“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” —Nido Qubein
My post this month is inspired by Donna’s Cancer Story, a blog by Sheila Quirke (aka Mary Tyler Mom) documenting her daughter Donna’s courageous battle with brain cancer. Donna died at the age of “four years, two months, four weeks, and one day old,” after a fight that lasted 31 months.
Quirke posted blog entries for each month of Donna’s heartwarming and gut-wrenching experience. The entry that this post is based on is titled Choosing Hope. In it, Quirke talks about the importance of holding on to hope, even when the person with cancer is dying. You may wonder what there is to hope for in that situation—after all, if your loved one is going to die, doesn’t that mean things are hopeless? Well, while hope for a cure may be futile, there can be “hope to not become bitter or angry … hope to find the joy in life … hope to get through the day.”
As Quirke notes, opting for hope in this situation is a conscious choice. You could just as easily, or perhaps more easily, choose despair—just give in to the ugliness that is cancer and its treatment, get in bed, pull up the covers, and try to hide from the whole nightmare. We’re unable to physically check out of our lives, so many people will continue to go to work, do what needs to be done but emotionally check out, going to a place where they are unreachable by those who love and want to support them. This leaves everyone hurting and feeling hopeless.
One of Quirke’s hopes for Donna was that she would live until she died. You may think that’s obviously what was going to happen, but you’d be missing the point. What it means goes far beyond biology. “Live until you die” is a call to arms for those of you who are stuck in Cancer Land, whether you are dying from the disease or not. It means taking each opportunity that comes your way and living life on your terms: not letting cancer define who you are; not backing down; and not giving in. It means continuing your life, as mundane and/or fascinating as parts of it may be, for as long as you can. It means being grateful for things both large and small.
Is there any kind of gift that comes with cancer? For some people, the answer is an adamant no. Many others, however, say yes. While we are all aware that we will eventually die, that reality doesn’t set in for most of us unless we are dealing with a terminal illness. That knowledge gives a clarity of vision like nothing else can. It hones the focus of your life like a laser, and allows you to identify who and what really matters. It is sad that it takes a terminal diagnosis to get people to think this way, but typically that’s the case. We should all be living as though we are dying—focusing on who and what truly matters to us and letting go of and avoiding all the things and people that are unnecessary, bring us pain, and waste our precious time.
Live until you die. No one has, or will, beat death. Knowing that there are no do-overs, that you only have from today forward to complete your journey, how do you choose to live?
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