What cancer taught me about the nature of love | Joyce Maynard | TEDxAmoskeagMillyard

What cancer taught me about the nature of love | Joyce Maynard | TEDxAmoskeagMillyard

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[Applause] not quite five years ago at the age of 59 I married the first true partner of my life we both been divorced for 25 years we'd each been single parents of three children for a very long time and we met on a match.com date I like to I like to say this to give hope to all those others out there I met a lot of people who weren't jim on match.com dates that
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it only takes one that first date actually lasted five hours and I kept wondering why Jim never got around to ordering food he said I was so blown away I forgot well I knew right away that this was a man of great quality and substance he was smart and funny and very handsome he was a really good listener he didn't say a whole lot but when he did say
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something it was invariably interesting but still I have to tell you that I I did not foresee him as a long-term partner and and the story that I'll tell to explain this does not reflect well on me as a person who'd been on her own a long time I called myself a solo operator by necessity I was one I had a lot of romantic pictures of what my partner looked like I'd had a lot of time to formulate this picture and in
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the absence of the real thing and the pictures were kind of formed by a lot of movies and old rock and roll's songs and probably Disney in there somewhere and I think because I have a theory that because I had been on my own so long and taking care of just about everything for a very long time I pictured that I wanted somebody very strong and for me the the marker of somebody very strong would be somebody big somebody tall and
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and sort of actually the word that I used was burly well Jim was five foot eight and a very trim five foot eight inch man so on our second date we'd been having a really great time but I said to him you know I'm sorry to say I really like you and I want to continue to see you but I don't think this is going to work long term because you're too short I have to say
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he was two inches taller than me but he definitely was not my burly man well Jim is a very smart man and he was an attorney in fact but how do you argue being five foot eight so he was just silent and we had another date and on the next date we were sitting on the deck of my home outside of the outside of San Francisco on a weekend when the Blue Angels you know that acrobatic fighter pilot team were were practicing their routines right over my house and I
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pointed up to the sky and I said to Jim as he was smoking his cigar I said boy those Blue Angels I think they're so sexy Jim inhaled slowly on his cigar I guess you don't inhale a cigar but he took it he put it to his lips and took it out and he said did you know that to be a Blue Angel you cannot be taller than five foot eight to this day to this day I don't know if that's true and I'm
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actually not looking it up because it had the desired effect I fell for that man I told you he was smart I had no protect you at particular need to get married but it was important to Jim he was kind of a traditional old-fashioned guy and marriage had not worked out very well the first time so I was pretty leery of it I actually had a hard time with putting on a ring I didn't like the word husband wife was
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sort of difficult for me to pronounce but but we had that wedding up on a New Hampshire hillside with all of our six combined children sir gathered round we serenaded each other with a John Prine song fireworks went off over our heads but I do not name that day just five years ago not quite as the day that I became a married woman that came later well the year that
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followed we had a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of romance we went out to dinner we ate oysters on the bay we went to Paris two times we drove in his silver convertible and we danced alone in the kitchen - very romantic songs we bought a house together and although we were by this time 60 and 61 years old we were optimistic and confident enough
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that we envisioned a long future together that would include sharing the grandchildren that we where we had never been able to share children together we planted olive trees that took five years to harvest your first crop and we weren't worried about that we one summer summer a year after we were married I really wanted to introduce Jim to New England where I come from he was a
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California guy and so we bought on Craigslist for $1,800 sight-unseen a 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible sherry red and Jim took the entire summer off something he had not done in his whole adult life as an attorney and we flew back east picked up this very red car and spent the summer exploring all the places letting me show him all
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the places that I loved well three months later 15 months after our wedding just as we were preparing our bicycles for another super romantic adventure Jim began experiencing back pain and we went to the doctor together I have to say because I was this independent solo operator who wasn't going to let loving anybody even this very lovable man get in the way of my work and my independent career and all
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the things that were so important for me to do I it was almost a hard thing for me to to leave and go with him in the middle of the day to a doctor's appointment and I was already feeling a little disgruntled that we were going to get some diagnosis like gall stones that would interrupt all our fun plans but when we got to the hospital they told us that they needed scans and when the doctor came back in the room I took one look at his face and knew it wasn't
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gallstones the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer and they told us not to google it but the doctor went on to say that there was basically only one way that my husband my husband would survive this cancer and that was a surgery called the Whipple procedure that involved a complete reorganization of the abdomen removing or changing reconfiguring just
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about every organ in the digestive system and probably Jim wasn't going to qualify for it anyway and even if you got that Whipple surgery about 85% chance was that the cancer would still come back still all I heard was Whipple procedure only chance we were going for it we were going for it I do not think I returned to my desk that I had left that
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morning for many months I know that when I did there was a thick layer of mold and the cup because from that day on my mission in life was no longer my glorious independent life but saving my husband's and I never really saw this as a sacrifice I know all about sacrifice for children not for a partner never for a partner I it was just that the thing that was good for him became what was good for me too
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and though the tumor resided in his body it afflicted us both so for the next nine months both of us were totally focused on getting the right chemotherapy getting the right doctors getting the right treatment clinical trials experimental drugs scanning the country and the globe for a surgeon who would be willing to perform this surgery on Jim and I heard myself using a pronoun I'd never used
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before we we're getting chemotherapy we're getting radiation and then the great day and it was a great day we're getting surgery well the surgery lasted 14 hours we traveled 3,000 miles across the country to Boston to receive it the tumor was removed also Jim's gallbladder part of his small intestine is duodenum is stomach a vein was transplanted from
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his neck and we were going to go on with our lives but after that surgery there was one complication after another a c-diff infection weight loss neuropathy my husband was not out of pain a day in his life one day to sort of make him connect again to the life to so much that had been lost I invited all
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the members of his rock-and-roll band to our house but but that day his fingers went so numb he couldn't play his bass and I threw out all the food and a few months after that his tumor markers began to go up again and we knew the cancer was back still we kept living our life still dancing in our kitchen taking walks a lot slower than I used to I didn't know much about doing anything
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slowly I had been a quick person a quick walker a quick doer of everything all my life but I slowed way down a book I had written finished actually before Jim's diagnosis was published and I didn't go on a book tour I did something I didn't know much about which was staying home except when I went with Jim when he was a boy a place he had loved was the eastern sierra in northern california
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and he wanted to take me there so we drove there with an IV pole in the back of the car and that and a cooler full of antibiotics to infuse him with he kept playing his guitar he voted in the California primary that was really important to him and we listened to every Beatles album they had ever recorded from the first to the last about eight months before this period by now it was June a year a year after the
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surgery and the cancer was most definitely taking over his body now but eight months before I bought tickets to see a Bob Dylan outdoor Bob Dylan concert and by the time that concert rolled round just a few days before his 64th birthday it seemed impossible that Jim could even get out of bed but Jim announced to the hospice nurses I'm taking Joyce to see Bob Dylan and he did and as I wheeled his wheelchair back to the parking garage at the end of the
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night listening to the last strains of Bob Dylan singing blowin in the wind he looked at me and he said what were among the last words he spoke did you have a good time baby we decided we would not bring him back to any more hospitals though I had spent many months there with him we accepted finally that there was nothing more that we could do and I put down all my notes of clinical trials
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and drugs and lay with him in the bed My Children years ago my three children had been born at home and I felt fortunate that my husband was able to do so as well on the last day the last day he spoke a friend came to see him and asked him what would seem like an odd question how are you doing Jim and he said I'm great I have been
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known and I have been known to and it struck me that for all my romantic dreams of nights on the town and trips to Paris that there was nothing more beautiful or loving or intimate than that no deeper form of love well Jim died not quite two years ago I was at his side it was four days after his 64th
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birthday I'm now older than he ever got to be I hadn't worked I was a person who had been working since the age of 13 I had never really stopped writing until those 19 months but the night Jim died I went back down in the middle of the night to our kitchen and I did something I hadn't done for a long time I opened up my laptop and I began to write a book it was really the only thing I could do
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that night tell the story there were many times over Jim's illness when I heard myself say if only you could learn the lessons of cancer without cancer and that was what I wanted to convey and that's what I hope to convey to you here today so the lessons of cancer if you can't take something out of this brutal experience what a terrible waste that
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would be and Jim is not here to share the lessons so I'll do it myself the first is gratitude I am grateful sometimes people say to me life was so unfair and I actually as hard as it was I never say that life was life this is life these are the things that happen in our life and I am grateful specifically because of all the hard ones for all the
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good ones I think I was always a person who appreciate appreciated the natural world and the outdoors but I make it I make it a commitment now to whenever possible never miss a sunrise or a sunset or a star-filled sky or a full moon or any other phase of a moon that Jim never gets to see anymore and if I'm standing as I often am at the side of some body of water that may look
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a little chilly I think about how Jim would have loved to be there and I dive in there's forgiveness in there too recognition of all the petty things that we allow ourselves to be irritated by and angry about and disappointed by and impatient with and I think how little they matter any day that I'm alive I
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consider a lucky day well the next lesson was a really hard one for me me in particular and that was patience because I have never been a patient person I'm that person I was that person in the line at the supermarket that when the cashier started to have a nice friendly conversation with a person ahead of me in line I'd be tapping my foot because I had so many important things to get to patients I'm a person who sat for nineteen months in doctors
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offices waiting for results that were seldom good waiting for scans waiting for x-rays waiting for infusions waiting for prescriptions to be filled lying in a bed a hospital bed at night next to my increasingly skinny husband just to get through the night of so much pain patients I have learned I learned to walk slowly living with an awareness
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of death you know I think there is no greater taboo in our culture than this one we can talk about sex we can talk about politics we can talk about money we can talk about religion we do not like to talk about death that book that I mentioned writing was published last fall and I went on a book tour a very long book tour because really I wanted to go everywhere and tell this story so I was on the road for a long time and I
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noticed a phenomenon when I would speak and tell tell the story I'm telling to you now every night there would be at least one person in the room who would get up partway through and walk out the door and I'll tell you I never took it personally I never considered the possibility that I might be boring or offensive it was just too hard for some people to look at death and I think it's very hard for many of us to look at
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death and I have learned to make friends with it because if there's one experience every one of us will in this room will share it is that we will die and if we live a life of any duration we will lose people very dear to us before we do and a meal that does not go on forever is more savored because it is finite it is impermanent hold on to it
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while you've got it appreciate its preciousness I want to finally say the biggest lesson for me which was about the nature of love the meaning of what it means to be a couple which took a long time for me to discover longer than most perhaps for me I learned the meaning of what
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really mattered in my marriage only after all the joyful romantic trappings were stripped away and I saw how unimportant they were compared to what was left as for my big romantic dream the six-foot-tall partner the one I used to picture as the man at my side here's what I've learned about that one the strongest bravest biggest hearted
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man I ever met was my 5 foot 8 inch tall Eagle Scout husband who died weighing under 90 pounds my husband Jim see how easily I said that my husband was the burliest man I ever met [Applause]

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