Memento Mori: Memento Vivere; “Remember, you must die, so remember to live.”
by Ms. Connie Lindsey
My husband John proposed in the lobby of the hospital one week before his autologous stem cell transplant, which was scheduled for Valentine’s Day that year. This was a treatment we hoped would bring his Multiple Myeloma to remission. In that moment neither of us knew what our future would hold. We had already established the foundation of our relationship, trust in God and each other, friendship, and unconditional love. Even with the excitement of marrying the love of my life, I was also grappling with the fact that I was now facing the mortality of my best friend, one of the kindest and sweetest humans I had ever met. I am grateful for the opportunity to share our journey to finding joy and living with gratitude in the midst of a cancer diagnosis.
Navigating the liminal space-the space between “no longer and not yet.”
When my husband was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer, I quickly found myself in the liminal space between “no longer” and “not yet.”
The “no longer” meant that our lives were forever changed. The “in sickness and health” part of our vows was happening right now, even before we said, “I will.” John would no longer be able to pursue his favorite form of exercise, running, and it felt as if we were running from something that was inside, identified but defiant.
The “not yet” was the uncertain future. While none of us know our future with certainty, a diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, an incurable but treatable blood cancer, made that fact even more real for us. We fully trusted that God would pull us through and whatever the outcome, we chose to remain faithful and grateful. However, we were still navigating the uncertainty of his diagnosis. As caregivers, it is easy to feel trapped in this space, mourning what was and learning to navigate an uncertain future.
I found this statement true and relevant, “To let go of guilt as a caregiver, you must be willing to befriend three things: death, our limitations, and the structures we depend upon for help.”
Befriending our Limitations
I had some tough conversations with God as I learned to come to terms with my limitations. A particular saying stuck with me, “Lord, I know you won’t give me more than I can bear, but I think you trust me too much!”
On the first anniversary of our marriage, my husband was diagnosed with another cancer. During this time, I found myself in that liminal space I discussed earlier, where I was challenged to maintain hope and fight for my faith. The concern that came with every blood test, every scan, or x-ray. The anxiety of wondering if or will the next treatment work; will he achieve remission?
I had to befriend the fact that I did not have control over everything, and God does! I could not control the test results that we would receive on any given day or the risks that come with each treatment. What I could do was choose to live fully and joyfully in the present.
During the hard times, I gave myself permission to feel the anxiety, but only once we received results. But for today, for right now, I would allow myself to rejoice, give thanks, and enjoy life! I choose to be thankful that God has done so much for us already and still enables us to thrive in our careers and enjoy life despite the challenges.
As the Apostle Paul said, “In every circumstance, I have learned to be content.” I learned that contentment through grace comes over time.”
Befriending the structures we depend upon for help
When hospital visits and test results, and medical nomenclature suddenly become a part of our lives, it is not uncommon for feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty to arise. We can become intimidated by the magnitude of it all and miss the opportunity to advocate for ourselves and our loved ones. I encourage you to learn all that you can, ask questions, and be courageous in your pursuit of the best care possible.
Health equity is one of my life’s passions. And a part of that is advocacy for oneself and our loved ones. As God’s children, we are entitled to receive the best care! As a caregiver, make it your goal to ensure that the best care is provided.
Most importantly, trust yourself and the power you have to ask for help and clarity!
Memento Mori: Memento Vivere: “Remember you must die, so remember to live.”
My journey with cancer has had both joy and sadness. By the grace of God, my husband is now in remission. Conversely, one of my dearest girlfriends bravely fought the same rare blood cancer as my husband and sadly passed away from the disease. I miss her every day, but I am forever grateful that she was a part of my life.
Accepting death is not easy! It is difficult for some of us to accept that our loved ones will die, but we also must accept that it is an inevitable fact of life for each of us. We should do our best to prepare spiritually, financially and emotionally for this inevitability.
My husband and I made the conscious decision to live every day to the fullest. We travel, enjoy our lives, and recognize that God has graciously given us the gift of time. Accepting our mortality has motivated us to live even more fully and joyfully. Memento Mori: Memento Vivere.
Throughout the emotional journey of caregiving, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and find time to be alone to reflect, rest and restore. Despite the challenges John and I have faced, we have released “no longer” and fully embrace the gift of each new day. As God whispers, “not yet” we continue to live with gratitude, affirming that the life we’ve built together is much more than his diagnosis.
There are so many things I am grateful for on this journey:
- I am grateful that cancer showed me what unconditional love means, brought us closer to God, tested my faith in its deepest places, and re-ordered my thoughts about the strength of our relationship.
- I am grateful that I serve a God bigger than illness, crisis, loss, or fear of “not yet.”
- I am grateful for my amazing support system of friends and family who have shown love and support, even in the darkest times.
- I am grateful that my journey has led me to advocate for health equity and health care for African Americans battling cancer and other diseases in which we are disproportionately affected.
Most importantly, I am grateful to God for allowing my husband and me to find peace amid the pieces of “not yet.” We find Joy in transparency, telling our story, and ministering to others. Our gratitude and joy that we are not yet done is beyond words. God gave us the gift of time, and we will honor that by serving his people and resting in the beauty of knowing God is in the pause between each breath. God is with us in every test, every trial, every tear, and every victory.
Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/caregivers-corner/