US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Seize another 365 days

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Lisa Calderone-Stewart celebrates another year of living with cancer.

Guest blog post by Lisa Calderone-Stewart

Today is my second “Carpe Diem” day. In cancer circles, “Carpe Diem” (Latin for “Seize the Day”) is each anniversary of the day you first received your “cancer” diagnosis.

I was told about my lymphoma on June 2, 2009. My bile duct cancer was discovered in August; I was given “six months” as my life expectancy.

My CAT scan from this past October showed cancer at my last remaining bile duct. In 99 percent of patients, that CAT scan would indicate maybe another week or two of life.

I guess I am in that 1 percent of the population—because I’m not dead yet!

So what is living like—when everyone (yourself included) expects you to die? 

It’s weird!

I was initially prescribed medication with no thought to “long-term side effects” because I was a “short-term patient.” Well, I had to get off the steroids, which outlived their benefit. I had an allergic reaction from taking another drug too long.

Last September, I had trouble reading words on my laptop computer, but it seemed silly to buy new glasses for just another few months of life. Finally, this February, I had a check-up and got new lenses. What a difference to not squint so much all day!

I floss my teeth less often, because it hurts my back to lean forward and look in the mirror. Why worry about tooth decay when your teeth are supposed to outlive your liver? But pain in one tooth dragged me back to my dentist! No cavity; just a need for Sensodyn toothpaste. I guess all my body parts are getting more sensitive.

Despite weekly trips to the chiropractor and massage therapist for pain management, I had resisted their payment plans. Paying for five or 10 visits ahead of time saves money, but only if you’re alive for so many appointments.  Well, guess what? I finally started payment plans in March. I might live long enough to do it again.

It seemed ridiculous to sign up for another year’s subscription for a magazine. But I did that, too, so I could keep reading Newsweek each week and U.S. Catholic each month.

People often say, “It must be so difficult to die.” Actually, the dying is easy. You don’t have to lift a finger—it just happens, with no effort on your part at all.

It’s the living that can be difficult!

There are still bills to pay, papers to sign, and other details to manage. So often, I have to ask, “Will I live long enough to worry about that?” It’s a question that still has no answer.

I already bought family birthday and Christmas presents for my “final year,” but that year is up. For the first time in 12 months, I started “shopping” again—both online and with the cascade of catalogs that daily fall from my mailbox. I expected to be taken off their lists, since I hadn’t made a purchase in more than a year, but their persistence paid off—they didn’t get the memo about my impending death.

I keep hoping my friends don’t get tired of me. They thought they were signing on for a couple of months of “service,” not a potential year or more! How long will they keep driving me places, bringing me groceries, calling me to check up on me? How long can they keep believing I only have a few months left, when every few months, I still seem to have a few months left?

Every so often I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s kind of fun to see the look on their face. You know what they are thinking, “Oh! She’s still alive!” I love to say, “Yes, it’s true! I’m not dead yet!”

I’m still eating, still flossing, still reading and writing articles, still trying to “seize the day.”

Still living—at least for a few more months!  


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.