Two years ago today, we got the call from the doctor to inform us that we had cancer.
Yes, I said “we,” because it wasn’t just her. It was us. And it wasn’t just us, it was we.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t just attack the patient. It attacks families. Our children. Her parents. My parents. Our siblings, nieces, and nephews. Our aunts and uncles. Our friends, our community, our tribe. We all got diagnosed that day.
It was never just her. It was us. It was we. We were all in this together. Heck, many of us would have raised a hand, traded places, and taken it from her in a second, if that’s how it worked. But cancer doesn’t work that way. Cancer has its own agenda.
A year ago today we were celebrating with some of our “we” in Palm Springs, as we had beaten cancer. It was awesome. We had no agenda. We sat by the pool all day long, for four straight days. We talked. We laughed. We ate a lot and we probably drank a little too much. We relished the fact that there would be no more chemo. No more radiation. No more surgeries. We could just breathe.
Turns out we were wrong.
About nine months ago, it came back. The cancer came back, and it came back with a vengeance. There was a lot more chemo. Many more rounds of radiation. It came back to the point of no return and a month and a half ago, she went to be with Jesus. A month and a half ago, the most amazing person I’d ever known went to her eternal home, to be with the only one who could ever love her more than I could.
Cancer taught us so much and cancer sucks so bad. I know everyone knows that. I don’t need to preach to you all about how bad cancer is. How it doesn’t discriminate. How it doesn’t care about your agenda or the plans you’ve made. How it doesn’t care how healthy you may be, or how well you take care of yourself. And how it sure doesn’t care if you have small children. It just doesn’t take any of those things into consideration. I don’t need to tell you this but, just in case you didn’t know, cancer is a bitch.
You see, I can talk about all the things that cancer took from our “we,” but that’s not what she would have wanted. That’s not how she battled for the past two years. That’s not how she lived and I’m sure not going to let that be how she died. She never took the “woe is me” approach; she never even played the cancer card. I told her we should play the cancer card. I mean, it’s an automatic pass to “get out” of going to things you don’t want to attend. She never let me play the cancer card. Not even once. Some would say that’s a waste of cancer. But that’s just not how she lived.
And oh, did she live.
She lived so dang well. Even over the past nine months. Even when the cancer took control of her entire body. Even over the final 39 nights of her life, which we spent together, in a hospital room. Surrounded by our “we.” She lived every single day so well. She found the good in cancer as only she could.
For two years we fought cancer. And for two years, it’s the only thing we fought.
I told a friend the other day, that over the past two years, we never had one argument. We never raised our voices at each other. And honestly, I can’t even think of a disagreement we had.
I know there are people out there who will say, “Fighting is healthy,” and “I love a good argument.” And I’ll just say I don’t and when cancer’s involved, things change.
For two years, we had one focus: to simply live another day. That’s it. It was to wake up and live that day the best we could.
It’s amazing what happens when you live your life that way. It’s amazing how the things that once mattered to you just don’t matter at all. Yes, even the things that would’ve once caused a good argument.
When it’s possible that all you have left is the next day, I bet you’d realize pretty quickly that you don’t want to waste a single moment fighting over things that just don’t matter.
And more than that, you’d realize that most things just don’t matter.
Perspective. With cancer, perspective changes. With cancer, most things that once mattered so much to you, hardly matter at all. With cancer, you learn to let the little things be little.
With cancer, what’s in the bank account just doesn’t matter. Because with cancer, you’d spend every last dime you have, even accrue millions of dollars in debt, if it meant you could fix it.
With cancer, the laundry and the household stuff can wait. Because with cancer, you’d much rather spend that extra 30 minutes playing with the kids. And honestly, you realize that the kids don’t care about laundry and if you didn’t tell them to change clothes, they’d just rock the same ones for days.
With cancer, the conference call can wait. Because with cancer, you don’t get to decide which moments are most important, and the client can wait in ways that cancer can’t and won’t.
Spilled soda in your new car? With cancer, it’s just a car, and it just doesn’t matter. The score of the ball game? Again, doesn’t matter. I stressed over way too many ball games, spent way too much time caring about the outcome as though I would somehow have an impact. I love football. I love baseball. I love basketball. But with cancer, I love it so much less.
And the gossip and drama . . . with cancer, it’s even more stupid than it was before. You just don’t have the time or the energy or the space in your brain to entertain any of it. That’s it.
With cancer, you realize most of your fears are wasted on things that probably aren’t ever going to happen. And you become grateful for the things you once took for granted.
Cancer has a way of turning some of us into optimists, finding joy in every little moment and holding tightly to it.
Forgiveness also comes easier. Cancer has a way of making you see each day as special. There just isn’t time for grudges, so with cancer, you forgive—you forgive easily, and you forgive fast.
With cancer, you appreciate the simple things. You reflect on how precious life really is. Because there will come a time when you’re watching your last sunset. There will come a time when you’re taking the last bite ever of your favorite meal. There will come a time when you take your last hot shower. There will come a time when you’ll have the last hug or kiss you’ll ever get to share.
With cancer, you just love better. And no one loved better than she did. She loved people, and she loved them so well. She didn’t have an agenda. She wasn’t looking for anything in return. She just loved, because in the end, that’s what love does.
My wife, her name was Rachel. And on March 1, 2020, at 4:34 p.m., she beat cancer. She has no more pain. She has no more tears. There are no more doctors appointments. There are no more surgeries. No more chemo and no more radiation.
If you got to know her, you were one of the lucky ones. If you didn’t, I’m sorry, but her story is far from over. She had an amazing impact on the world while she was here, but the ripple effect has just begun.
In one of the final conversations we had, she asked me to make sure that I keep living as if “we” have cancer. Because, if we get back to normal, things that don’t matter start to matter. We forgive less. We are less grateful. We start to care about the stupid stuff. We get caught back up in worthless drama. We push aside the things that should matter most for things that just don’t matter all that much.
She encouraged me to continue to let the little things be little. And reminded me that most things are little.
She encouraged me to keep loving well and to never stop.
She encouraged me to hug harder and hug longer.
You see, you may not have cancer. But on this day two years ago, we didn’t either.
You’re crazy if you think you know what will happen this afternoon, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Unfortunately, all too often, you just don’t get a say. And it’s not just cancer here. We all have our hard. Cancer was our hard. But so many of you are dealing with your own hard (and if you’re not, I hate to be the one to tell you, but it’s probably around the corner).
I promise you this: I wish cancer on no one.
I hate it. I hate it so much. It’s the worst. And I hope you don’t ever have to become a part of this fraternity.
But to be completely honest, in one of those final conversations, Rachel said, “I wish we all lived like we had it,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Because it caused us to love so much better. And to Rachel, to me and to our “we,” there is nothing the world needs more right now than that.