I love spontaneity more than the average person — whether it be a spontaneous vacation or party. This last weekend has been a weekend of spontaneous fun, celebration, laughter, eating and story-sharing. More than a hundred people have poured in and around my home, patio and family room over the last three days for what has felt like a non-stop celebration. My two sons, Toby and Travis, and my son-in-law, Jeff, all worked hard to take the mantle of master griller and made my special barbecue ribs better than I could have ever done. I’ve savored every conversation, hug, moment and memory. By now, you might be wondering why it’s been a non-stop party in my own home. Well, I will tell you why, but it is perhaps the scariest yet most courageous sentence I’ll ever write to my readers.
I am dying.
I believe transparency is an important component in relationships. Whether it’s between husband and wives, parents and children, teachers and parents and parents and students. Anywhere a relationship exists, transparency is important. Transparency must always lead to vulnerability, and that is always a terrifying experience. In the beginning of the Bible, we read about Adam and Eve discovering their vulnerability in their nakedness, and they were ashamed and hid. I don’t feel shame, and I don’t feel afraid to die but being transparent and vulnerable about this reality is hard.
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” — Brené Brown
Most of you know, I’ve been fighting Stage 4 stomach cancer for years. There is no cure. I’ve been working with a brilliant young oncologist who is a world leader, Dr. Pashtoon Kasi, at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa Hospitals. My treatment has been cutting edge and has extended my life by at least nine months.
Unfortunately, every treatment works until it doesn’t, and my chemo that was eating my cancer began eating healthy tissue and organs, and we had to stop. We tried another but it also failed. At the same time, I was being fed through a feeding tube and my body began rejecting the food. I have been removed from all treatment and placed on hospice care.
What does it mean? It means to some that I am off treatment and being kept comfortable until I die. But I am not a “go quietly in the night guy,” I refuse to give up or give in; If I am breathing, I am fighting. If a new option or treatment becomes available, I’ll be the first in line. Fighting also means doing everything that I love — spontaneous parties into the night, being with the people I love, endless trays of food, laughing and being present in every single waking moment.
You are now wondering how much time? I’ve been given estimates of six days up to a month. But a month is generous. My daughter bought me a bracelet that says in Morse code, “Never Give Up!” I’ll fight to be present; I will fight to be with the people I love until my last breath.
My daughter who is a pastor continues to remind me that this is a sacred and holy journey as I cling to the hope of the future. I do believe in God’s promises. I believe in the God of resurrection, and though I will someday die, I also believe that I will be raised to new life. I believe that someday I will join the great cloud of witnesses and experience an inextricable joy that I’ve never before known. I am at peace.
In the meantime, I will continue writing this column until I’m gone. You will know I’m gone when my daughter publishes my final column, which has already been written.
My relationship with you is precious to me. I’m grateful for your love and loyalty, and I cherish every note of encouragement. I’m not planning on checking out of here soon, but when I do, I will miss you. Cling to hope, dear friends.