Saturday, March 24, 2012

Too Young to Die

I was in a funk today (translation: sad) and set up my playlist of Jamiroquai songs. When "Too Young to Die" came up, I immediately thought of Julie Devenny whose funeral is today. The song is a protest against politicians sending young men and women out to fight in the military to die for their country. This is a perfect analogy for fighting the "war of cancer". Each year, over 7, 000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Canada. The cancer death rates for many age groups have decreased but this is not the case for young adults which have remained the same since the 1970s.

She battled breast cancer for five years. I shared a train ride with Julie and Bonnie from the Young Adult Cancer (YACC) Conference in Ottawa last November. Julie was so vibrant, outgoing, and looked like she had a lot more living to do. She died too early at the age of 30. At the conference, Julie was always laughing and joking around and, me being a bit of an introvert that weekend, was more quiet and withdrawn. Yet during our train ride, I got to chat with her and learn about her. I saw Julie's quieter side. Julie's cancer was stage 4. I remember she said that she first found out she had breast cancer after graduation. When she finished her first bout of cancer and was deemed "in remission", she dived into her career as a physiotherapist. She loved her job and worked hard at it but had to leave it once again when she was rediagnosed with stage 4. Julie did not look sick by any means.

Julie's obituary photo. To read Julie Devenny's obituary, please click here.

Julie on the court playing for the University of Waterloo. Coincidentally, I was a student here too but never met Julie at the time.

Less than a week prior to Julie's passing, Andréanne Arcand, who also attended the YACC Conference passed away. I got to know Andréanne during the conference well because she was in my small group. I was intrigued by her peaceful nature and also her spiritual experience with Peruvian shamans. Andréanne had a form salivary cancer. Although her tumours and surgery scars were visible on her face and arms, she was radiantly beautiful. She was selfless and I remember her saying that she was glad that the suffering she was going through was happening to her and not a family member. I could not imagine what it must be like to be at stage 4. I asked Andréanne what she focused on in life. She told me she focused on spending time with her family and friends and living.

Andréanne Arcand, to read her obituary click here

And just a few short weeks prior to Andréanne, Adam Cardinal, another YACC Conference participant, passed away. I don't remember talking to or interacting with Adam but the only memory I think I have of him is sitting in front on the bench in front of the hotel, alone. Was it Adam Cardinal, I saw sitting there, smoking a cigarette? Did I say hello? I don't remember.

Adam Cardinal, to read his YACC profile click here

When I learned about the news that three survivors passed away, I gradually felt numbness, guilt, and some anxiety and disgust. How could this be? I felt a hurt feeling in my heart. I felt worried. How much time do all of the sick people I know have?

When I found out about Andréanne, I went back through my e-mails. I recall e-mailing her. This is what I wrote:

November 9, 2011Blue Butterfly
It was really a pleasure to meet you. I hope you're sleeping in your own bed tonight and out of the hospital. My hope is that your health is stable.

November 9, 2011Andreanne A
Thank you. Yes I am back home since Monday night and it feels great to be able to sleep in my own bed.
It was great meeting you too!

Is that all I wrote?

I became increasingly aware of how limited the time is for many cancer survivors. I think of all of the sick people I know and I felt guilty. Guilty about the fact that I have actually begun to forget that I had cancer at times. Felt guilty about doing things like planning my wedding, putting a deposit on my gown, and nursing an eye infection. I get to celebrate and get stronger and healthier while others get sicker.

But now (as I write this on Thursday), I realize that all of these experiences, it is all life. Life.

Andréanne's words meant she was focusing on life.

On Saturday, I mourned a bit for Julie at home. I mourned for sick survivors. I also mourned the part of me that obsesses and worries, wasting precious time. So I danced when I heard all of my Jamiroquai tunes and from this dance, I felt my mood lift. There is so much living to do.

I cherish the lives of these three young adult cancer survivors who each touched my life in different ways. They were all too young to die and have not experienced many of life's triumphs like getting married, having children, realizing dreams, buying a home, growing old, and many other dreams. May they continue to live on among those who knew and loved them.

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