Soon after I announced that I had stage III breast cancer, I was asked the question everyone wants to ask but few will dare to. “Are you going to die?” was the question that fell off the tongue of the well-meaning friend who ventured into the unknown. I could tell my friend wasn’t prepared for the conversation that would naturally ensue when one asks a preacher a question about life and death. I saw that she was embarrassed that the question had slipped out. And I must admit, I wasn’t exactly prepared to answer this question. Not that I hadn’t thought about it. I had. In fact, I had thought about and prayed about this very question a lot over the two months that it took to arrive at my diagnosis. Everyone who has cancer considers this question at some point in their journey.
In May of 2016, my mother received a diagnosis of leukemia. It was a rare form that is difficult to treat. Her first question was “am I going to die?” Her doctor told her if the chemo didn’t work, she would die within six weeks. None of us were prepared for that revelation; however, when week number six arrived, mom was responding to the chemo. I remember her telling me “I was prepared to die; now I have to learn how to live again.” Living again was somewhat difficult for my mother to embrace as she had literally written herself off. For six weeks, she had been living in the “shadow of the valley of death.” Thankfully she learned to embrace living again and had several good months before her kidneys failed.
In December when the doctors told my mother that her kidneys were failing and would not tolerate any more chemo, her first question this time was “how long will I live?” The pronouncement was “about two weeks” and this timeline consumed her thoughts. When the two week deadline came and went and Mom didn’t go to heaven, she was confused and a little angry. Once again, emotionally and mentally, she had prepared to die so when it didn’t happen, she didn’t know how to respond. The process of dying had been difficult for mom, particularly the emotional stress. Spiritually, she was “ready to go;” emotionally, she just wanted the journey to be quick. We don’t always get what we want.
“We are all going to die someday” I replied to my friend’s question as to the state of my mortality. I could tell she wasn’t satisfied but the truth of the matter is that I don’t know if I am going to die from this disease. That’s not in my job description; that knowledge belongs to God. What I do have is a choice as to how I will live out my time on this earth. I have chosen to live each day to its fullest; to embrace the opportunities God places before me to serve; to cherish each day’s blessings; to look forward to the future. Every day I live with an attitude of hope. It is hope that keeps me focused on the present – working, loving, serving and eating chocolate when my tummy allows it! I don’t know why I got sick; I don’t know what the outcome will be. But I do know that God is sustaining me, working in me and through me, shaping me for my future. Even in the midst of illness I live in hope because “hope is a sure and fast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19a).