“You have eight to ten weeks to live. I’m sorry,” the doctor in my mind said as I drove down the highway. This imaginary doctor and I were having a conversation about a very real breast lump I had discovered just moments ago. (And in case you’re wondering if I usually drive around and squish my breasts while searching for lumps, I don’t). I had been scratching my armpit – sexy, I know – because I had an outbreak of eczema that was making me insane. As I dug around trying to relieve my crazy itch, my fingers touched a lump that was about the size of a large cotton ball.
What in the world?
It’s every woman’s nightmare.
It must be mastitis.
I was still breastfeeding my youngest, and had struggled with breast lumps a couple of other times since her birth, but I realized there was a difference between those knots and this one. Those spots had come to my attention because they were painful, and hot to the touch. This new mass moved around like a large marble under my fingers, and had no sensation; not even the slightest hint of pain.
It must be cancer.
Before I go any further, I think you need to know that I am a fatalistic endelusionist. Endelusionist is a made-up word that means: a person having delusions about how a thing will end. In other words, I always choose the worst-case-scenario and play it out in my vivid imagination to its dramatic conclusion.
It’s cancer, and it’s already stage IV. The lump is so big; there can be no other explanation. There are no treatment options left. I need to begin saying goodbye to my family and turn my thoughts toward going home.
I looked back at my three youngest daughters, all asleep in the car. My heart thundered in my chest. I would be leaving them behind. I started to cry.
And that’s where the REAL conversation began:
Oh, God, is it my time to leave? This is a lot sooner than I thought. Is this something I’m supposed to fight and pray and expect a miracle? I’ve heard about other folks who have fought their way back from death’s doorstep and beaten cancer. But… I don’t want to waste time and energy chasing a cure if it’s not what you have planned. I’d rather spend my last days with loved ones than with doctors.
Do you want me to just accept that it’s your will for me to die soon? I don’t want to resign myself to dying if there’s living yet to do. Tell me which direction you want me to go. I’m not afraid of dying, you know that. Still, it’s a bittersweet thing. I’ve waited for heaven for a long, long time, but I’ve also looked forward to seeing my kids all grown up, and I thought I had a lot of living yet to do. If this is truly the end, then help me do it well. Show me how to die with grace, and teach me how to share with my family all that is in my heart. Give me clarity on what’s important and what isn’t.
Help me to express to my sweet Alex just how much he means to me, and how he’s been a miracle, a hero, and my dream come true. He thinks he’s just a regular ole guy, but you and I both know he’s so much more than that. I don’t want to be a burden to him here at the end. I need to know how to love him well and not to shut him out of this last part of my journey.
I’ve asked you for a long time to do whatever it takes for my children to love and serve you. Is this your way of answering that prayer? I’ll gladly die if it will shake them up and make them see you for who you really are. If I’m gone, then they’ll need you in a way they never have before, and I’m glad. Just don’t let them become bitter. Use this to penetrate their hearts and make it the best possible outcome for them to strengthen their relationships with you. Be close and be sweet, and give them such amazing comfort that they can’t help but love you more.
But Lord, what about Keaton? She’s so little. She won’t ever really know me, and that makes me sad in a way I can’t even express. The other kids will have memories of me, but she won’t even have that. How do I say goodbye to her? She’ll have some pictures, and maybe I can make a few farewell videos for her. Actually, I doubt if I can do that without being a slobbery mess. God, I want to leave her something of value! Please?
Tears were raining down my face and I was doing my best not to wake the girls with my sobbing. You cannot imagine the cycle of emotions that I experienced during that drive. I felt sadness, joy, worry, peace, resignation, hope, confusion, and determination. The only feeling missing was fear. I felt many more emotions that I find impossible to articulate.
I thought about my regrets, and the things I would change if I could. I considered all the happy moments of my life; there were too many to count. I smiled at God’s goodness on my life, and how He had given me the gift of such a grand adventure. I considered all the things I still wanted to accomplish, and felt that ten lifetimes would still be too short.
Father, what do I do? What comes next? How do I make the most of the days that I have left?
“Write. Write it all down.”
I did not hear an audible voice, but that command forced its way into my heart so that I couldn’t hear anything else. My direction was unmistakable, and I knew what I was supposed to do. It was time I get busy and tell the God-story of my life. I would write narratives for my children, and for anyone else that cared to listen. I would write, not to bring attention to myself, but to bring glory to God. I would pen my stories whether they were read by thousands, or by one solitary soul.
Write. Write it all down.
At this moment two things happened. First, I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was. I had been so absorbed in my conversation with God that I had passed up my usual exit and ended up somewhere in South Carolina. Thoughts about death tend to be distracting. I grabbed my phone, punched in my home address, and in short order I was on a road I had never traveled, but headed home.
That moment was a clear metaphor of my life. I have taken wrong turns at times, and found myself in places I never thought I would be. Without fail, God has always reset my course and put me on the path back home. All I’ve ever had to do was humble myself and ask for His help.
The second thing that happened was that I decided to check my lump again. When I touched it, scorching pain shot through my breast and into my armpit. The pain was so great I could barely lift my arm. I felt the skin beneath my shirt; my boob had a fever.
I’m not dying?
It was mastitis after all. I laughed out loud.
Then I realized: of course I’m dying. We all are, you know. There are women every day that receive the same diagnosis I had only imagined. There are men that hear those awful words, “I’m very sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.” Death is no respecter of persons, and steals from us all. Whether you are young or old, the reality is that you don’t have much time left. Does that sound like a warped perspective? I don’t think so. I think it’s a gift to view life through the lense of brevity.
I’ve been blessed with an active imagination, which in that moment compelled me to do some massive soul searching, which God then used to give me the gift of a new direction and passion. I knew I was still supposed to write. I had been afraid of writing (what if I’m no good?) until I believed I wasn’t going to be around much longer. Then I was afraid of NOT writing. I’ve been going at it since March (when this story takes place) and it has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
So what about you? What would change in your life if you were told you only had a short time left? Would your relationships with God, family and friends look different? Please, don’t wait to figure it all out later. Later may never come.