Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Apologies and Thanks

I think the most precious thing when you have cancer is time. The average life expectancy for women in the developed world is about eighty years. When you have cancer, that shrinks dramatically. In my case, average life expectancy is less than one year. That means I need to fit forty years of life into just months.

This ticking time clock is my biggest source of stress these days. It's 5:00 a.m. and I can't sleep. I've been lying awake for the past three hours, thinking of all the things I need to do:

- Write letters to friends and family so I don't die with things left unsaid.
- Answer phone calls, especially those from friends far away, whom I haven't spoke to in months.
- Respond to the 275 unanswered e-mails in my Inbox, some from as far back as a year or two. I've set some of these aside for a quiet moment when I can reflect and write a thoughtful, rather than a cursory, hurried response, but I just haven't found enough of those quiet moments.
- Go through piles of insurance documents to try to claim some money for my treatment from 2006. I've had to put this at the bottom of my priority list because time is far more precious than money right now.
- Update Josie's and Toby's baby books so they can see how they grew up and what they were like as babies.
- Write letters to Josie and Toby, telling them all the things I won't be around to tell them as they grow up.
- Post the many Blogs and thoughts I've written in my head, but not yet had the time to write down.
- Make lists of my wishes about what I'd like to happen after I die: funeral and burial requests, what to do with all the paperwork I'm leaving behind, what to do with my possessions I want to leave to family and friends.
- Buy presents for Josie and Toby for the big events in their lives: their sixteenth birthday, their move to college, their wedding, their first experience as parents. I'd like these to be kept for them and given to them after I'm gone.
- Do special things with Josie and Toby to create memories they can keep after I'm gone.
- Write a cancer information Blog site and a presentation for the Breast Cancer Foundation, which I've promised to do.
- Spend time with fellow cancer patients and survivors, to provide the support and encouragement I wish I'd had when I was first diagnosed and undergoing treatment.

And many, many mundane things like paying bills and planning healthy meals for the kids. Or the many things that a considerate, courteous person should do. I have Christmas presents, birthday presents and thank-you notes I still haven't sent out. I have telephone messages from a week ago I haven't responded to. I have promised dates with friends I haven't been able to keep yet.

I'm feeling quite overwhelmed. I'm constantly worried that my friends and family will never know how much their friendship, support, and encouragement have meant to me simply because I can't find the time to sit down to tell them. I'm constantly feeling the stress of having to spend time doing the things I need to do, knowing that I'm taking precious time away from my children.

I know that many of you feel the same time pressures that I do. I know many of you are juggling jobs, kids, spouses, family and friends and go for weeks and even months without having spent a single hour all to yourself. And despite that, you're offering to spend time with me and do things for me. I want you to know how much I appreciate all the offers of help I've had. I'm really impressed and touched that I have such incredibly thoughtful and caring friends and family.

You've all helped to renew my faith in people and dissolve my cynicism by showing me that there is true goodness in the human heart and in the world around us. You've given me hope for my children. Maybe because they're surrounded by all of our wonderful friends, they won't grow up with the cynicism that I did. They will grow up believing that human nature is inherently good and there is still hope in this world, despite what they hear about suicide bombings, child molesters, wars and murderers in the news.

As I lay in bed tonight, unable to sleep and feeling tense with all the things I want and need to say and do, I thought I should at least send out a general apology.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to keep up my end of correspondences and communications. I have written many letters in my head, asking how you're doing, how your children and spouses are doing, whether you're happy and healthy. I'm sorry I haven't been able to ask you in person or even in a phone call or e-mail.

I'm sorry I can't spend the time with you that I'd like to. Know that I'm thinking of you and hoping to one day tell you how much your friendship and support have meant to me, especially since my cancer diagnosis. You've all helped me and given me hope, each in your own special way. I hope to someday be able to tell you about it. I'm sorry I can't do all this now.

And I'm especially sorry I have to resort to a general letter like this, which I know is quite tacky. Miss Manners would be appalled. But she doesn't have less than a year to live so what does she know?

By the way, I'm not convinced I have just months to live, just because the statistics and medical evidence say so. I still believe in miracles. But I also believe in being responsible to the people who care about me, so I'm making preparations.

Okay, now that I've gotten all that off my chest, maybe I can go back to bed and try to sleep for an hour before the kids get up.


Carol said...

So I see we have a to do list when I visit next week. I do love lists.
1) Delete any emails from me in your inbox.
2) Give me the insurance stuff to organize.
3) We will carve out 2 hours a day for you to do what you want/need to do.
4) We will talk about what you would want for funeral arrangements and that stuff and write it down so you don't have to think about it anymore.
5) We will talk about what gifts you want to buy and write them down and start looking.
6) We will make special moments with the kids.
7) And I will even listen to your Cancer presentation.
8) We will enjoy each precious moment and laugh and love and hope.
9) And we'll squeeze out some time for pepper crab:)
Love and hugs, Carol

Marge said...

Can I just say how wonderful it is to read that comment from Carol? What an amazing friend. I'm so happy, Shin, that you have people like her (probably lining up) who are stepping in and helping. That is such a testatment to you, Shin. I love you...

Christa said...

The pepper crab is on me!!! Boy I would love to be there.
I am thinking of you every day, sending you lots of light, love and hope. I know it works. Maybe even better than jamming your inbox...

Love, Christa

Doreen said...

Hi Shin,
This is Doreen Hodges, mother of Alan. Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2006, we have talked about you in our weekly phone calls. This time Alan gave me your blog address which I tracked down. I have been blessed by your most recent entry, and my heart goes out to you and your precious children. I'm so glad that we met you. You are a very special person. I pray that you will be able to complete all the tasks & communications in the time left to you. I love you. (Doreen Hodges)

Anonymous said...

Shin it was heart wrenching reading your blog.....pls if I can help in any way do give me a call.I read that u were making a book for your kids, I too have done scrap books on my kids growing up( my passion).Can I help with the book?

Anonymous said...


couldn't help but notice that on your "to do" list, you included buying gifts for josie and toby's milestones. keep in mind that as i type this, i have a box sitting in our dining room with items that i've picked out and collected for you to choose from. actually, i've already sent along one package, tho' i don't know if you've received it yet. in any case, you can look through all the items, pick out anything you like, and personalize them. i'm just waiting for one more item that was backordered, but i'm hoping it'll arrive soon so i can send everything along asap. i'm hoping you'll find the items useful and to your liking so you can at least partially cross that one off your "to do" list. remember also, about the website i mentioned before for toby's adult milestones - you have to pick out the items yourself because i don't know what you want and how you want them engraved, but just pick out whatever you want and let me know, and i'll order the items to your specifications and send them along as well. i hope i can get this comment thing to work - i didn't want to e-mail you directly and add another message to your inbox. daniel's been working on trying to get me to be more computer literate! anyhoo, take good care and give everyone (including yourself!) big squeezes from me! i love you! jin, P.S. just so you know, daniel and i are working on updating our wills and one of the things i intend to leave for josie is all my jewelry boxes (one of which was a gift from you), and my engagement ring. daniel is aware of this already. i know it's easy for me to say, but try not to worry about thank you's and apologies. i think some of the other things on your list are much more important. and we all understand your time constraints at this point. love you!...

Bebelicious said...

Dear Shin, now it is our turn to say thank you.
1. Thank you for driving us to the hospital at 3am when Alex decides to pop into our world.
2. Thank you for your support and encouraging words when I was a struggling first time mom.
3. Thank you for your generousity.

The list could go on.... but we just want to say, Thank you for being a wonderful friend.

We love you.

Chrissy said...


I admire your strength and your grace. My heart is breaking as I read your blogs and I can't imagine the struggles you are facing.

I have read your blogs and every time I find myself with so much I want to say and still unable to find the right words.

You have redefined my definition of beauty. Seeing you with Josie and Toby is the most precious thing I have ever seen. No one brings light to their faces like their mom. I have learned the most beautiful moments are between a mother and her children. Beauty is seen in hugs and kisses and hands that dry tears from a scraped knee. It is in your voice when you sing songs of ducks and princesses and mr. golden sun. As I think back on my childhood, and high school and going off to college, I realize the most special moments with my mom are those that seem so ordinary but showed unconditional love and support.

For so long, I've said the world needs great people. I've wanted them to be our leaders, our doctors, our teachers. But I realize we need greater people to be our mothers and our fathers, to love without condition, to guide us and teach us, show strength and kindness, give forgiveness. You are a truly wonderful person.

Love Chrissy

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin, thinking of you from a very cold UK. Can't wait to see you again (March 4th - are you around?) on our way back to Oz. Love you and hope your cough is getting better. Mel xxxx

Anonymous said...

An idea.............

Have any of you read the book..... P.S. I love you? Celia Ahern

I just wondered if a similar idea may help Shin/Tony/Josie and Toby?

If so..........I am happy to take on this task in a MAMMOTH way!

To explain further in case you are not familiar with the book.....

Its is written about a man and a womans love .... the man sadly dies in similar tragic circumstances..... as he was aware he had limited time left and the hole that would be left behind, he set about writing a series of letters to be opened on specific dates....the day of the funeral, one week after he'd gone, one month, birthdays, first anniversary etc. The letters could only be opened after midnight on the specified date on the envelope and helped guide his love left behind onwards through the journey without him.....IF Shin feels she would like to write similar notes for her family, I am happy to buy a dictaphone for her to "write/speak" het letters which I in turn (and in COMPLETE confidence) will type out for her to sign/personalise. I don't want to add to her already "too long" list ... but want her to feel shes crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's......Just a thought.....

Love always Leigh x