In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
By Adriana Ermter
I know how I want to die. I want to be in my bed, wearing my favourite pair of black and white patterned, soft cotton pajamas. I’ll be tucked under my duvet, lying on my side with my head resting on top of the extra long, queen-sized and ridiculously expensive down feather pillow I serendipitously purchased right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Softer than any pillow I’ve ever owned, it was worth it. After surgery and throughout treatment, my body smooshed into its feathery goodness like a hug. It protected my body parts that hurt and helped ease my stress into sleep. Like my two kitty-cats, it’s just something I won’t die without.
Dying in my happy place
Murphy, my poufy orange boy-cat will be spooned into my tummy. With my arm wrapped around him, my fingers tucked under his belly, his oversized, fluffy tail will, like it always does, curve over my arm in an embrace. It’s white tip lying on top of my hand. Olive, my tiny taupe bundle of energy and fur is curled in so we’re nose to nose. My other arm encircles her body, my hand holding her silky tail. Her little licks on my face punctuate the sound of both of their truck engine-like purrs. This is our happy place.
With the view of the city outside my window, I’m content to die at home. I hope it’s at nighttime so I can see the cityscape’s twinkling lights. Maybe there will be music. My lifelong friend will be there. He’ll have my iPhone in this moment and forever afterwards. He’ll be the DJ as we play remember-when. His body lying behind mine, his laugh in my ear, his memory will guide mine through a lifetime of work, travel, adventures and friendship. When I’m near the end, he’ll play The Cinematic Orchestra’s The Crimson Wing, Mystery of the Flamingos. His hand on my head, his breath reassuring me I can let go, his heart beating for both of us. This is how I want to die.
Planning the moment
Special moments with my family and friends will have been planned, savoured and tucked into my heart. I don’t want to leave any loose ends or unspoken thoughts. It’s important to me to do this right and to honour my life and those who’ve been a big part of it. I haven’t planned the day I die because I’m morbid. And to be perfectly clear, I’m not dying. I’m healthy, three and a half years cancer free. But to say that I don’t feel the fear of a potential recurrence, one that could happen just like that would be lying. So I’ve intentionally thought about this moment and know what I want.
I’m not preoccupied with these thoughts they simply exist, lurking in the dark recesses of my mind. How could they not? My body’s done it before, grown enough cancer cells to create a tumor that was dangerous enough to have to have been removed with months of treatment and follow-up care.
I’ve been there, done that and all of it was unexpected. So I know it could happen again. It’s why I’ve planned my death. I have to. I love my life too much to not live it exactly the way I choose to, right until the end. And because I am single and live alone, I have to share this out loud so that my family and friends understand my wishes and aren’t left holding my responsibilities.
Sharing the details
It wasn’t hard to share these details with my friend. He’s the one I turn to with my weird stuff, the uncomfortable feelings and my vulnerable places. I trust him with all of this, even when it’s awkward. I always have. He can handle it. Without judgment too, just calm warmth and kind understanding. And I reciprocate. It’s what a lifetime of genuine friendship and transparency together has earned.
The other parts that follow death are more technical, expected and simpler in a way, like who I’ve named in my Will, will also be shared so that the people most important to me know my thoughts and bequeathments in advance. This feels smart and practical. I’m not just settling my affairs, I’m meaningfully, purposefully outlining my wishes complete with the guardianship of my beloved kitties who are my family not pets, the division of my assets and most cherished items and, of course, how I want to be celebrated once I’m gone. None of this is morbid. At least it’s not for me.
Living the reality
I’ve lived every stage of living my life authentically. Sometimes I was small and fearful, other times crazy and brave. I’ve made enormous mistakes and experienced great loss. But I’ve also created big wins and best of all, continuously chosen to grow and to be present and to love, especially when it counts the most. Including now, when dealing with thoughts of my own death, should I have a fatal cancer recurrence.
Having breast cancer changed me. It’s made me think this way. I think it’s because it temporarily stripped away any control I thought I had over myself, my emotions, my hopes and dreams, my reality and my body. It took a chunk of my flesh, dulled my memory and sapped my energy. But I survived it. I fought for my physical and mental health. And while I know I’m one of the lucky ones, cancer has permanently impacted me too. It has forced me to re-examine my life, reclaim it through new choices and to walk towards each one fearlessly. It has also empowered me to speak and write about uncomfortable topics and taboo thoughts. Like death. Yet, choosing who I want to be every single day includes making hard decisions, like considering the possibility of a cancer recurrence and my own death. I don’t want to and I’m definitely not sure I’ll ever be ready to die, but I will be prepared. I will speak up for myself. For me. I owe it to myself and to my life.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Living Luxe, Figure Skater Fitness and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue kittens, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter
Photo by Nancy Miller, circa 1995
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