Home > Uncategorized > The Things I Learned From Cancer

The Things I Learned From Cancer

Before cancer afflicted my Mom, I thought I knew about cancer.  My grandmother died from lung cancer when I was young, my mother-in-law survived breast cancer, and I’ve known other people at various stages of their own struggles with cancer.  But from the day of Mom’s diagnosis with Stage IV stomach cancer on March 16th until her passing on April 14th, I learned a lot that I didn’t know before.  I learned about cancer itself, about death, and even more about living.

I discovered that some doctors and nurses must’ve skipped those classes on compassion.  But I met others who not only could teach those classes on compassion but restored my faith and trust in the medical profession.  I learned that a caring doctor and nurse make the difference when you are helping a loved one with a terminal diagnosis.

One insensitive doctor, just days after Mom had been given weeks to live, ordered physical therapy for her while she was still in the hospital.  At the time, Mom was still in a state of mind to send the therapist on his way and later to give that doctor a piece of her mind.

I was reminded that food in the hospital cafeteria is still just as bad as I’d remembered.

I gained an appreciation and respect for the people who provide hospice care.  They deal with the specter of death in a compassionate and caring way.  The nurses and care managers I dealt with remained even-keeled in the face of chaos, always taking the time to explain what was happening and what to expect in the coming days.  They took care of Mom’s physical being and our emotional being.

I learned the value of family and good friends.  Our heavy load was lightened by the presence of those who came to visit Mom, who allowed us to take a break, who asked how we were doing, brought us meals, sent cards, texts, and emails, and who offered to help us however they might.  Best of all, they were willing to listen.  Or to sit and be silent with us.  And those who’d been down this same road offered lessons from their own experiences.

As we approached the last few days with Mom, people kept asking, “Has everyone gotten to say their goodbyes?”  I understood the question, but I didn’t understand the question.  Why did people who didn’t know me think it necessary for me to have one last conversation, to make peace after all these years?

This wasn’t the way I’d been brought up to live.  Do whatever you please, offend any and all, and then make sure you have a chance to make peace with everyone before you die.  How are you going to live if you don’t have a chance to make your peace, to offer your apologies, to express your appreciation and love before the person dies?

Mom lived with a short memory and tried to make peace, as much as it depended on her, with people as she went along.  So as we entered our final weeks and days, there was no need to make peace, no need to say our final goodbyes, no need to express appreciation and admiration.  Instead, we laughed and we cried over our shared lives together.  She told me stories that I’d never heard before- like that I’d been born six weeks early with the cord wrapped around my neck- and she reminded me of things that I’d long forgotten- such as her getting mad at me on our trip to the Grand Canyon and making me get out of the car on the highway (she did come back and get me).

My Dad passed away in his sleep in May 2011.  There was no opportunity for one last conversation, but I felt no guilt nor any loss in not having had that chance.  All that needed to be said had already been said.

From my parents, I learned this and Mom’s terminal cancer cemented this lesson in me:  Live your life in such a way that there is no need for last words.  Let your words and your actions be such that there is no need for one last conversation.  Regrets in life and death will eat you up from the inside out.

From the death of two parents in the last year, I learned more about living:  Let there be no need for last words.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Yvonne Dailey
    April 23, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Chris – My deepest sympathy that you had to face the death of two parents in one year. I appreciate your willingness to share your story, and your lessons, with the rest of us. As someone who is fortunate to still have both parents, I am grateful to for sharing your struggles and insights, in hopes that I may be better prepared to deal with such situations with grace. As someone who strives to live each day in a way that is genuine and pleasing to God, I continue to take your lessons to heart. I hope you know your skills as a pastor and a man of faith are even reflected in your blog, and I am thankful for the teaching.
    God Bless – Yvonne

  2. Jayne Miller
    April 23, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Chris – I am in complete agreement with your final words. I always said have no regrets….. I am still greatful to have the last 24 hours with my mother to laugh, cry, and say everything I wanted to say while she was here….even if she did not speak a word. – Thanks Chris for posting this….Jayne

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