Thursday, August 30, 2012

Not Dead Yet

For a week in August I was dying. The doctor solemnly informed my wife and me that he strongly suspected that I had pancreatic cancer. He was ordering a CT scan to confirm his diagnosis. He suggested we get people praying for us and assured us that he would also pray for us.

That was on a Tuesday - my wife’s 60th birthday - which certainly put a damper on the birthday celebration! Due to insurance and administrative snafus (and my allergy to the injection used for CT scans), it was not until the following Monday that I had the test performed; it was another 24 hours until I heard the results. So we began a week of waiting.

For that week I thought I was dying. It took only a quick internet search to confirm that pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of the disease. Seventy-five percent of those diagnosed with this disease die within a year. 96% are dead in five years. I was probably dead within months.

I grieved. I woke up in the middle of the night and wept for the grandchildren I would never see grow up. I cried alone in the dark. I hugged Jude and we cried together. I grieved for her loss; I grieved for our children’s loss. I remembered what it was like to lose my father to cancer when he was 64 years old.

I planned everything I needed to do to get my financial affairs in order. I talked to our son, the banker, about annuities for Jude. I did not want to make any definite decisions until the test confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis, but I was pretty certain I was as good as dead.

When the results came in, the doctor phoned immediately. My CT scan was clear. Except for a few minor issues (such as kidneys full of stones) I was healthy. At hearing the news my wife immediately fell to her knees in thanksgiving to God. Then she got on the phone to share the good news with our prayer partners.

I was relieved, but strangely I had no strong emotional response to the news. As I write this article three weeks (and one gallbladder surgery) later, I still remain stoic concerning my newfound longevity. 

Of course I am glad I am not dying of cancer. I hope to live many more years. In fact the forty pounds I have lost to this mysterious ailment (probably gall bladder disease) will likely increase my chances of living longer. My cholesterol levels have never been better!

I now view that week of dying as a gift from God. It is one thing to intellectually know one is mortal. It is another thing to emotionally experience imminent mortality … and live to tell the story. I received the gift of dying before I died. I had a near death experience, but without the bright light and angels.

My brief experiment in dying has helped me appreciate the emotional depths of those who are diagnosed with life-threatening illness. It has put things in clearer perspective in my life. It has helped Jude and I to cherish each day as a gift from God, to value our family, our friends, our community, and our church. Dying has helped me live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very moving read Marshall. I/we are glad you 'did not die', and live differently now because of it. Perhaps God was 'positioning' you, so that you do know what people experience in their 'diagnosis' without hope. As Christians of course we always have the hope and belief of Eternal life, but maybe just maybe this was power for the course of non believers in the community,who have been told the worst. And while you cannot offer Eternal life, you can LEAD them to that belief. In any event God heard and answered your prayers. Amen.