Unexpected Blessings from Cancer

A Time To Live

I confess in the very first sentence of this blog that I hesitated to write on the topic of time. We’ve all heard cancer survivors say how precious time becomes to them after being diagnosed with cancer. As a survivor, I understand and agree. I often wake to the thought of “this is the day the Lord hath made.” It’s up to me to rejoice and be glad in it. Every day.

The clichés on time are numerous: Time waits for no one. Time flies. Time will tell. There’s no time like the present. Time is gold. One day at a time. I could go on. While these sayings are tiresome, the topic is important to re-emphasize its gut honest truth. “No one really knows what is going to happen; no one can predict the future” (Ecc 10:14).  There’s no denying that time is something that a cancer survivor thinks about more than the average person. Cancer, or any chronic illness, has a way of highlighting the things for which we have no control – one of which is time. The naked truth is none of us has control over time, cancer or not. Somehow when we think our days are coming to a close, the idea of longevity becomes foremost in our mind. What we should give thought to is not so much about the time we have left but rather about how to use the time we have right now. Perhaps we should not equate time to be as much a measurement of life as a gauge of fulfillment and meaning. The way I see it is when you include God in your day, your time is more fulfilling, more worthwhile, more complete. I have a prayer partner who often prays for my time to be expanded so that I may complete the many tasks I always seem to have and that I may glorify the Father in the process. That prayer is often answered.

The concept of time is addressed in the Bible in an eloquent way. In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon contemplates the essence of life saying that everything is meaningless. He elaborates about how there is a time for every activity – a time to plant, to laugh, to grieve, to search, and more. For a complete list, read about a “Time for Everything” in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. As I read EccIesiastes I can feel King Solomon’s tension and frustration with life and the limitations of human wisdom. He makes a statement in chapter 7 about how a wise person thinks a lot about death.  

Time has a way of opening our eyes to perspective. Cancer survivor Becky Sue Fitch said that “most days I like to think of myself as living with cancer rather than dying from it.” As I thought about what comments I could possibly add to a conversation on time, I realized that time, especially when it seems limiting, prompts two significant manifestations: reprioritization and reflection. I use the term “reprioritization” rather than “prioritization” because when we believe our time on earth is ending, priorities change. They become not just a priority but a priority that has been rethought. An unkempt closet that needs cleaning doesn’t carry the same weight as it did before. A letter of forgiveness or some unfinished business that has been dismissed for years now takes precedence. A destination that’s been on a bucket list but never checked off gets booked.

Relationships tend to be pondered during these intentional times more than in everyday living. I had a dear friend with advanced ovarian cancer make a half-statement/half-realized understanding one evening as we sat in a swing overlooking the setting sun on a calm lake. “It [life] really is about relationships,” she said. Fifty-six years of living had brought her to that conclusion and now her life was nearing its end. She died a few months later but her reflection of truth sat heavy on my heart. Reflection is typically prompted by emotion and emotions are prompted by life’s circumstances by and large. I already knew the depth of that truth having discovered it years earlier and gone so far as to take steps to address my appreciation to certain people for their role in my life.

Each of us is blessed with the gift of time. Cancer does not change that blessing. Our days are numbered; they always have been and there’s nothing we can do to change that. We should accept each new day of life with joy, eager to live it to its fullest, whatever that fullness may be, however long it may be. To quote Lynn Kohlman, cancer survivor: “Every moment of my life is the best part now. I wake up every morning and say, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful.’ It’s not that I didn’t appreciate things before, but now I know that life is really moment by moment.” How will you choose to live your moments? How will your time be divided? Will you remember to be grateful for another day and give your tomorrows to the Lord?

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