When I wrote of my friend and long-distance coworker who recently passed, some of you wrote privately to me about not having experience with a loved one dying. And about wondering what that was like.
I was honest with those who wrote. It sucks, for the most part. Because no matter how much you believe a person’s soul lives on and is going to a wonderful place, the very human pieces of you are selfishly sad. We don’t get that many wonderful fellow earth travelers now, do we? I mean, the ones we really connect with. So, when one goes, we look around us a bit bewildered, wondering how we will fill the void.
Today would have been Tersea’s 49th birthday. It is also my sister’s birthday. Happy, but bittersweet, day now.
Tersea gave me the thumbs-up, months ago, to publish any of our online conversations after she was gone. I’m sharing a few snippets below—the last eight months of a life—to show those of you who asked how very odd participating in someone’s final days is. Especially from thousands of miles away. The juxtaposition of the immediate and concrete—project deadlines, fact-checking—and the ethereal, the seemingly unreal (Where will I go when I die? How do I attend to deadlines when the chemo is killing me?) is the norm. At least it has been for me. When my mother was dying, her periods of lucidity included asking me to deliver wedding presents and save her books. Moments later, she could be pointing and talking about a woman in a veil in the corner of her hospice room—a woman I could not ever see. In similar fashion, Tersea and I mixed delivering on deadlines with trying to help her sort through cancer. There really isn’t a handbook for that.
Because Tersea wanted to help just about every soul she met, I am again introducing you to her via my blog. Perhaps in reading these precious few snippets, you will get a sense for how the last bits of a life play out. We juggle getting names and corporate titles correct with the knowledge that soon, none of that will matter because just breathing will be a struggle.
I don’t share because I think our conversation is exemplary. I share, instead, because I think our conversations were somewhat universal. We can all relate to loss, to friendship, to the need for support, to knowing courage when we see it.
I know Tersea would wish that this exchange will make you think carefully about how you spend your day today . . . and tomorrow . . . and the next day. Peace and love, my friends.
Would love to use you on a new project for quarterly leadership update videos. Do you have the time? Tersea
ME: Would be wonderful. I’ll MAKE the timeJ. Will it be just the two of us on the kickoff call?
Thank you. I am SO happy to be working with you again! As Grover Washington Jr. said, “Just the two of us.” Tersea
ME: Hi there, Tersea—Oh it’s so nice to be emailing you again. Have attached a draft of leadership script for your review. Kristine
Deadline just moved up by a week. Oy. Tersea
Link: Why laughter is the best medicine: Joking your way through workplace stress. Tersea
Hi there, Kristine–
Saw the oncologist today. Confirmed that there are five small tumors in my liver (on either side of my liver), fortunately none in my lungs. So they have to do two operations to remove the tumors from my liver, 6 weeks apart to allow it to regenerate. Also chemo. He is meeting with this team next week (which includes a surgeon who is regarded as the best liver surgeon in South Africa) to decide whether to do the operations first, followed by chemo – or chemo first, followed by operations. All in all we’re looking at a period of approximately 6 months for everything. So as soon as I know what’ll happen when, I’ll send you an update.
Hope you are doing well and that things are okay with your ex’s cancer– I was not aware and felt terrible for not asking how you were dealing with it. Tersea
ME: Hi there, friend—Oh, I am so glad they are not in your lungs! Truly. Liver surgery for my ex was actually easier than the colon surgery—again, because he insisted on laparoscopic method. I am sorry it requires two for you, but am glad you are in the hands of a wonderful surgeon. Makes a world of difference. My ex did op, then chemo. And is looking quite good. He is able to work, etc. right now without much issue. I am hoping the same for you—and am so glad you have benefits!
I know you go through all of this with grace. I know you have a strong support network. But know I am here for you, just to listen—or to compare your treatment with his, etc. Whatever you need.
You are one ambitious soul! I think perhaps you also signed up for the PhD in life. Next time, we do the community college cooking class version, ok? Much love, Kristine
Kristine–LOL. I’m in. And I’ll do the basic cooking class, thank you very much.
Thanks, Kristine, for being such a dear friend and an incredible source of support. I am thankful that you are in my life. And a part of my soul family. Tersea
We need script as soon as you can get to us with final numbers. Thanks! Tersea
ME: Hi there—Am going to send you clean version of script—but I am in Hawaii (!) at a friend’s wedding next week—off beginning the 20th. Hoping, Tersea, that you can just slot the numbers in when they arrive next week? Or, I can do when I get back—just wasn’t sure on timing of filming.
Kristine–Good grief, life is just so tough. 🙂
ME: Good luck today, friend. Keeping you in good thoughts! Am planning on using plane time to finish up/proof.
Hi my dear friends
Thought to give you an update on my situation: I met with the specialist (Head of South Africa’s liver transplant unit) on Tuesday and the news is not great. They have found more than 30 tumors in my liver, which means that it is inoperable- they cannot even save 25% and wait for it to regenerate.
The team is pioneering a new treatment in South Africa, following the example set by Norway, to evaluate patients for a complete liver transplant. My doc did the first transplant on a fellow surgeon last year and he has been cancer free to date.
Qualifying for a transplant hinges on the result of a PET scan, which has to confirm that the metastasis is limited to the liver. If so, I will be one of 20 people in the country who will receive a new liver (the best livers will go to patients with liver disease, and cancer patients will be allocated livers that may be slightly less than perfect but still viable). I am waiting for a date for the scan and will provide an update after that.
If the metastasis has gone beyond my liver, I will not qualify and my hubby, kids and I will then decide what treatment approach to follow in order to prolong my life without sacrificing quality of life. There is no cure, so we want to be sure that the time I have left will give us an opportunity to laugh, cry together and do a ton of bucket list items. I want them to remember those things, not days and months of chemo hell. So, with the encouragement of my specialist, I’m also going to start using medical grade cannabis oil and will evaluate how it can help manage the side-effects of chemo.
My hubby, the love of my life and my soulmate, is devastated and struggling to deal with the news. As are my incredible kids. But we are looking at the news as a token of grace from the universe: we have time to love, make reparations where needed, live in the moment and say goodbye over how many months/years remain (expected survival rate the transplant is 18% at 2 years, with chemo).
Thank you for being my friends and advisors during this time in my life. From encouraging, listening and guiding. I love you and thank the universe for allowing our paths to cross.
Stay tuned for the next update xxx
ME: So, I’m crying. Selfish crying, really, because I know you are an old, old soul just like me. And that all of this was plotted and planned, as part of our stupid PhD in ascension on earth.
But, I also know this is not easy for the very human part of you and your oh so human loved ones. I am praying for this to be limited to the liver only. Praying for peace for you. For joy in the every day. And really fucking mad that I don’t live near you—all my helper skills, cooking, laughing, listening—so much better in person.
So I will do what I can and hold you in my good thoughts. And be here to talk and listen from afar. You’re such a light, my friend. So brave and good.
Thank you for such a kind message. Yes, we had to do it all in this one life – we are such achievers, and oh so starry-eyed about every challenge.
I wish that you were close by as well. It would have been so great to just hang out and talk about all those things that we never seem to have time to do. But I’m OK. Yesterday I wasn’t, but today I am. It’s all part of the journey. Hans and the kids are not taking it well. Everyone is simply exhausted from the emotional trauma, to the point that Kevin has been vomiting steadily for the past day.
But, I have found a volunteer who has offered her councelling, time and whole heart to the South African Cancer Society to help families who are going through this kind of thing. And she is going to counsel each of them individually. They need to talk and cry to find a way to acceptance and to rid their bodies of the emotional build up that they are struggling with.
Thank you for being such a dear friend and such an important person in my life. I’ll let you know what next steps are as soon as I know xxx
Such fantastic feedback in just a couple of hours on this video. Well done, Matt, as our executive star. You’re the weaver of magic.
Kristine, well done on a super script and results!
Dear Colleen, Lo and Kristine–
You have all been such an integral part of my journey at the firm and so unwavering in your support and encouragement during the past year that I wanted to provide you with an update on my situation because I know that you care and also because it will, inevitably, become an unavoidable topic.
The results of my PET scan weren’t good. The cancer has metastasized and spread to my entire liver. They have also discovered a new tumor in my colon. The spread has been so aggressive between the March CT scan and the one done in June, that there are more than 30 tumors in my liver and it’s inoperable.
Suffice it to say that I sat down with my hubby and oncology team last week and mapped out the road ahead. While we are never in control in life, although we’d like to imagine we are, I wanted the right to decide how to move forward. So my cancer is incurable. And the only thing they can do for me is prolong my life through chemo and major surgery (colon removal, liver transplant, immune suppression therapy for life). And that’s not how I want the story to end. So I’ve made the decision, along with my hubby and kids, to undergo chemo for 2-3 months to shrink the tumor in my colon, have an operation to remove it and then allow nature to take its course. I’d rather spend what time I have being with my family and not in hospital connected to tubes and machines.
Hospice are already on board and will work with my medical team to give me palliative care and manage pain for as long as needed after that.
It’s been an incredibly difficult two months, but we are in a good place now. I have accepted the news and have been blown away by the support I’ve received from the team.
My work has been critical to keeping me sane and focused during this time. And I’ll continue working for the foreseeable future – good grief, what would I do without this work I’m so passionate about 🙂 ? So I’m not going anywhere yet.
I want to use the time ahead to grow spiritually and to share kindness and empathy where I can. I am going to live and love vicariously and make sure that my hubby and kids are left with memories of me smiling and being positive.
Thank you for being such incredible friends and for supporting me during this journey. We still have lots of good stuff to do for this company!
With lots of love from South Africa xxxx
Hi there—If there is anything that I can do for you, you know I’m right here. Strong like bull and always ready to listen.
Love and hugs xxx
ME: Oh, trust me—an incurable diagnosis does not relieve you from the awful duty of hearing my moaning and groaning about dating. Not in a New York minute, sister. Have yet to tell you about the latest failed escapade.
I love the love, light and prayers that people are offering you. I hope it lifts you along for a bit . . . I’ve got a great group of followers who know their juju. –Kristine
I didn’t want to ask about dating, but yes please, let’s talk about that next week. He’s out there, Kristine. Just needs to find his way to you. –Tersea
Had chemo today and feel terrible already, so if you can help drive the call with Matt I’d really appreciate it. I’ll be on, just not sure that I’ll think of all the possible questions to put to him.
ME: I will drive—no worries. Take care of yourself.
Thank you, Kristine. Flawless turnaround time and delivery! Another leadership message with record results! –Tersea
And then it became really real. This appeared in my inbox from a coworker:
Hi Kristine. To get this running, we have to tell a story. This is what I came up with. Can you proof/edit?
You may have heard that our good friend and co-worker, Tersea, has been diagnosed with terminal liver and colon cancer. While she conquered a first round of cancer last year, she received the news a few months ago that it had not only come back, but spread in an inoperable way.
Tersea has been a gift to us, going above and beyond, using her endless energy and creativity to make our work and company stronger. More than that, she has been a friend and an inspiration—always showing up for others, even in the most difficult of days. She has accepted her situation in the most elegant of ways and is making every day count with her family.
We’ve started this online fundraiser to help Tersea and her family when she is no longer able to work. As a contractor, she doesn’t receive the many benefits that full-time employees receive. As well, there are many programs (such as Hours that Help) that aren’t available to her. Tersea would never ask for such support, but we want to do whatever we can to take even the slightest bit of worry from her.
Please donate now and share this with anyone who knows and cares for Tersea, keeping in mind that we want to respect her privacy.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
On the same day, from Tersea:
Hi there, Kristine–
As soon as we get executive sign-off on the video, I’ll publish it and share the link with you in order to download.
Had chemo today so not feeling great, but at least I have two days off to rest so that should help. Need to have 2 more sessions, then CT and PET scans to see what we’re dealing with and as soon as a decision is made, surgery should happen at the end of October/beginning November. –Tersea
This year, if you read only one book, get The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (my icon) and the Dalai Lama.
Unforgettable and inspiring. –Tersea
To all my favorite coworkers in America: Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Enjoy the time with your families – and all the delicious-sounding food I get to hear about. –Tersea
ME: Happy Thanksgiving to you also, friend! Even though this is an American holiday, I hope you take time tomorrow to feel the love. I’m so grateful and thankful for having you in my life.
I will be permanently transitioning from my program with the company at the end of January (or earlier, should circumstances demand) and saying goodbye to all my friends and colleagues. Unfortunately my health has declined to such an extent that I am no longer able to give my best to the firm – so I’d rather leave on a high note than otherwise. This company has been a part of – or really rather, the focus – of my life for six years and I have enjoyed and treasured every moment.
Please note that during January my focus will be on compiling a comprehensive handover document on all things cloud – ranging from credentials to new wins, leadership videos and more – to ensure all WIP and pipeline work are accounted for and properly handed over to the relevant person/s.
Thank you to the many teachers I’ve had, to the kind people who have guided me and to those who have become more than colleagues. Never in wildest dreams did I imagine that a team could be so empathetic and compassionate during a time that one needed it most. I wish all of you the best for future.
Take care and live – every moment. And remember that in any given challenge you have two choices: curl up like a victim and feel sorry for yourself; or surrender to the process and take from it the learnings that life wishes to share with you xxx
ME: So I haven’t responded yet because no response seems adequate. I cannot imagine seeing your name and sweet face on Facebook and knowing you’re leaving us. Even though I knew we’ve known that for some time, right?
I’m glad you’re going, though. Time to focus only on the important things, right? Funny, but when I think of you—very little of it is work related, although I’ve always admired your work. I think instead of our talks about books, life, the afterlife. I expect you to send me some signs, come to me in a dream—something. I want to know that you’re brilliantly cared for on the other side and having the time of your life.
I know we will talk voice to voice again—but just wanted to say—how very much I admire you, how lucky I have been to have you in my life, how sorry I am that we can’t sit and have tea and solve the world’s problems. I don’t know how I’ve managed to love someone so much that I’ve never met in person—but I guess that’s just you, Tersey Goose. Wishing you and your family more courage, more love, more stamina as you take the last leg of this crazy journey.
I’ll look for you online soon so we can chat . . .
Today is my last day at the firm and I wanted to say goodbye to everyone who has been an important part of my journey. Thank you for your love and support during the past few months and your encouragement when times became tough. See you on the other side.
I receive a form email telling me that there are broken links on a site Tersea and I created. It is addressed to her also, although she passed away almost six weeks ago.
If you read to the end, this may seem anticlimactic. And it is. We had our final phone conversation before the very worst of it. She was a bit fuzzy from the morphine but we both said what we needed to say. And I have absolutely no doubt that she will be waiting for me, with yet another good book or movie recommendation, on the other side.
The form emails continue to come addressed to us both, a weekly reminder to live my life now and not put off the important stuff.
I still have not read “The Book of Joy” and will hop to it soon, or Tersea will be sorely disappointed.