Surviving Grief

This week has been brutal to the lung cancer community as a whole and myself as well. It really began last Friday. Today is Wednesday. I received a message from the sister of a good friend advising me that she passed away. It was gut-wrenching. I didn't know she was doing poorly and felt horrible for not checking in as much as I should.

I have so many Facebook friends with lung cancer, it's hard to keep track of how everyone is doing. That is something I need to work on. How can I  be a good friend when I don't know what's going on?

A profound pattern

I've also found something profound in all of this. When a person with lung cancer gets close to the end, they quit communicating. I've never had anyone say, "this is probably the last message you'll receive, I'm not doing well". It makes me wonder if it's their way of trying to pull away in order to protect us that are still fighting. The majority of the time I don't find out until it's too late. For instance, Bonnie Winters.

I love this woman and always will, I just didn't see that she had declined so much. I didn't get to say goodbye or see you later. This is hard for survivors because we not only see our own mortality in them, but we feel guilty that it wasn't us. Why are some taken so soon and others keep surviving?

I'm not complaining about surviving, I reveal in it. I want to see my daughter grow more, become a woman. When I hear these sudden stories I begin to worry. But then I have to stop, put my faith in God's plan, and continue living my life. I'm not gone yet, although sometimes I get down and it feels like I am.

My friend and inspiration, Terry

Terry Karlstad and I met about 4 years ago. He was a long term survivor. To me, these people are unicorns. I'm always in awe when I encounter them. I've met many through LUNGevity, but Terry and I met on Facebook.

This man lived 18 years battling cancer. He recently discovered his cancer returned after such a long fight. I wasn't sure what to say or how to react. It was devastating, but he was always here for me. It became my turn to return the favor.

He dropped out of a lot of groups, and like I've seen with other patients that are near the end, he even quit talking to many lung cancer patients. He didn't stop talking to me. We always had our Alabama vs. Georgia football rivalry, in which I would talk so much smack only to lose every time.

When his cancer came back, he traveled to Newnan, Georgia to the hospital. My parents live close to Newnan so when my cancer returned and I had to stay for radiation, I began making plans for us to actually have lunch together. I was excited to meet this man that gave me so much hope and tried so hard to remain positive to everyone. But to me, he was real, honest, open, and raw.

What would we do without Terry?

Unfortunately, he was admitted to the hospital when I was in Atlanta for a month's worth of radiation. After communicating with him, I got the feeling that our lunch date would have to take place in the hospital. So, I grabbed some fast food and made the hour long drive to Newnan.

I met his beautiful wife, Sorina, for the first time. She is an amazing woman who loved Terry deeply. We joked around for a while, but on a serious note, he made it clear that he was so tired of battling this beast.

Of course, him actually saying this made the seriousness of his situation that much more real. I told him he couldn't leave me. I'll admit I was selfish. He made me laugh every time I was down. What would I do without him?

Saying goodbye to another dear friend

Unfortunately, his health kept declining. I only talked to Sorina during this time. She was so good to always give me updates.

Last Friday I had him on my mind so messaged her to see how things were going. I never got a response. So, Saturday I went to both of their Facebook pages and my heart instantly crumbled. He was gone. Once again, I didn't get to say goodbye, but he knew I loved him. I haven't felt this great of a loss since my soul sister Kelly passed last year.

Pick up the pieces and forge ahead

But I will pick up the pieces and go on, for him and every other friend with this monster no longer here. I love you Terry and hope to keep your positive humor around for the rest of us. You'll always have a piece of my heart, as will Sorina. She is our family too now.

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