One November afternoon in 1997, I stared up in numb amazement at the radiologist who towered over me. Did he realise he had just given me a death sentence? “You have cancer.”
As a nursing sister I was often present when people received this news. I believed, as so many do, that this meant probable surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy – but ultimately, the person would die. Fortunately, until this moment, these words were always addressed to someone else.
But now, there was no-one else in the room. This doctor was talking to me. “You have cancer.”
Suddenly I felt indignant. How dare this intruder come into my life? I was not ready to die. I determined to fight. I refused to accept the sentence which had just been handed down to me. I would go through surgery, face the rigours of Radiotherapy, survive the horrors of Chemotherapy, but I would not die!
It was months later that I remembered, I was in fact living under a death sentence. I had been all along. I was going to die. But it was not cancer that gave me this judgment. The moment I started to live, at conception, I received a limited set of days.
The only sure thing about life is death. How true. My life came with an expiry date. No one but God knows the date, and cancer does not change it.
How morbid! How depressing!
Well, I guess it all depends on how you see death.
- If you see death as being stashed into a wooden box and lowered into the ground, and buried forever – that's terrifying.
- If you see death as being put into a fire and burned to ashes to be sprinkled on some plot of land, or into the sea – it's horrifying.
- If you see death as the end of everything, the time when life ends with no tomorrow – how pointless.
- If you see death as a state of limbo, where you experience nothing but ‘nothingness’ – how ghastly . . . and ghostly.
- If you see death as an opportunity to leave behind the life that you have lived, and return as somebody – or worse, something else – how absolutely dreadful.
Over two thousand years ago another man was ‘born to die’. But this man was the Son of God. “God so loved the world” . . . hey, that’s all of us . . . “so much that He sent His only Son”, Jesus, “that whosoever” . . . that’s me, and you . . . "believes in Him would have eternal life.” Eternal life – not death.
- If you see death as not the end, but simply a doorway along life’s road – an opportunity to step into a better life, then how wonderful. How amazing.
Through the long recuperation period, I came to see that cancer was actually a gift to me. Oh I have to be honest. It was a gift I didn’t want and I didn't appreciate. I would have liked to give it straight back. And yet, it was a gift.
Cancer taught me so much. It reminded me my own mortality, that I was indeed born with a death sentence. The reality of the disease prompted me to re-assess my life. I am only going to be here on earth for a short time. Not because of cancer, but because I was born.
If you are consuming oxygen on this earth (and by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I am presuming you are) you are going to die one day. Maybe not of cancer, maybe not young, but you will not live on this earth forever.
So what does death mean to you?
Just the other day I heard a ‘cancer survivor’ say “I’m not afraid to die of cancer – but I’m afraid to die in a car accident.”
That made me think. Which would I rather do? Die of cancer? Or die in a car accident?
Well, to be honest, I would rather not die at all. I would prefer to slip into a whole new way of life; one without pain and suffering, one without sadness and tears, one where I could be at peace forever.
And that is exactly what I plan to do. Unfortunately, I haven’t worked out the physical detail. This decision is in higher hands than mine. But my prayer is that when the time comes I will have the strength and courage to take that step, from one life to the next, with joy and anticipation.
How about you? Have you come to terms with your own mortality?
Maybe, like me, you don’t want to live with a death sentence. Well there is really only one way to avoid it. Try putting your name into the blanks below:
“God so loved me, ............, that He gave his only Son, that if I, ...................., believe in Him I will have eternal life.”
Now pray this prayer: “Lord God – I don’t want to live under a death sentence. I accept the gift of eternal life. Show me where to go from here.”
Will you still die physically? Of course. But you will step from one life into another – where there will be no physical or emotional suffering.
Have you decided to ignore this offer of eternal life? Are you really brave enough to face your death sentence, not knowing what will happen at the end of your life?
Many years ago Moses challenged his people, the Israelites, “... I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death ... now choose life ... that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life...” (Deuteronomy 30 : 19,20)
Do you choose to continue living under a death sentence? Or do you choose life?
: If you have prayed this prayer, please drop me a line and let me know, so that I can pray for you.