I dug out a box of dressup clothes. “Look, Oma!” one of my granddaughters said, twirling around. “I’m Cindewella!” We danced. We sang. I hosted tea parties for various “pwincesses,” and we sat at the kitchen counter eating bowls of ice cream together because ice cream always made me feel better. On those nights, I fell into bed exhausted but happy.
From then on, I pushed myself to do something meaningful, something life-affirming, every day. It didn’t have to be big. I played with the grands every chance I got. Other days it was just walking the dog, taking my time to delight in everything the way he did—sniffing the fresh air, even walking through mud puddles. I stayed in the moment, day by day.
Be With Others
Living intentionally means making choices to do what matters most. For us, that meant spending time with the people who matter most. Even at the expense of fatigue sometimes. Showing up at a grandchild’s preschool party. Going for a walk with a friend, just to listen. Attending a funeral not because I knew the deceased but because I knew her daughter. Being in relationships means being inconvenienced sometimes.
We looked for ways to celebrate with others. We attended our granddaughter’s baptism in Denver. I really didn’t feel up to it that day, but I forced myself to go. Sunlight streamed into the church as the minister sprinkled the water, casting such a glow over the baby that I caught my breath with the joy and wonder of celebrating new life!
Lynn and I hosted family dinners more often. No special occasion necessary. No heavy discussions. Just laidback meals and conversation, a time to be together around a table.
Our children gave us a spontaneous fortieth-anniversary party, pulling it off in just a few days. More than 40 people showed up to create a great memory. We ended our first year of treatment around Christmas. Our kids celebrated the milestone with a family “chem-over” party and gave us a golden retriever puppy I named Kemo because of my decision to make chemo my friend.
We chose to look at our future with hope. Lynn and I weren’t sure we had a lot of time left but, oddly, we had lots of time on our hands. People don’t ask you to serve on committees or attend meetings when they think you’re dying. So we made a bucket list. Things we wanted to do. Things we wanted to live for.
Lynn wanted to go to Alaska. I wanted to visit New York City at Christmastime. We’d lost a golden retriever not long before we got sick. I wanted one more golden to love. That was Kemo. And there was one more thing we both wanted: to see our daughter Kendall, who’d had three miscarriages, become a mother.
My focus was on living one day at a time. But in accepting that I couldn’t control when I would die, that only God numbers my days, I found a freedom I wouldn’t have known otherwise. A chance to imagine a future for myself. Others helped me do that.
The fall after I was diagnosed, a few friends came over to the house and planted some bulbs in the yard as a sign of faith that I would see them bloom in the spring. They knew that I was afraid to hope at the time. Spring would come three to four months after I had finished chemo, which is often when a cancer recurs.
In the spring of 2007, my scans were clear, and the tulips and daffodils my friends had planted burst into view. How to be optimistic when you might not have long to live? Be open to God’s promise to grow good things in hard places. Be open to discovering new hope. To having a future.
One summer morning, our daughter Kendall came over and plunked a sign down on our kitchen counter. In big letters it read: BELIEVE.
“Mom, you and Dad just have to believe,” she said.
I looked at the sign, at the word I’d read and written and spoken so many times. And for the first time I saw lie tucked into the middle of it. How often had I focused on a lie rather than believing the truth of God’s promises?
We hung the sign above the kitchen sink. I saw it every day, and every day it reminded me that faith overcomes the fearful lies that distract me. Slowly, an odd peace came over me, a trust that God would provide and prepare Lynn and me for our future, regardless of the outcome.
Eleven years after that initial diagnosis, we’ve crossed off all the items on our bucket list. Alaska. Christmastime in New York. Our dog Kemo is now a distinguished older golden. Our daughter Kendall is the mother of three, bringing us to a total of 10 grandchildren, a constant source of joy and wonder.
Lynn had a recurrence of his brain tumor and went back on treatment. He had to retire from his legal practice, but is done with treatment once again. I have had no relapses.
We don’t need a bucket list anymore. We’re now on what I call our Divine Detour, using what we learned in one season of our lives to carry out God’s purposes for us in the next. You could say it took a death sentence to teach us how to live with intent.
We’ve held on to that habit. We exercise regularly to keep our strength up for doing what matters most. We love to spend time in the mountains near our home, especially with our children and grandchildren. Lynn is a hospice volunteer and serves as a Stephen minister at church. I mentor mothers through MOPS, and I walk alongside people who have been diagnosed with cancer.