6 lessons cancer taught me

Hubby and I were cancer students together. In AP courses. The lessons were too hard and we failed too many tests. Eventually, we started retaining what we were supposed to be learning. Some of us are slower than others.


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Photo credit:  Pixabay


Here are 6 lessons cancer taught us during our ten-year course:

1. Cancer is a bully, and bullies can be shut down. The “C” word is a scary word. And even though great strides are being made in this arena, cancer still has the ability to push you down, beat you up, take your wallet and leave you for dead. Many don’t survive the mugging. But many do. A June 2014 report by the American Cancer Society estimates “there are almost 14.5 million cancer survivors alive in the US today.” Fourteen-point-five million people living with and beyond cancer. I love this word, survivor.

2. Live while you have life. This should go without saying. But I suspect too many of us aren’t so much living our lives now as we are working toward living our lives someday. The only (huge) problem with that scenario is, so many don’t make it to someday. Cancer prodded Hubby and me to take more road trips. Walk along the Pacific waves. Lace up hiking boots, strap on snow-shoes and head for the mountains. Eat al fresco meals overlooking the river that flows through the middle of our town. While we could.

Author Mark Batterson shares this wisdom:

Don’t accumulate possessions; accumulate experiences.

3. Refocus your gaze. Go ahead. Cry. Yell. Take a long bike ride. Journal. Eat chocolate. However you deal with bad news. But instead of keeping your focus there, lift your gaze. I don’t mean this in a Pollyanna-ish way, but rather in a hard, face-the-facts way. If there’s absolutely nothing you can do about your losses, then why not focus on what’s left after the dust settles? In the last year of Hubby’s life, cancer spread further. Large mass in bladder. Nephrostomy tubes inserted. Kidney infections. Hospital stays. Cancer in bones. Cancer in liver.

A not-insignificant series of setbacks to deal with over the course of a year.

But we processed each hard piece of news. And we intentionally made note of what we still had. One more day together. This marriage. These children and grandchildren. These family and friends who have surrounded us with love. Our five senses intact. The beauty of this central Oregon.

A not-insignificant amount of blessing.

4. Get good at saying yes. Practice with me: “Yes, thank you.” I read an online article about a reverse gift list. Here’s what you do: Make two columns on a piece of paper. Entitle the first column “People I trust” and the second “Things they can do.” List all the people who have offered to help and then draft a list of simple tasks. “Bring dinner once a month.” “Pick up groceries twice a month.” “Come over and sit with (husband, parent, child) while I take a long, hot bath.” Then match the task to the person. Your family and friends really do want to contribute in a meaningful way.

5. Death can be a sacred experience. The most horrible way to lose a loved one, I would think, would be without warning. Hubby and I were given warning. And then the gift of time. It was a sacred experience standing watch as he slowly lost his energy, his appetite, became childlike and eventually took his last breath. Peace invaded our lives, our home, our Hospice House room. And we had done and said everything that needed doing and saying.

6. People are our most valuable assets. After all is said and done, it is the people in our lives—-and not the things—-that add the most value. Cherish people. Stay in touch. Cultivate new friendships. And when it’s time for  them to receive unwanted news, then you can show love and encouragement in the same way others loved and encouraged you.

I would never wish cancer on anyone. But I will always be grateful for this hard school because of what I learned; because this class schedule connected me to classmates I would not have otherwise known; because this harsh teacher pushed me deeper into love with my husband.

How about you? What lessons are yours because of adversity?

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  1. Rose Rupert

    Oh Marlys! What a beautiful website you have! How courageous of you to share so openly with so many.

    I am very proud if you and your journey. I’m so happy and proud of you for going to Switzerland. I thought about you so much while you were there….reminiscing about our walks and talks. I treasure those still….and feel the friendship.
    You are celebrating one year….I’m celebrating 5 years. What a strange journey. Gus’ passing seems so long ago in so many ways, yet when I read your posts I am right back with him.
    I have been so blessed with this sweet man in my life and with this amazing new life I have been given. But I must say that it’s also somewhat disorienting when I reflect on my former life. I miss many things….familiar spots, a community of friends, shared work and vision, people with whom I share history. Life has many trade-offs. I don’t think I have regrets. I have a very deep trust in God and his guidance for me. I’m thankful for that.
    Did I read that you are back in Bend? I plan to visit next summer with enough time to see many friends. I hope I get to see you and have a cup if tea.
    I love you dearly, Marlys. And I loved Gary. Thank you for doing what you do. I know you touch many people’s lives and help them with their journeys.
    Please know you are in my heart so often although I’m not so good at letting you know.
    This is a big month. Journey well. Be sweet with yourself. I’m honoring you and Gary. Let’s hold Gary and Gus in our hearts and minds on the 17th.
    My love and blessings to you always,

    • So good to hear from you, Rose. I am back in Bend and would love to share a cup of tea with you next summer! (Actually, I’d love to share a cup of tea with you much sooner than that!) Yes, a big month. And yes, let’s carry Gary and Gus in our hearts and minds. With much love to you, and much gratitude for your friendship, Marlys

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