The remedy for a terminal diagnosis (a.k.a. life)

I was at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre a few weeks ago for my regular six-month check-in with my CLL specialist. My wait was a little longer than usual, which I don’t mind because I know when the time comes that I need a little extra, it will be there for me. Cancer is hard.

When she finally entered my little examining room, she apologized profusely. Her eyes sad and heavy, “Sometimes I just get a patient that I don’t know what to do with. Even with some time after diagnosis, all they can wrap their heads around is ‘Oh my god, I’m going to die.’”

I get that. I really do. I know that not everyone’s story is the same as mine. Each cancer has its own personality, each patient his or her own reality. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

Ultimately though, the diagnosis is always terminal. That’s the nature of life; it ends in death. (Such a cheery thought, am I right?)

In that light, the “OMG, I’m going to die!” becomes a moot point, doesn’t it? Really, the question should be, how do we respond to the diagnosis while we’re here?

My remedy is simply this: Live.

I don’t mean just live, as in continue breathing, eating, sleeping, working, lather, rinse, repeat daily. I mean REALLY LIVE. Live like you just sat down with your doctor and she told you you’ve got six months to a year.

What would you do differently? What is it that you’re putting off right now that tugs at your heart?

Relationships? Job? Tasks? Travel? Creativity? Hopes and dreams deferred?

  • I’ll do this when the kids are grown
  • I’ll do that after I retire
  • When I have more time
  • When I’ve got more money
  • When I get my act together

Do these resonate with you?

I confess I am guilty of using each and every one of these reasonsexcuses at various times over the course of my life. (Probably a little too frequently.) And, to be clear, they still make their way out of my mouth from time to time. This post does not come from a place of having figured it out or having my act together. Far from it. Rather, it comes from a place of looking long and hard in the mirror and asking myself if I’m truly living the intentional life I long for.

In the forefront of my brain is the knowledge that my time is running out. And when that astonishingly persuasive little voice of practicality or fear whispers all the reasons I shouldn’t/can’t do whatever it is I’m moved to do, I want to scream. If I could grab myself by the shoulders and give me a good shake, I would!

The days will never get longer; 24 hours is 24 hours. And maybe money will never be more abundant than it is right now. And really, do any of us truly have our act together? Some put on a better facade than others, but I think every person has their own battlefront.

Quite frankly, NOW is when you’re here!

Unless you’ve been living off the grid, under a rock in Canada this summer, you’ve likely heard of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip.

Upon receiving his diagnosis of an inoperable, incurable brain tumour, Gord Downie did not curl up in a corner, and wallow in self-pity. Instead, he proceeded to launch one last Canadian tour of epic proportions.

In one fell swoop, Gord became Canada’s sweetheart and the very picture of bravery and courage in the face of death. Take that Cancer!

Gord Downie represents HOPE. He has single-handedly inspired a generation of people with his resilience and strength and message of hope in response to unimaginable hardship. He gave as much as he had to give and more. He’s choosing to LIVE.

12 year-old Natasha Gould, who passed away on August 4th this year, after receiving the crushing diagnosis of DIPG (an aggressive, incurable form of brain cancer) spent the last year of her life sowing seeds of hope everywhere she went. She saw an opportunity and seized it.

Upon diagnosis in May 2015, the doctor advised her family to have the summer of a lifetime. And, according to her father, that’s exactly what they did. “It turned into having a year of a lifetime. We packed in a lot of things. There were no regrets,” he said in an interview with CBC news.

“She saw that she had a purpose in her life to advocate and spread the message and draw attention to the fact that we need more energy to try to find a cure to childhood cancers,” he added.

And in the midst of it all, she lived! She fulfilled a dream of being a cheerleader, performing onstage with her troupe with OMI, mastermind behind the hit song of the same name. She spoke publicly about her battle with cancer, advocating for research and funding, she even participated in a TEDtalk.

She was 12. While cancer slowly stole her vibrancy and, ultimately, her life, she chose to live every single minute of her last year boldly.

So, I’m writing again.

Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of writing this summer. But now I’m publishing again. For every internal whisper that reinforces all the reasons I shouldn’t/can’t, I’ve got a faith that says:

You should.

You can.

Why are you waiting?

What have you got to lose?

Your time here will not last forever.

We have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Sure, plan for the future, but not at the expense of living today. Today, choose to view your limitations as opportunities instead of endings.

Today, Live.

go do them


2 thoughts on “The remedy for a terminal diagnosis (a.k.a. life)

  1. Ever since my diagnosis, I have said that attitude is everything in the fight against cancer. As soon as you start saying ‘woe is me”,thats it. We all die, but, I firmly believe, and no one can persuade me otherwise that death is the end. But, Mary and I are always thinking about you and praying for you. I love your writing.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for the inspiration you offer to me often through your notes and comments. It’s nice to have someone who knows the battle going on–as much in the head as anywhere else! You are in my regular prayers too. Hoping the noise in your ears settles a bit, along with your wbc count. Take care. Here’s to a new year, new hope and thriving. J

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