Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Way It Was

Written by Karen.
Our blog has been quiet for awhile.  Our last real-time post was on the banks of the flooded Lake Tziscao in Chiapas, Mexico on April 14, 2015.  We were planning to cross over into Guatemala the next day, but our plans suddenly changed.   My sister Julie had her most recent MRI reading on April 15th and it didn’t look good.  Her current brain cancer treatment was no longer working and it was time for a different treatment.  Things for Julie were about to get much more complicated and so it was also time for Adam and I to return to the States and help Julie.   

We left the border of southern Mexico and Guatemala on April 16th and quickly returned back to the Portland/Vancouver area.  We’ve been living here in the Rose City ever since.  

Rationally, I knew that Julie’s surprising and wholly unexpected diagnosis last March 2014 of Glioblastoma multiforme, Stage 4 brain cancer would eventually end in her death.  But, death is not rational.  It is extremely personal and emotional. 

It is a profound experience to actively live with someone who is actively dying. It was pointed out early and often that we all live that dichotomy.  None of us knows exactly how much longer we have to live. The difference is that Julie had a ticking alarm clock, a known Sword of Damocles, and a range of predicted expiration dates from 7 to 18 months.

Early into what would be Julie’s final 16.5 month journey, we told her that we would be there as long as she needed us.  We were with her for 11.5 months of that time period.  The experience of helping, loving, caring, advocating for, being a caregiver and getting to know your sister as an adult is a gift beyond measure.  

Our journey with Julie has shifted and re-shaped my thoughts about what I thought I knew and how we want to live our lives going forward. It has humbled me in unthinkable ways. The experience has changed us - both separately and as a couple.  Adam and I became better people and our relationship deepened and strengthened as a result of this journey we took together with Julie.

Don’t get me wrong.  This was the most difficult experience I have gone through on so many different levels.  However, without a doubt, both Adam and I know this experience with Julie is one of our most significant lifetime accomplishments.  We are proud to have stepped up to the unexpected challenge and helped Julie navigate a life complicated with terminal cancer.  We are both grateful to have had the gift of time to spend with my sister who lived her final days with grace, dignity, optimism and humor despite looking into the indifferent face of brain cancer.  

However, this experience also broke my heart in ways that I still don’t fully understand.  It will take time to sort out the range and complexity of emotions that inevitably come with living and loving someone up close and having them die in the home that we all shared together.  I miss her terribly.

In the meantime, we will remain in Portland until the end of November when our apartment lease expires.  We’ve been exploring Portland and the surrounding area for the past two months as we wind down Julie’s last commitments on this Earth.  Portland - the City of Roses - has consistently ranked at the top of our lists of possible cities to settle down once our rambling travels are over.  We plan on sharing our thoughts, observations and experiences once again in future posts.

One thing is for sure...this journey that we call life is also about death.  Life will always be different from now on - and a priority.  

Julie's Forever View


Jennifer Chase said...

Adam and Karen, I'm so sorry for your heartache and struggles. My prayers are with you both. Your posting is so strong and inspiring. It puts things in perspective as we deal with small things that we have a tendency to blow up into bigger things. I'm glad to see another posting from you both. Can't wait to hear more of your future adventures.

Janice L. said...

Thanks for sharing your feelings and perspective about your journey with Julie. It sounds like a such a difficult and special time for you and Adam. Gregor and I are happy to hear from you and it's great to know that you're still exploring new places - we've heard only positive things about Oregon and Portland. You have our support and friendship :-)

Anonymous said...

Hello Adam and Karen. Karen, I'm sorry to hear of your sister's passing, but I am glad that you both were able to be there for her. I wish you the very best in your travels and your decision to perhaps have a permanent base of operations. --Steve Stubbs

Anonymous said...

Dear Karen:
I read your latest blog refering to your beloved Sister Julie.
I like the way you always express yourself and this time it really touched my heart !
May God bless you and Adam always. Nina.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Jennifer -

Thanks so much for your kind words. The past year-and-a-half has been both difficult and absolutely wonderful. We both appreciate your words of love and support.


This Journey We Call Life said...

Hey Janice -

Thank you for your kind words. Your support and friendship are so appreciated by us! Even if we don't wind up "catching - up" to you guys on your way down through South America, we will keep in touch through our travels and future adventures! One of these days, our paths will cross again! :)


This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Steve -

Thanks....we are both appreciate your friendship. We'll make sure we stop and see you when we pass through the Bay Area again. Looking forward to seeing you! :)

Karen. (and Adam, of course!)

This Journey We Call Life said...

Dear Nina -

Thanks so much for your kind words. We are still in the grieving process, but know that we will come out the other end. Grief is a confusing jumble of emotions, but we are figuring out our new normal. Thanks for your support and being there for us.


Troy Fisher said...

Love you both. Y'all are the greatest. Troy

karie and simon said...

Simon and I were wondering about you guys after we met you in San Miguel de Allende. We really like your last sentence...life as a priority. It is so often forgotten but really the utmost truth. Thanks for sharing a touching and profound experience. We hope to stay in touch....really.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hey Troy! Love you too! :) Karen.

This Journey We Call Life said...

Hi Karie, Simon -

It does seem like in so many ways that we just feel off the planet for awhile. We really enjoyed meeting you in SMA and had thought we would be seeing much more of each other as we made our way south. But, life works in funny ways sometimes. You all look very relaxed and happy. It seems like your adventure is a really good one for you guys. We're very happy to see that! Thanks for your kind words. And yes, let's stay in touch....you never know what's ahead of us, right?! Talk to you soon.

Karen (and Adam, of course!)

Unknown said...

Dear Karen (and Adam),

The two of you are an inspiration for me in so many ways.

Thanks for being such an incredible example of what true love is

Your brother,