When Hubby was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer—because he was relatively young and in good shape—they gave him two years with a terminal illness.
So what do you do when you’re told, “Maybe two years of life left”?
The truth is, no one knows how much time he/she has. Cancer or not. So maybe the question ought to be: “Given that none of us are going to live forever, how, then, should we live?”
Here are 4 thoughts from our experience:
1. Do the no-brainer stuff. Love better. Stay connected. Write more thank-you notes. Forgive that person you should have forgiven long ago. Speak words of encouragement. Tip well. Live gratefully in the present.
2. Start checking things off your Bucket List. Visit the old homestead your grandparents farmed where you spent childhood summers. Take a road trip through all the national parks (there are 58, so you should probably get started). Cruise Alaska’s Inland Passage.
A few years back, Hubby and I had enough saved for a 25th anniversary Alaskan cruise. I mentioned to our daughter — away at college at the time — that we were thinking about getting a much-needed computer instead of doing the cruise. “Mom,” she said in a rather firm tone. “You’re going on the cruise.” Where do you think that computer would be at this very moment had we gone the more practical route? And where do you think the Alaskan adventure is? In my heart. Irreplaceable memories with Hubby in the beautiful land called Alaska.
3. Consider some charitable goals. Hubby and I instinctively knew that if we could give back in some capacity, it would help make sense of this senseless diagnosis. One of the things we did was train to offer peer support to others dealing with cancer. There are numerous volunteer opportunities where your time and the sharing of your expertise can truly make a difference in the lives of others.
4. Make healthful lifestyle changes. Add more physical activity to your days. Manage stress wisely. Eat your fruits and veggies. I like the 80/20 rule from the registered dietician in the cancer center where I worked: “80 per cent of the time, eat healthfully.” The other 20 percent of the time, go ahead and have that slice of pizza after your son’s basketball game, that cupcake at your grandkid’s birthday party. (I may or may not have had two pieces of pie on Thanksgiving Day.)
To illustrate that living fully doesn’t have to cost much — Hubby was on a treatment that caused osteoporosis. We started pounding the neighborhood pavement to strengthen his bones. And then we took on the nearby wilderness trails. Hiking and snow-shoeing. The cost: $25 annual sno-park permit and $30 annual wilderness pass per vehicle. Which, with only two of us in the vehicle, equated to 53 cents per person per week for unlimited year-round recreation and fun. Not to mention the producing of all those good endorphins.
Obviously, those who have been told their days are numbered are in different stages of health. Which means some of these points may seem moot. But remember the two years predicted for Hubby? Well, he lived ten years with metastatic disease. Ten years.
How about you? Who can you love better starting today? Who do you need to forgive? What’s on your Bucket List? Why not start checking some things off?
In 2004, Marlys’ husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer and given two years to live. The couple established a non-profit — Cancer Adventures — and presented at a variety of venues across the country including the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, sharing what they were doing to live well with terminal cancer. During that time, Marlys also wrote a book, Cancer Adventures: Turning Loss into Triumph, featuring 28 cancer heroes who had established purpose and meaning, and found a way to give back.
Gary lived 10 good quality years with terminal cancer, much longer than the experts predicted. After he died in November 2014, Marlys took an early retirement from the St. Charles Cancer Center in Bend, Oregon, where she served as Survivorship Coordinator.
She is in the process of procuring a literary agent for her newest book, a memoir highlighting the lessons cancer taught them about living and dying well. While her story is one of setbacks, Marlys knows she has a greater purpose in life — a passion for showing people how to navigate life’s challenges, tenaciously and with heart wide open.
Follow Marlys on her website Cancer Adventures.
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