Dying?

Have you noticed how many television shows and movies have a cancer theme these days? And how many of them deal with breast cancer? And how uplifting and inspirational they are, as a rule?

In order to keep the shows so relentlessly positive, of course, they don’t show much metastatic cancer. I did see a British TV show (a comedy-drama series) the other day that had a lady with metastatic cancer in one episode. This lady, thinking she had a year left to live, offered the visiting nurse coffee. The nurse took a sip and, “This has whiskey in it!”

“Brandy, actually,” the lady replied. “One advantage of dying is that you get to do all the things that are supposed to kill you.” Her goal was to cram a lifetime’s worth of experience into that last year.

I admit that I play that card sometimes. I am not above enjoying slightly discomfiting nurses and doctors and casual friends. If someone comments about my eating too many artificially flavored foods or something like that, I say, “What? It could give me cancer?”

I do have a sense of humor that has been one of primary defense mechanisms as well as one of my greatest coping techniques. (Two sides of one coin.) I like to joke and kid around. I love absurdity and anachronism. I am fundamentally happy. (Remember that the fundament is what is at the bottom, the foundation. It is not always visible, but it’s always there, holding everything up.)

(I also really, really love parentheses as a written form.)

I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. I have a couple of new pains that I’m going to discuss with my oncologist at our appointment next month. No point in making a special appointment—I know what is most probably causing the pain, I have pain meds at home. I don’t see any practical benefit to knowing that yes, it’s more mets, and if it’s something else, it’s not urgent and the onc will let me know in due course.

Don’t get me wrong. I am afraid of progression. I know that the cancer will inevitably progress and then progress some more until it kills me. I am not complacent in the face of that. But I can’t do anything about it that I’m not already doing, so when I feel afraid, I look at it, recognize it, let it go.

It’s not only alcoholics who can benefit from the beginning of Serenity Prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This isn’t a one-time thing, this letting go. I do it over and over again, every time I get scared. Sometimes I cry and talk to a friend about it, sometimes I write about it. Sometimes I just keep it to myself… to myself and God. But I do let it go each time.

I liked the TV show I saw the other day. Toward the end, the visiting nurse had to give that lady the news that her last MRI showed progression in several organs. “How long do I have,” the lady whispered. “Two months,” said the nurse.

The lady’s face crumpled, her body seemed to collapse inward, and she cried. Then she straightened up, took a deep breath and said, “Well. I think we can skip the coffee today and go straight to the brandy!”

That was real.  Thank you, writers of Frankie.

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42 Responses

  1. MC says:

    Thanks. Just….thanks.

  2. As usual my time spent here feels well spent. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  3. heyjudyjudy says:


  4. It sounds like letting go let’s you live your best life.

    • Knot Telling says:

      It does, as long as we understand that “letting go” does not mean passive compliance. It means that I turn my energy to where I can reasonably expect a result and don’t waste it pulling on doors marked “push”. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Joanne brennan says:

    I think you’re great! Fundamentally happy..yes, me! Xoxox Jo

  6. I think I just may have a brandy. Thank you for your posts.

  7. As usual, your words are powerful and honest. Thank you.

  8. gregsmithmd says:

    Thoughtful, simple, and wise.

  9. Wow, that is real. Maybe the most real I’ve ever heard from television. (And by the way, I’m also a fan of parentheses – they are a blogger’s secret weapon.) ~Catherine

  10. And impeccable use of parentheses. Cheers!

  11. Loved this post. Denying what is real takes a tremendous amount of energy. Facing it squarely, saying, “Yes, I know this,” and going on with life let’s one put energy into living instead. (I, too, love parentheses. Everyone talks that way, with little asides, why not write that way, too?)

    • Knot Telling says:

      Yes, exactly. Accepting reality is, in fact, the path of least resistance and leaves us the energy to fight those battles we can win. (Parentheses are the light dusting of seasoning that makes writing tasty.)

  12. debby3768 says:

    I talk with parentheses. People often stare at me because I’ve swung out and changed lanes in the middle of a conversation with no signal at all.

    The one thing that I found is when life is uncertain, all those things you meant to do? You do them. You put words to that truth perfectly.

  13. great post…and (awesome) parentheses.

  14. Maxine D says:

    Thank you! and thank you again! I loved this post, and the parentheses, (I often use commas as parentheses, too).
    We also use humour, frequently black humour, to cope, and sometimes to deliberately shock. I teach a craft to a group of older women, and made the quip the other day that ‘I am just waiting for him (DH) to ‘cark it’ so I can take over his side of the ‘studio’! Some laughed and others were shocked….. I might add that this has been said in front of him too.
    Blessings and prayers

  15. mariaratliff says:

    wonderful post. thank you for your transparency & honesty!! my sister-in-law died at the age of 38 from a brain tumor (astrocytoma). she lived her last year as you are living…transparent, honest, making the most of a not so good situation. prayers being lifted for you!!

    • Knot Telling says:

      Hello, Maria, and welcome to Telling Knots. I hope we’ll see you back often.

      I am sorry for the loss of your sister-in-law. Astrocytoma can be vicious.

      Thank you very much for your kind words and your prayers.

  16. Kayleigh says:

    Another parentheses lover here! (And that is my attempt at saying something cute first, before the emotional stuff)…I’m not metastatic (that I know of) but for about 4 months they thought I was due to masses of pulmonary nodules. Then they disappeared. That was 3 years ago. Sometimes I feel lucky, like I dodged a bullet…but other times I feel like I just got an early glimpse of my inevitable future. Yet at this moment I am just another “survivor” taking my Arimidex and trying to live without waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe we are all waiting for that other shoe to drop, just some of us know it’s more immanent than others. Letting go IS a continual process…I never thought of it that way but you are right. Sometimes it’s easier than others, I guess.

    Oh, and I also cracked up reading the funny parts of this post — thank you for that 🙂

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thanks for laughing at my jokes! 😀

      Sometimes I think that people in your position have it even harder in some ways than people with known mets. Given the scary 30% figure, even people with no evidence of disease (NED) are never quite sure.

      Kayleigh, if you would like to write a post about that, I’d be honored to host it here.

  17. NotDownOrOut says:

    I once sat next to a patient at a hospital who was talking to her friend while waiting for her appointment. I could not help but hear what they were saying. I am paraphrasing, but the woman said, “The biggest difference between now and then is that I know what’s going to kill me.” A few minutes later, that woman took her friend’s package of cookies and ate them. She said, “You can thank me later. I just saved you from dying from diabetes.”

    It is a big difference between “before” and “after.” My cancer was only “stage 1 with complicating factors.” I have had to do quite a bit of adjusting to that news. But the experience has often caused me to think about what it will be like for me if I ever hear test results indicating that cancer has returned or that something else has developed. I really hope that a positive attitude and humor will survive any diagnosis. But I think there will be lots of more complex emotions, and I do try to prepare myself for the worst case scenario. Life is not about happy endings. I sat by my 92-year-old grandma’s bedside when she was dying of old age and it was sad, too. Life is about lots of much more challenging experiences than TVs and movies want to contemplate. Thanks for sharing your feelings about that.

    I am very much inspired by your blog. As others have stated here, you speak truth. It is so much better than watching stories play out in fiction. It makes me think that the real heroes of our time aren’t Ironman or Superman, but people who walk out of a hospital and face life using nothing more amazing than dignity, courage, honesty, and grace. Thanks for showing how it’s done.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Hmm, I don’t know. Ironman is pretty cool…

      Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comments. I don’t set out to inspire anyone, but if that happens, I’m glad.

  18. YES! fundamentally happy, and able to let go – the first is a blessing, the second a skill we sometimes have to practice, practice, practice (but sooo worth the effort). and it might just be that mastering that letting go skill can be the catalyst to a new found fundamental happiness. I loved this post – thank you!


    Karen, TC

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Karen.

      I wasn’t always fundamentally happy. I was a pretty miserable child and adolescent. Somewhere along the line I learned how to change my attitude and that, like Frost’s “road not traveled” has made all the difference.

      The skill of letting go can be acquired, must be practiced and is the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever learned to do.,

  19. Tracy says:

    Excellent post, made me laugh and touched my heart. The reality is we’re all going to die of something and for some of us that something is cancer. Nothing can change that but it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while time stays on our side. Letting go creates more space for our fundamental happiness

  20. Elizabeth J. says:

    So true. It is a relief to be able to let go and just accept one day at a time. Of course some things are easier to let go than others. I really want to watch my grandson grow up. But, I tell myself to enjoy him now. And I occasionally remind myself that he has wonderful parents, especially his mother (my daughter) and he will be raised in a home filled with love and faith.
    I have found that some people in my life are still at the stage where they think they should protect me from all harm. It is not like I want to go skydiving or something like that, but while the present treatment is working and bearable, I would like to travel and enjoy some things that I know at some point I will not be able to. I don’t drink, but I so understand about the lady and her brandy.

  1. 12 August, 2013

    […] Will it surprise anyone that death and dying are fairly often in my thoughts? Not in a morbid way, but as an event I will soon attend, a fact of life, the next step. I’ve written several posts about it. My favorites are Living in an Undefined Space, It’s not death, it’s the dying, and One Advantage of Dying?  […]

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