A Piece of Fruit

A couple moved in next door to my mom’s house years after my dad died. They were older and wanted a ranch home to live in as they aged. Carolyn had mobility issues. Dave helped her transform a fairly barren backyard into beautiful areas of raised flower beds. Dave would occasionally snow blow part of my mom’s sidewalk. They looked out for her and were kind people. It’s great when neighbors can look out for each other. My city is known as the Good Neighbor City. Most of the time we wear it well.

The years go by as they do. Carolyn became confined to a wheelchair. Dave grew older and showed signs of decline here and there. My sister and her partner started looking out for them. Now they would help with the snow as Dave had once done for my mom. Good neighbor spirit at its best.

The ambulance showed up next door on a Saturday night a couple of weeks ago. After a bit of a wait, a stretcher with Dave wearing an oxygen mask was brought out. He was loaded up and the ambulance took off. Carolyn was brought out, helped into a car, and it followed after the ambulance.

By the next day, cars were parked on the street outside their home. Cars usually show up at a house after someone has died with family gathering together and showing support. My sister walked over to find out what happened and to offer her help. Dave had died.

He choked on a piece of orange.

I’m still gutted. One moment a person is eating an orange on an ordinary day. The next moment it’s lodged in his throat. He can’t breathe. He can’t communicate. His wife can’t get to him and be of help. She watched in terror which is equally as gutting. He had been without oxygen too long and there was no brain activity. The decision was made to let him go and remove him from life support.

How sudden, unfair, and without reason.

Why? It’s another unanswerable question I’ve asked myself. Maybe it was his time. Maybe this avoided a long illness on the way or a devastating accident. Maybe these are things we just tell ourselves.

Dave’s death got me thinking about life and death. People often wonder if a quick death is better or a long one. My father died quickly of an aortic aneurysm after a second heart surgery. All sorts of medical issues were identified during that surgery. He had more surgery and a long road ahead of him. My family hadn’t faced a lot of death in the family. We were naïve and thought he’d get better. He thought this, too. It wasn’t meant to be. We were shocked not to have a goodbye.

My mom survived a little longer than a year after her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. She languished more and more in an assisted living facility for her final couple of months. More of her was lost each day. She didn’t have any wise comments about death or the afterlife. Talking about these things didn’t ease her. I remember she gave me quite the sideways glance when I once mentioned she’d see Dad again. Her mother (who had passed) came to her a couple of times to visit. She told me about that when I would drive across town to visit her after school and spend dinner with her. I wanted to know what she had to say but my mom couldn’t piece the conversation together. Another time she told me Grandma had left without saying goodbye and my mom was very distraught. All I had was comfort and love to give her. I would just sit and feed spoonfuls of soft food to her or watch her sleep until my sister would join me when she finished work.

Is a long goodbye or short goodbye better? Perhaps no goodbye at all?

We get what we get.

I believe we get what we are supposed to get.

If you are a regular reader, you know I have metastatic breast cancer. I am lucky to be here.

I would absolutely die if I died choking on a piece of fruit.

Forgive the dark humor.

Change is hard for me. None of us know when we’ll breathe our last. Some of us have a better idea than others what might cause our eventual demise. I’ve been able to think about what is important to me. I focus on meaning. I stage photographs a certain way so they can hopefully capture a moment or my spirit. I believe gifts should have meaning but I’m more into experiences. I have more than enough things. And oh, is time precious. Goodbyes are hard for me, too. I still want to have them.

But not now.

Living with metastatic disease involves living as fully as possible in the moment. I do a deep dive into connection with others. I relish times of calm and laughter. My values are more aligned with my words and actions. Living fully is where I place my attention and intentions. I think many feel the same.

There was a parent of a former student I taught who died two days after she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. No prior symptoms. She thought she had the flu. There was no time to process the shock let alone time for her family to say goodbye. This happened some years before I was diagnosed. It was unimaginable then and still is now.

Another death that was sudden, unfair, and without reason.

Maybe we don’t get what we’re supposed to get. No one should get only two days. The shock is still present. I’ve seen her children as adults. They turned out to be great young women. Great young women who lost their mother far too soon.

Why have I been blessed with nine years post diagnosis when she got two days? The survivor guilt weighs on me like a boulder crushing my chest. I work to free myself from it, to talk about it, to grieve when I can since I can’t do anything about preventing the loss anyway. It is out of all our hands.

Life is short.

Life is fragile.

Rest in peace, Dave.

Author: Kristie Konsoer

I've been living well with metastatic breast cancer since 2012. This blog is a place where I can share thoughts and ideas on cancer, how I feel perceptions of cancer must change, and how I am finding a way to live with strength, hope, meaning, resiliency, humor, and hopefully a little wisdom.

12 thoughts on “A Piece of Fruit”

  1. I’m sorry to read about your neighbour Dave. It saddens me to hear he died from choking on a piece of orange. And it scares me, as I’ve choked from time to time while eating. I understand the feeling of watching helplessly, as I was with my sister during her last breath when she died of ovarian cancer. Her death wasn’t sudden, as she suffered terribly for the last few months of her life. Therefore, I knew it was coming and spent valuable and quality time with her during her time of need. I’ve experienced other death in my life but saying goodbye to my sister hit me the hardest. Even though my heart is broken and will never be fixed, I’m incredibly grateful for the many fond memories of our time together. And I also understand survivors’ guilt. I’m 4-years NED after cancer treatment. But I have friends that died of the same cancer at an earlier stage than mine. I fear recurrence but feel guilty that I’m still NED. Thank you for writing such a heartfelt and powerful post. May Dave rest in peace.

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    1. Thanks, Gogs, for your kind words. I hadn’t seen Dave in a couple of years, but it still was unexpected. There was a treatment I was on about a year ago that listed choking as a side effect. From time to time, I’d choke on air and it felt like I was having a heart attack. It doesn’t happen anymore, thankfully. I am so sorry that your sister dies from ovarian cancer. Being there for those final breaths is hard. Another goodbye too soon. Let’s both try to feel a little less guilty that we are still here.

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  2. Well written. I too have had those same questions with no answer. So sorry for the loss of your family friend. Sending hugs ❤️

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    1. Thank you. I last saw him at a Christmas party several years ago. It took me a while to put two and two together and figure out who he was. He was a friendly fellow. Knowing an answer likely isn’t going to help us feel any better.

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  3. That had to be horrible to see. Especially if in my case I had not told, and I haven’t, my elderly neighbors that I’m certified Red Cross in first aid and CPR. Maybe if I were thinking outside of the 5+ acres that comes between us I’d let them know, you know, just in case, because we never do know.

    And I’ll also say that even for those who are change averse – here’s a very direct quote of the definition “
    follows fairly predictable patterns in life, prefers to stick with things they know, routine and habit make them feel secure, prefers the familiar to the unfamiliar, the habits they have now they will have a year from now, does not like to be without guidance, prefers the proven to the experimental, gets very attached to things, wants everything to add up perfectly, desires security and support, more past than future oriented, frequently feels envious, predictable, can’t adjust well to new situations, does things by the book, avoids being called on in group discussions, would not enjoy being an entrepreneur” doesn’t all seem like anyone with mbc could possibly meet those criteria. Even becoming entrepreneurial becomes part of our requirements since we are constantly looking for ways in which we can creatively get our medical care costs under control and in a situation where we can feel less insecure about the future bringing us right back to the point. We cannot feel very secure at all about the future lives we’d planned out for ourselves concluding in retirement with friends we thought we could’ve counted on come hell or high water. Having lost both my mom and dad at too young of ages my dad at 71 and mom at 74, I never expected life to become so up and down at this point after a highly successful and highly risky career that it’s somewhat of a shock that things are less risky than I’d hoped they’d be – with changes including career, financial gains, travel and spontaneous things to try as I aged gracefully. Not to be so. Nothing but change led to a very unchanging lifestyle for me. For all of us – with the risks coming out of the take away column to the additive column. But as you say we get what we get.

    You are one of the most stoically and humorous women I know – and I love you for your friendship and willingness to take a chance in changing your perspective, plans, etc. there’s some we’ve no control over and some we can. But in the meantime we can change people’s behavior and help strengthen their hearts by sharing openly – and that’s a risky business if ever there was one.

    Great post. So sorry about your neighbor. And I feel for his wife with the guilt and pain of grief – that came so unexpectedly in a moment. I suppose that’s why people flippantly say – well you could be hit by a bus. I hate that but in a way I get why they say it- I just think they don’t understand the nuances of why it won’t sit well with someone who knows their lives will be shorter than expected and that we fully understand that. It’s hard walking around with a wanted sign in the oncologist office waiting for that poster to come down and say – patient caught. Case closed. Not fun at all.

    ❤️love you
    Ilene

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  4. This was a very moving and thought-provoking read, Kristie. My niece died of metastatic breast cancer at age 34. Her poor body was ravaged by chemo side effects for a year after her diagnosis. That was 10 years ago and my sister (her Mom) still struggles from time to time, as she naturally always will. I hear you about survivor guilt. My Aunt (who is just like a sister to me), received word that her melanoma was completely resolved the same day that my niece rec’d word that she only had days left. My Aunt is still well and healthy these 10 years later, and often comments about that day and asks why. I don’t believe we’re supposed to know the answer to “why”. Perhaps it’s a way of keeping us grounded in the present and living life to the fullest and appreciating every day, as you do. Thank you for this candid post. Hugs to you.

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    1. I don’t believe we’re supposed to discover the “why” either, but I still look because it helps me make sense and order of the world. Keep us grounded like you said. Thanks for commenting, Terry. I always enjoy your input.

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  5. These are questions we all need to ponder. Living a meaningful life isn’t something that just happens. Making the most of each moment, or each interaction, isn’t something that just happens. To live life well we need to choose to live consciously; and knowing we will never know when out last breath will be, helps with this choice (and practice). Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts. Have a great week, Kristie 🙂

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  6. Hi Kristie,

    I’m sorry to hear about Dave. And your mother too, of course. Death raises a lot of questions. Answers, not so much. I’m not sure I agree that we get what we’re supposed to get. There’s a lot of randomness out there. And yes, survivor guilt is real indeed. I often wonder why my mother’s cancer metastasized and thus far, mine has not. Why did she get only four years post diagnosis and I’ve already had 11? Again, no answers.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking read. Keep writing.

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