Last week I went to see the doctor who “drove” the chemo part of my cancer treatment five years ago. I’m done with cancer and bragged about all the new things I was doing with my mind and body since I saw him last year—got SCUBA certified and dove the Great Barrier Reef with my son; finished and released my second book, Breast Cancer: Start Here; working out fiercely in a closely supervised CrossFit style setting at SETPerformance; had a leading role in Nunsense.
My doctor called our visit more a social visit than a cancer visit and, really, we had a philosophical conversation more than anything. It centered on a Christmas Eve tragedy. A neurosurgeon we both knew had been driving his entire family down a busy highway and lost control of his vehicle—his twelve-year-old daughter died in the wreck, and he was lying in a hospital fighting for his life. I knew of this family through my church, my doctor knew of them from the child’s school. My doctor, who sees patients in all stages of life and death, working in cancer, was freaked out about what had happened to the neurosurgeon. He said to me repeatedly, “You never know, Julie. You just never know.” I was, frankly, a little surprised to find that this car accident was what was driving the message home for him: Be. Here. Now.
When I was nineteen, we found out that my father was going to die within a few months, and he didn’t want to try to fight cancer again because the treatment, worse to him than the disease, was guaranteed to not work. About a week after the diagnosis, he was sitting in our living room and told me something I’ve never forgotten. It has been the focus of my motivation for an awful lot of my life.
“Julie,” Dad said to me, “when I look around this room and think, ‘Is there anywhere else in the world I would rather be?’ the answer is ‘No.’ When I look outside at this farm we work and these horses we have, and think, ‘Is there anywhere else in the world I would rather live?’ the answer is ‘No.’ When I think about my job and ask myself, ‘Is there anything else I would rather be doing?’ the answer is ‘No.’ So when they tell me that I’m going to die soon, I think to myself ‘Is there anything else that I need to do that I haven’t done yet?’ The answer is ‘No.’ Make no mistake, Julie. I don’t want to die. But if I die in the next ten minutes, I did everything I could with the time I’ve had.”
When my daughter developed autism and we began to work aggressively on healing her body, our whole family had to stop and remind ourselves of that message. We did it pretty successfully. My son is an Eagle Scout now as a result of that commitment to Be. Here. Now. When I developed cancer five years ago, we recommitted to that principle and made sure to do it from a position of gratitude. But here’s the thing that makes me happiest—that recommitment didn’t involve a major shift in how we live our lives.
So at the end of a year, a time that is filled with so much rushing and running and trying to do it all, a time that is pregnant with anticipation of gift giving and celebrating, a time that is ripe with promises and endeavors for the New Year, I invite you to join me in what has been my daily exercise for thirty years now—to pause at least nightly, and sometimes several times daily, and from a position of gratitude, consider how I would answer those questions my dad asked of himself and shared with me. As long as the answers continue to be “No”, then I don’t have to worry too much if it’s over in ten minutes—although I sure do hope it isn’t! It’s a lot of fun to Be! Here! Now!