Hickman, Elyse

Live As Though You Are Dying

I am no stranger to cancer; it has personally affected me through the deaths of many family and friends. I am humbled by people like Rhio O’Connor who do not give up hope when given a terminal prognosis, but rather live and fight each and every day. My father, like Rhio was given a terminal prognosis at the age of 38 nearly 20 years ago when I was just a baby. He had Adenocarcinoma , and by the time it was found, it had already metastasized to his brain. He was only given a few months to live, but he lived 6 months longer than expected. During those months he lived each day with purpose doing the things he wanted to do before dying. First on his list was taking a classical guitar class at the community college. He wanted to do something with his time since he had to retire from his practice, as he could no longer safely do surgeries.

I have great respect for Rhio and his dedication to find a cure for Mesothelioma. A dear family friend, Shana Bearden and her husband did the same when she was diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Instead of accepting her terminal prognosis, they did incessant hours of research and talked to whoever would offer words of professional expertise. Any time they could buy for her to spend with her children and grandchildren was cherished. She ended up living years instead of the many short time frames of months or weeks given throughout her illness.

Although I find Rhio and Shana Bearden so very honorable, I would take a different approach if I were given a terminal prognosis. I would personally attempt to follow my father’s approach, perhaps because I admire him through all of the stories I hear of him. He immediately accepted his prognosis, and while he did go through chemotherapy and radiation to try to extend his time as much as he could, he did not intend on beating the disease. He was not scared of dying, and he actually spent much of his time consoling my mother and assuring her that she could make it when he was gone. As I stated before, toward the end of his life he signed up for classical guitar lessons at the community college. He tried his hardest to succeed in this class, as he tried his hardest at all he did. Before his final exam, he had a little stroke which caused great difficulty for him to move his fingers on the guitar. He knew he was prepared for the written part of the exam, but he was worried about the part where he had to play Greensleeves. He ended up acing the final, and he died a few weeks later. His instructor came to the funeral, and played Greensleeves in front of the mourning congregation. He told my mother that he was shocked because throughout the whole semester, my father never once mentioned that he was even sick. He did not want to be treated differently or graded differently because of his illness.

If I were to be diagnosed with cancer, I would embrace the privilege to truly live as though I were dying. I would take the time to leave a mark on my community, and I would take the time to be sure that everyone who touched my life knew it. I would do the things I had always put off, and I would see as much as the world as I could. I would make sure to set up donations of everything I had, including any healthy organs, so people could live from my death. I would take more time each day to explore my faith, and I would stop worrying about the petty things in life that really do not matter. I would live how everyone wishes they would live, but do not even attempt to accomplish.

I will end with a quote from my father’s “Philosophy of Life” paper that I cherish, which he wrote his junior year of high school.

“Many people in our society are trapped in ruts, and individuals rarely find joy in living. The ironic part of this problem is the fact that these people are free to pursue happiness, but they bury themselves in schedules and deadlines. I hold desperately onto the hope that I can prevent a patterned life for myself through remaining an individual in thoughts, actions, and attitude…My time on earth is silently slipping away, and I must waste as little as possible.” – Lester Earl Hickman, Jr.

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