Last week we heard the horrible news that one of our neighbors had died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. She was in her late 50s or early 60s, with a husband and adult children. We didn’t know this family well, having only met them one night at a local restaurant when my husband and I were on a date night. We enjoyed talking with them and they seemed like a really nice, happy couple with much to live for.
Any death is tragic, especially someone who is relatively young. But what struck me about this situation was that this same woman, Eileen, had also had an aneurysm a little over a one year before. Her health situation at that time, from what I am told, was very serious. She was described to me as a fighter, pushing herself hard to recover and regain elements of her previous life. We were not friends – in the traditional or Facebook way – however I found myself stalking her Facebook page, which showed me that she lived life to the fullest but also channeled this tragedy into an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for brain aneurysm research.
Like me, maybe you don’t know much about aneurysms, which are defined as “an excessive localized enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the arterial wall. Aneurysms may remain silent or rupture, causing serious problems and even death”. Often an aneurysm can go undetected however, according to Medical News Today, around 30,000 brain aneurysms rupture annually, resulting in death in around 40% of cases, according to estimates by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Feels a bit like a game of Russian Roulette, only you don’t know you’re playing.
My only other experience with aneurysms was when a woman I worked with briefly – a newlywed – had left the office for lunch one day, calling her husband to say she had a headache and was gone by the same time the next day. Then, like know, I couldn’t help but reflect on the precariousness of life when you can be going about your day, having something lurking in your body that can kill you in seconds – and you don’t even know it’s there.
As I was walking our dog by their house I wondered if her husband, now a widow, felt angry or grateful. One could argue that she had “extra” time given that, by all accounts, she could have died that first time and she didn’t. But the truth is that she was taken far too soon. She had spent the months after her first brain bleed working hard to be well – and to do good. What is the sense of it all?
Since my cancer diagnosis, I have tried really hard to live with an “attitude of gratitude”, grateful for each day that I am lucky enough to have. Where I would previously bemoan getting older, now I celebrate each birthday as the gift it is. I try to take mental snapshots of moments with my family, knowing they are a blessing we aren’t always guaranteed. I know that when I went into the hospital two years ago, there was a concern I may not come home. The fact that I am here, all these months later, fighting hard to stay in deep remission, is nothing short of miraculous (to us at least!).
That said, if something happened to me now, two years later, would my husband or children, my mom, my sister, my friends feel LUCKY to have gotten this extra time with me? Or feel ROBBED that I was taken too soon?
Advances mean that many of us with Multiple Myeloma may have the benefit of living longer, with a greater quality of life. A diagnosis of Myeloma used to mean certain death within a few years’ time. My oncologist told me this point blank the first time we met. Myeloma is (and can still be) SCARY. I shudder to think how frightened my mother-in-law felt when she pulled out her decades-old nursing books to learn more about the Myeloma her then-42-year-old daughter-in-law had been diagnosed with. SCA-RY.
But scientific advances have been and continue to be remarkable. Between 2004 and 2014 eight new drugs were introduced to treat Myeloma. Even more promising? In 2015, FOUR new treatments were approved by the FDA. Science is on our side.
“A multiple myeloma diagnosis used to mean that a patient could only expect to survive three to five years. Today, that landscape has changed so much that it’s almost unrecognizable. Multiple myeloma remains incurable, but it is becoming more manageable. Doctors are beginning to talk of it as a “chronic disease.” Some are becoming optimistic enough to say that a cure might be possible within a decade”.
But despite this, life is crazy and unpredictable and unfair sometimes. People who don’t take care of themselves live to be in their 90s. A dear friend who is one of the healthiest people I know has been dealing with still-undiagnosed health concerns. There is no way to know what our paths will be – and how our story will end. All we can do is be a cliché – live each day to the fullest, laugh a lot and love HARD.
The reality is we are all living on borrowed time and will never know what the next day will hold.
And no matter what happens, I’m not sure that any of us will ever feel that we – or a loved one – had enough time. I think we are all understandably greedy and wish to get to that next milestone. Our desire to make that next memory, see that next birthday, have one more day/week/month/year is insatiable. I also don’t think this is a bad thing as long as we appreciate the time we do get.
As I was reflecting on all of this, I stopped to ask my husband the question I had asked myself earlier. After all that has happened these past few years, would he feel grateful for the time he had gotten with me or robbed because I was taken too soon?
His wise and perfect answer? “Both”.
Until next time, #gameon….
Rest in Peace, Eileen. In her memory, I’m sharing information on an organization that was important to her and is committing to shedding light on Brain Aneurysms, The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation.