US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Dying to know you

Online Editor | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
While there's no rhyme or reason to explain terminal illness, we're all on the same path toward death. 

By Guest Blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart

Life is strange when you have a terminal illness and are expected to live only six more months. It’s even stranger when you’re still alive a year later.

When I have a really good day, I feel like an actor playing the role of a cancer patient. When I have a really bad day, I am quickly reminded that this is not a game of pretend!

Several friends have offered their theories about why I’m still alive…  here are the most common ones:

“You’re a fighter! You’ve been so determined to beat this disease!”

I promise you, that’s not it! I expected to die much sooner, and did nothing to prolong my life. I have not “fought” the disease at all; I’ve been “determined” only to lessen the burden for my sons and other family members by making arrangements ahead of time, as much as possible.

“You have such courage! You are so brave! That’s why you’re still alive!”

I laugh at this one! I’m the opposite of brave! I didn’t continue my chemo treatment precisely because I was afraid of the pain! Courage had nothing to do with it. ‘Chicken’ is a more accurate description of the stuff I’m made of!

“You’ve had such strong faith that God would answer your prayer for healing! You knew God still has important work for you to do!”

I “knew” no such thing. I never prayed for healing; I never expected God to cure me. I surrendered to God and expected to be gone many months ago. If God has specific work for me to do, I haven’t the foggiest idea what it might be.

Yet it does seem that every month, something significant happens in my life, and I think, “I’m so glad I was alive to be part of that!”

Mostly, all I do is find easy tasks to fill the time every day. I am so thankful I can write. It brings me joy and keeps me connected to the world I can no longer visit.

Can any of that be called noble or significant? God has certainly called home people more saintly than I, and younger, who were doing more important work than this!

“You have been so healthy! That must be why your body has lasted so long!”

I roll my eyes at this one! I am the poster child for what NOT to do! I read, “Avoid sugar; cancer feeds on sugar!” but I add sugar to my tea every day. I was told, “Eat kelp, seaweed, and bitter melon!” Yuck! I eat so little, I decided not to eat anything I didn’t want to eat! No one should follow my diet – I eat all the wrong things (and yet, my body persists)!

My cousin Danny also has a theory: “They say that laughter is the best medicine!”

OK! I admit it. I try to find humor and “laugh in the face of death” throughout this whole ordeal. It’s easier to talk about something while having fun with it. Why else would I name my blog, “Dying to know you better”?

So maybe Danny is onto something.

The bottom line here is this: Nothing I do can be copied with any hope for similar results. No theories can be devised from my “bad” behavior that might lead to a longer life. Sometimes, cancer is just unpredictable.

We don’t know why I can have such a gruesome-looking CAT scan and still be a walking, talking, swimming enigma. We are all clueless! It’s a mystery.

I am still getting worse—just more slowly than anyone expected.

My joy continues to be in my writing and my interactions with loved ones who take care of my physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. (If you are reading these words, that means you!)

I also enjoy assisting in small ways as Sean and Peter work tirelessly for the mission of Tomorrow’s Present.

This is what brings me life as I get closer to death. But isn’t that true for everyone, no matter your age or your health? Isn’t it all about the connections, the interactions, the contributions, the loving and being loved?

Aren’t we all dying to know each other better?

Guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart is the director of Tomorrow's Present and an author and speaker on youth leadership. Read more about her interfaith youth program in Student Teachers, from January 2006.

Lisa was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer." You can also read Lisa's personal blog Dying to Know You Better, and she has a novel, Made To Write, available at the link. Her blog posts on can be found at Final Thoughts.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.