“Would you be willing to talk to them?” Bob asked.
I was on a weekend retreat at Bob and Gerry’s, enjoying the perpetually sunny skies of San Diego when he made the ask. Bob had just run into Sue in the laundry room, and she’d tearfully told him her husband’s devastating diagnosis.
Prostate cancer is so slow growing at the start that the recommendation is often merely “watchful waiting”. But when the words “metastasized to bone” are included, the fear of death looms instantly.
“Of course,” I said. Bob thought I might be helpful, and I hoped I could be.
Gerry and I rode the elevator down three floors and rang the doorbell. After introductions and a bit of awkwardness in excusing Gerry from the conversation, I took a seat in one of the three comfortable chairs arranged in a semi-circle next to the window overlooking Balboa Park where the day before I’d sat in quiet contemplation.
“We want to hear from your experience,” they quietly implored. I’d barely begun when Sue got up to pour a glass of white wine and retrieve a box of tissues to dab her big blue eyes. Jim spoke quietly, reaching his arm out for the box as he did.
I told them my story, or rather John’s story. How some 20 years ago John received a diagnosis identical to Jim’s. How the prognosis was a couple of years before death but how he lived wholeheartedly for more than a decade. How he kept hopeful and how he hiked down the Grand Canyon.
As though John was speaking, I emphasized that no two bodies—no two people—are alike. John chose to eat brown rice and kale and miso soup. He juiced wheatgrass. He visited a health institute just a few miles from where Jim and Sue lived. But Jim would need to find his own path.
“You’ll get very clear on what’s most important to you,” I said.
“Your priorities,” Jim said, nodding his head slowly.
I encouraged them in their plans for a trip to New Jersey. In their 25 years together, no doubt they had faced many challenges together; I was confident they would find their way to face this one. I invited them to call forth their courage and trust in one another to ask for what they needed from the other.
Four days after my return home, I received an email from the wife of another friend. She and I had plans to talk on the weekend, but this news wouldn’t wait: Her husband had metastasized prostate cancer.
When I was the patient’s wife anxiously taking notes at every doctor’s visit and researching treatments online at night, my fear was the end of my husband’s life. Little did I know how those years prepared me for a future chapter of mine.
Have past difficult times of your life ever served you later in life?
How has your life experience helped others?
Is there someone you know whose story you want to hear?