“Ok, look right here and SMILE!”
It was my last day on the job of taking pictures for my daughter’s preschool when the texts messages kept coming through on my phone. To be exact, it was this day one year ago. My morning went from a typical work day of being goofy in hopes of capturing toddlers’ smiles to utter confusion.
This can’t be right. I didn’t read that message correctly. The doctors think it might be WHAT??? Cancer? No, that’s not right.
I tossed my phone back into my camera bag and pushed the thoughts away. There were still a few more innocent babies dressed in their Sunday best who were waiting patiently for me. Auto-pilot mode directed me through the remaining hour at the preschool and I couldn’t get home fast enough to catch up on all the messages I had missed.
Months prior, my dad started complaining of extreme fatigue. It wasn’t like him to always be so tired and weak, needing multiple naps to get through his day. He visited his primary care doctor on numerous occasions, once being told he had Lyme disease and was sent home with three weeks of antibiotics. He felt a little better, but the symptoms came back. On that September morning when he looked into the mirror and saw his yellow eyes, he took matters into his own hands and admitted himself into the hospital.
On September 28, 2016, I sent him a quick text to check on him before I started my day’s work. I never heard back from him after the results were read. Instead, my mom called me.
“The doctors said your dad has Stage 4 cancer. They think it’s in his liver and maybe his pancreas too.” She’s crying, but I am not. “It’s going to be ok. He can do chemotherapy and he will beat this. He will be ok.” I believed that wholeheartedly. My fingers typed out a few words of encouragement to let him know HE’S GOT THIS, because that’s what I do, I root for people and cheer them on.
That was the last time he typed more than two words back to me. He changed that day, on his diagnosis day.
Everything changed after that day. For me, the reality of what was to come became overwhelming. This burning and churning in the deepest part of my gut rose up to my chest, causing it to tighten so much that I couldn’t breathe. My arms and legs would go so weak that I would find myself on the floor because standing was too much. Eventually, that sensation passed through my throat, choking up my words and then it would burst from my eyes in the form of tears. Once it started, it didn’t stop for days.
DAYS. I cried. I cried everywhere I went that it was impossible to hide. The grocery store checkout, the massage appointment, dinner with my husband; every second was soaked in tears. The oddest part about those two days was the fact that NONE of the strangers I encountered asked me if I was ok. It was apparent that I wasn’t alright and one could guess that someone had probably died because I was such a wreck.
In my soul, I was already grieving my father. I began grieving and mourning and missing him before he ever passed away. It began on diagnosis day.
There is a shift in our perspective and belief about life and its longevity when someone receives a fatal diagnosis. The first question we ask is, “What can we do to cure this?” The second question is always, “How much time do we have left?”
His doctors never gave us an answer for that second question. Naturally, we made the ultimate mistake of looking it up on Google. Damn you, Google. You never tell us what we WANT to hear.
While Google told us we had 5 years MAX left with our dad, we prayed for more. 10, 15, give us a miracle of 20!
Instead we had only 7 more weeks. I would have taken Google’s 5 years.
After his diagnosis, our family rallied around him in every way we could. We prayed, most importantly, for his healing. Friends, co-workers, small groups, pastors, and the like all prayed for him. We traveled with him to his doctor appointments and sat with him in the cold waiting rooms. We sent him healthy smoothie recipes and spent weeks at a time taking care of him. We took pictures together, made videos of him with his grandchildren, texted him religiously even though he was too tired to respond, and never stopped telling him how much we loved him.
When I look back on our short time we had with him after his diagnosis, I see our lives were lived full of PURPOSE, INTENTION, PASSION, SACRIFICE, and LOVE.
Why did it take a fatal diagnosis in order for us to start living this way together? Why do we need to stare death in the face before we begin to live our lives the way God intended all along?
I’ve always thought I appreciated my blessings, my family, my health, and made choices based on that gratitude. Every day is a true gift and I knew we weren’t promised another. After living an entire year since learning that my dad had cancer, I can honestly say that I didn’t really ‘get it’ before.
When you’ve watched someone you love dearly suffer in pain and then leave this earth, you will never look at your life the same way again. For me, I’ve decided that I don’t want to regret the choices I DIDN’T MAKE. No more “should have done this or should have said that.” No more allowing FEAR of failure, FEAR of others’ opinions, or FEAR of the unknown stop me from living an abundantly joyful life. No more living like I am promised another year, another month or another day.
I’m done with it. Done with that mediocre, safe, and comfortable life. I’m going to LOVE like there’s no such thing as a broken heart. I’m going to GIVE like there’s an endless resource of time on my watch and money in my accounts.
And I’m going to continue to BELIEVE that God is good and that he works everything out for our good, even when I don’t feel it.
Today. Let TODAY be your own diagnosis day. Start living your life knowing you have limited time left because honestly, we all have been given a fatal diagnosis. Everyone one of us will end up exactly the same at the end; watching a sunset from a cemetery.
Yet, here you are. Still breathing, full of purpose and promise. It’s up to you now. How are you going to run your race? What will people say about you when you have finished the course? I was honored to speak with my sister the most precious memories of our dad. Now it’s up to me to determine what my children will speak about me.