A Look At Envy


A former colleague joined the recurrent Ovarian Cancer club recently and we have re-connected in a sisterhood far beyond tax fairness. We accept our reality while exploring every avenue for slowing our walk towards death. She wrote a poem I share below. I, with recurrence in 2011, relinquished my envy of old age as I focused on living long enough to turn 60. I have friends who would love to reach 50, or 40, or 30 and suspect they will not. As a child the first phrase that I was ever motivated to memorize was, “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man with no feet.” But admitting what we envy is to be human.

Before dying at age 44, a friend interviewed “little old ladies” so that she could experience that future knowing she would never live it. I loved that problem solving just as I love Sandra’s clarity with words.


Old Age Envy by Sandra Morgen

Envy unleashed:

walking past a man in his 70s

hauling himself down

an uneven path

before summer heat

boils the morning.

Last night

under a vine maple

lit by a gibbous moon

the silhouette of

a couple in their 80s

her blanched hair escaping hairpins

his back straight with effort

frail fingers knotted.

I used to dread old age

imagining loss, dementia,

fading, being a burden.

Cancer trumps those forebodings

incubating envy

but not resentment

an aching appreciation

of what is unlikely to be.



About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

23 responses »

  1. Ever more grateful for the 72 years I’ve had–my Mom died at 48, and I’ve counted each of my last 24 years as even more precious. Very powerful words she wrote….straight from the core. Blessings to both of you….

  2. Yes, I suspect that my father, who died at 67, would have appreciated that poem once he came to the realization that he wouldn’t see 70. I know there are others who envy his ability to get to 67 though.

  3. Marcy, Thank you for posting my poem and your very kind words. I appreciate the responses. I am still very new to the online OVCA community, though I appreciate what others are saying. Right now it feels easier to express myself through poetry than more directly. Heal on all.

    • Sandi, thank you for this beautiful meditation/reflection. I need it this morning.

      I’m more conscious of my envy of age peers who haven’t dealt with advanced cancer for most of their 30s, 40s and 50s. From one perspective they seem so fortunate. Yet, turn it on its side and I feel so fortunate to have experienced all that’s come during the past 20 years of outliving my prognosis.

      We each have our own unique unfolding from birth to death.

      I’m glad you have a poet’s approach that enables you to perceive cancer’s paradoxical gifts and losses.

      Appreciating each breath.

      warm wishes, Stephanie

  4. Beautiful Poem, Sandi and love your thoughts Marcy. Most people can’t understand envying old people or welcoming birthdays. When I was in treatment and convinced that I was going to die within a few years, I watched old people longingly. I kept praying that I would live to be 60. After I reached 60, I prayed that God wasn’t listening. I try never to take my survival for granted.

    • I have also felt that way at times. Congrats on your survival. If I may inquire as to what stage
      was your cancer and what kind of treatments did you have. And what was the time frame for the treatments. Also did you change your eating habits? I am stage 3C ovarian cancer and am back in treatment. I thank the good Lord every day.

  5. A lovely poem, Marcy. Thanks for sharing. Her words make me re-evaluate how I look at my mom’s (98 years old) current life. Perhaps I don’t want her dementia or frailty, but I am glad I have lived long enough to enjoy my grandchildren. Will I see great grandchildren? Maybe, maybe not. My brother and father both died too young, so it’s hard to know where my life will take me. I do know I plan to enjoy each day as long as I can. Enjoy your days, my friend.

  6. I remember when I was first diagnosed that there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere. How I envied them at the beginning of their life with their children, when my children were going to lose their mother!! I sat in the auditorium of the gym of my daughter’s high school during orientation and tried to hold back the tears thinking, “I won’t be here in 4 years to see her graduate.” But she is a senior now, and I will hopefully be there for her graduation in June! Will I be there for college graduation or to hold my first grandchild? I don’t know. When people complain about birthdays I get a little angry. Please, give me as many as possible! I want to live to be an old woman. I envy the people who will get that chance. But for today, I am grateful that I am still here and able to experience each milestone that comes my way.

  7. What a beautiful poem! Would it be possible to provide a link so that we can share it with friends, with attribution, of course? Thank you. (My close friend has OVCA, Stage IV.)

  8. Marcy. No matter our sge, hatred, envy and resentment clearly degrade any of us who hold/value, such self destructive emotions / thoughts. What an admirable banner your life is,,speaking for love, acceptance, joy and forgiveness.

    You’ve heard it from me before. But here it is again. You are my FAVE hero.

    Like vinyl thinking of you. Holding you in my huge heart of love and appreciation.

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