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Gone in an instant! August 13, 2009

Posted by PAS in survivorship.

I held this post for awhile, not sure how I really felt after writing it. But I think it’s important to share the thoughts, so here they are.

Sometimes, even cancer news takes a backseat to breaking news. Last week, on the 10th of August, a co-worker lost his house to fire.

I was in NYC, having a checkup with Dr. Personality, when my backpack buzzed. The call was from another co-worker, someone who would never call me before my appointment. She told me that I needed to check http://www.syracuse.com because our co-worker (and former boss’s) house had just burned to the ground.

R. and L. were both at work; they’d left the house only an hour before getting the call from the local fire chief. They and their newf Mojo are okay, although the cats didn’t make it. They’d driven one car to work, and a second car, parked in a small garage, was okay (but the keys are gone–that’s another problem.) The firemen managed to save a couple of things in the new garage and a smaller building on the property.

But everything in the house is gone. They have what they wore to work that day, what was in the cars, what was in the small shed and the garage. The story was breaking news on syracuse.com for a day or two, complete with picture of a fireman hosing down the smoky scene.

I’ve had to start over from scratch (after a destructive burglary in my home in an ‘urban redevelopment zone’ in 1997.) My insurance adjuster’s words still ring in my ears: “It would have been better if they’d burned you down; then we’d have to pay you.”

Well–no. It wouldn’t have been better. It would have been different, but not better.

For those of you who’ve never had to start over or rebuild your world from scratch, some thoughts that this week’s ‘breaking news’ has reminded me about:

  • If you and those close to you are alive, that’s the important thing.
  • No matter what you lost, in the end it’s all just stuff.
  • Focus on the important thing–that you and those important to you are okay.
  • Get back to routine as quickly as possible, but don’t ignore your feelings. You lost something; it’s okay to grieve for it. Even if all you lost was normalcy.
  • In these situations, the best ‘help’ is often cash. Don’t be afraid to give it–and don’t be too proud to accept it when it’s offered.
  • Never underestimate the importance of keeping COPIES and BACKUPS of everything, in a place that isn’t your house. After the second burglary (I had 4 in 7 years) I learned–I keep a paper copy of my household inventory list in my desk at work, and electronic copies in a couple of other places.
  • Investigate online storage options for photos and records, so that you can access your information where ever you are, and wherever you end up. Then, arrange a second backup location in case the primary location is inaccessible.
  • Never forget the first thing–you’re ok.
  • Never forget, it’s all just stuff. You can get new stuff.

It seems trivial now, but one thing I remember about those first weeks after the burglary is that, once I was in a safe place, for the first time in my adult life I went out and bought brand-new dishes and flatware that matched. I didn’t buy a lot of stuff, but after a week of camping in a new rental house, I realized I couldn’t live forever out of my camping box, drinking coffee out of gas station freebie travel mugs and eating off paper plates. So I bought some stuff. And I started over. It was overwhelming, but I put one foot in front of the other and I did it.

One of the pieces of ‘awareness’ jewelry I own is a blue ribbon pin with a magnolia flower in the center, and the words HELP-HOPE-HEAL etched in the back. Everyone assumes it’s a colon cancer awareness ribbon; it’s not. It was created and sold by QVC to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina relief. It symbolizes starting over, and functioning in the midst of adversity. It’s a double-entendre of support — the cancer-girl taking time to acknowledge that some things can be immediately worse than stage IV cancer dx and treatment. It’s the symbol that reminds me we are all partners in survivorship. I wear it every day, to remind me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to HELP-HOPE-HEAL.

My strongest thoughts to everyone and anyone who ever has to live through this kind of experience. May none of you ever see your world become ‘breaking news.’

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1. dianeschuller - August 17, 2009

great advice and worthy thoughts. I’ve been in both situations so I hear what you’re saying. One foot after the other.

2. Yasmin - August 18, 2009

This is excellent advice. I really need to go and get back-ups. You also write really well….

gaelenscafe - August 18, 2009

thank you, Yasmin and Diane. I’ve been thinking even more about this the last few days; one thing I neglected–everyone should periodically re-assess their insurance coverage. Yeah, it’s all just stuff, but the policy that was fine 10 or even 5 years ago may not even come close to helping you start over today. Paperwork takes up a lot of time, but we do have to stay on top of it!

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