Today I have a very special post—2 short essays written by Rose Rappaport, a woman who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on June 5, 2005. During her illness, she took a writing class and wrote a series of essays about what she was going through. She passed away 10/23/2007, 11 days after her 59th birthday. With the help of her writing teacher, Barry Sheinkopf, her husband, Harvey Rappaport, put together a book with Rose’s essays called (Living in Parentheses). It’s a sad but also very uplifting glimpse at how one woman with a finite amount of time lived every minute fully, and with a positive outlook.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth cause of cancer death, yet people know the least about it. It’s also the most underfunded for research. All proceeds for the sale of this book will be donated for pancreatic cancer research. If you donate at least $20 directly to the Lustgarten Foundation, you’ll get a book (more info on this below). When Rose passed away, her spirit lived on. Harvey Rappaport says:
I ask that you not be sad at her passing. This was a gloriously unselfish person filled with faith, love, and compassion. Her search for enrichment and spirituality knew no bounds. She was a teacher in every sense of the word. These qualities always drew people to her. Please rejoice in a life lived to its fullest.
Rose Rappaport refused to fall victim to cancer. I’m honored to be able to share some of her words with you and hope that you’re inspired enough to donate to pancreatic cancer research so you can get a copy of her book (more info below). You can strongly feel her spirit in her words. These 2 essays are last 2 full ones in the book.
WHO AM I???
by Rose Rappaport
February 2, 2007. It’s twenty months since I was diagnosed. Lately I have been feeling more tired than usual. The cumulative effects of continuous chemo are beginning to take their toll. Yet I am so very blessed. When I first met with the oncologist I naively asked, “How long?” She looked at me and smiled a sad smile. She could be accurate to a point; lots depended on my reaction to the drugs, how fast the tumor would grow, my mental attitude. I pressed her further. It was important for me to know what I was dealing with.
Finally she acquiesced and stated clinically, this was a virulent, fast-growing cancer, and given that I was at the fourth stage–perhaps a year. So that was the prognosis.
Dr. O’Reilly has been pleasantly surprised and, truthfully, so have we. After the shock and the tears, I decided I would not die of a diagnosis—that statistics were averages, and I was bold to declare that Rose Rappaport had never been average a day in her life. Whether it’s my gene pool (my paternal grandmother lived to be 104), my insistence that I keep to a fully active life (I teach at university and continue to consult on an at call basis), my support system of family and friends requesting calls for prayers and positive thoughts, or my darling Harvey, who refuses to let me stay in the dark cave of my mind too long–
I know I am blessed, yet my heart is heavy.
My friend Terri called several nights ago. We met Terri at our veterinarian’s office. She was the able assistant who calmed our precious cats during their examinations. Her soothing manner and luminous blue eyes reassured our angst. A single woman in her mid-thirties, Terri stroked and soothed in a manner that was engaging, not only to our cats, but to us two-legged beings. Soon we became friends and engaged her to cat sit for us whenever we travel. And she loves cats. We know her visits will include not only feeding and litter box patrol, but squeezing and petting our three furry children.
Terri had called to tell us that the breast cancer that had been cured two years earlier had invasively returned. Her recent scans showed a growth on her liver and nodules in the bones of her shoulders, neck, and chest. She was calling to ask for a recommendation for a second opinion. We talked for a long time. I listened carefully, allowing her to say what she was feeling. I offer words of courage, knowing what her new battle will entail.
Cancer, cancer, cancer. It never becomes a meaningless noise the way almost any other word does when you repeat it endlessly.
There is something about the way the letters hang together that is oddly malignant. The cure, with its well-documented cumulative effects, knocks you down like a ton of bricks or flattened like Road Runner under an Acme safe.
How one handles a life-threatening illness demonstrates character. Cancer has brought me two lives. One as a healthy person and another as a–what? I don’t know what to say, for I have never claimed this diagnosis. What is my identity in the face of so radical disruption? Who was I? Who am I? Who will I be? Truthful answers to these questions often take years to realize. I am on a fast track—always was—but now the movement forward is different. I cannot run and hide. Sometimes I wish I could be less introspective, less aware of what’s going on inside.
Suffering does different things to different people. Some souls become tempered, unshakable in their trust in God; others become twisted and misshapen, abandoning all connections to Him.
Like school, each medical test or procedure is another determinant of your fate. Passing the test or getting a bad grade has few do-over’s. When you flunk, you die. Hearts, lungs, bones, blood—the raw materials that keep you alive–are so very vulnerable. They wear out, wear down. But the spirit–that is another story. In many ways my soul has gotten stronger, experiencing life with more wisdom and gratitude. Yes, I am blessed more today than before because the spirit can shine beyond the realities of the body.
I believe this because it sustains me.
by Rose Rappaport
One of the more amazing elements of this journey has been my total surrender to the Will of God. I realize that for some readers this statement sounds like I have given up or am delusional. I am far from a Holy Roller or evangelical. The idea of total surrender is a new one for me. I have been raised Catholic, attended grade, high school and college with religious instruction. I was fortunate that my teachers, be they nuns or priest, always provided a platform of self discovery and constant questioning. My attendance at Mass or Holy Days is not driven by guilt or habit, but by choice. Jesus Christ is alive for me and I believe I am where I am supposed to be.
This was not always the case. In September 2001, before 9/11, I was downsized from a position as Vice President, Human Resources in the music industry. It was a job I loved and was good
at. World events after 9/11 exacerbated a slowing economy. My expertise was attached to a high price tag and efforts to explain I was willing to start over met with the corporate cold shoulder. In the midst of this fruitless job search I attended a parish mission. Frustrated and close to despair, I met Fr. Daniel Frances, a Redemptorist priest. His words and passion about the Christ rekindled the smoldering embers of my faith. Fr. Dan spoke of the Lord’s Passion and death as the anchor for resurrection and revival.
I always had an eclectic reading regime but now I wanted to fill myself with reading from both the West and East. The melding of Eastern philosophy, Zen Buddhism; the reading of Aquinas, John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila merged together, simmering diversity yet similar messages of trust, faith and love. These imprints reinforced my personal philosophy which simply stated is “you create the world you live in.” I had a choice on how I would deal with the diagnosis and live the balance of my life no matter how long. The concept of surrender is foreign to western sensibilities, particularly in the US. Yet, the intentionality of accepting life’s circumstance takes an enormous burden from your being.
For me surrender, AKA acceptance, did not mean I would give up. I researched my illness and actively participate in my treatment. My oncologist, Dr. Eileen O’Reilly is one of the special experts who has the sense and style to ask me what I think about what’s happening to ME.
Surrender gives up the struggle of anger and denial. It understands there just may be no other reason than circumstance. Surrender allows me to take control of my thoughts and actions. It places trust in a Higher Power. Be that my higher sense of self, or the Universe or God. It provides, at least for me a booster shot on the days the pain is too strong and I am scared.
A terminal illness takes over your life and acceptance allows me to boldly state: “I WILL NOT DIE FROM A DIAGNOSIS” My spirit is buoyed up to plan for the future and to live in hope.
Harvey Rappaport says if you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can donate $20 to the Lustgarten Foundation (so it’s a tax write-off!). That will cover the cost of the book and mailing and the proceeds would go to a foundation that supports Pancreatic Cancer research. You’d have to contact Harvey to get the book. Email him for more info.