By Marianne Clyde
I was visiting my friend Susan at her home in Hilton Head a couple of months ago. Before I left, she asked me to join her in the sitting room. As she sat there, looking me in the eye, telling me how much she valued our friendship and the wonderful life we have had as friends, she said, “I have to tell you something.” “I’m not afraid.” That’s when the tears started to run down my cheeks.
She and I met when we were expats in Tokyo in 2001 and became fast friends.We did lots of stuff together as couples and also as girlfriends.
We climbed Mt. Fuji; we participated in a marathon; we co-facilitated a group of wonderful English speaking Japanese Women who read Time articles each week, and discussed them to keep their English speaking skills sharp.
She’s a woman who radiates a wonderful feeling of joie de vivre. Always game, always fun, always interested. As we returned to the states after retirement, we kept in touch between various commitments and family and obligations with a phone call or an occasional visit.
A bit over a year ago, she and her husband, Jim called to say that she was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. Having had no symptoms previously, she went in for emergency surgery to deal with a “blockage” in her colon. That blockage turned out to be an advanced stage of cancer.
Since then, she has experienced some pretty drastic treatments that cause fatigue and nausea and keep her in bed for days at a time. Then after one test, they noticed that the cancer seemed to be arrested for the moment. With this good news, she started less intense treatments and lived a pretty normal life once again.
It was during this time that we were able to fit in a couple of visits to each other’s homes and live in the hope that this would last for a long time. This is when she told me she just wanted to put me at ease, by telling me she wasn’t afraid. “I’ve had such a wonderful life, and I feel almost perfect. I have nothing to complain about, and I’m not afraid.” The fact that she knew I needed to hear that and she needed to say it, shows the kind of brave and insightful person she is.
However, as she knew it would, the cancer started spreading again and she has now resumed the nasty treatments with the strong side effects. She still doesn’t know how long she has or even how long these treatments will continue. Her initial prognosis without treatment was 6 months. She knows she will die from this. I know she’s dying. But even with that knowledge, she remains optimistic and grateful and hopeful. And continues living each day to the fullest.
She is teaching me. About life, love, and death.
She attributes her ability to handle the strong drugs so well to her healthy lifestyle of being physically active and eating well. She has a character that appreciates the beauty all around her. She invests deeply in relationships. She donates her time and money to help others, having served on the board of her local hospice as well as the Governor’s School supporting teenagers in the arts. Susan has a “yes” mentality towards life. She embraces opportunities for travel and adventure. She loves her family and her friends, and has a regular practice and lifestyle of gratitude and generosity and strong faith.
All these things, and who she has been over the years, have built a foundation that gives her the added support, resilience, hope and courage to live each day as it comes with no fear of the future and no regrets.
Those are good lessons to learn. It gives me a deeper appreciation for who she is and who I want to be. She shows me that we shouldn’t wait for a crisis to happen to start to get our lives together. We shouldn’t wait to start connecting with our Creator til we have “no other choice.” We shouldn’t put off learning to see beauty in everything and practicing gratitude another moment. We should be building a strong foundation now, so that when the time comes, we’ll be more at peace, physically stronger and emotionally satisfied, with no regrets.
You can watch our interview with Susan on our podcast here:
Action Step: Take inventory of your life and make a list of what you might benefit from doing better, while you have time. Start now.