Lessons Learned in 2013

As December winds down, it’s time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. So what lessons learned in 2013 might guide me into 2014?

The biggest one this year is that life itself is a miracle to be embraced every day with gratitude and love. It’s a lesson life has taught me before, but it has come back around in a new way. Life is like that. Circular. But always moving forward too.

Jim was one of my most influential teachers for this lesson in 2013. Jim is my cousin Eileen’s husband who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2012 and given very little time to live. I talked to him on Christmas Eve; he’s doing great and had just been to Disneyland again with his twin toddler grandchildren. Following are themes that occur to me as I observe Jim’s survival.

Stop worrying so much.

After a setback in October 2012, we all wondered if Jim would survive until Thanksgiving never mind into 2013. That setback was a turning point for Jim. He saw the anxiety it brought his wife and children and simply decided it wasn’t the right time to die yet. He decided to live and live he has, without any traditional treatment. The only treatment he’s had is what makes sense to him based on internet searches he’s done for vitamins, good diet, reducing stress, and the like.

man and woman on motorcycles

Eileen & Jim getting ready to ride: October 2013

In October 2013, my husband and I went to visit for a couple of weeks. Most days, Jim and Keene went on motorcycle rides and one weekend we all went on a full-day ride together with four of Eileen and Jim’s favorite motorcycle buddies. We stopped for lunch in Ventura, enjoyed a fabulous dinner together at home, and then chatted by the fire pit snuggled under blankets as the stars filled the sky. It was a perfect day and Jim was up to all the activity.

Our visit with Jim and Eileen included many fabulous dinners (except for the one night of food poisoning), the company of relatives and friends, and evenings chatting by the fire pit. Jim was thin, yes. But he looked great, was joyfully engaged, and said he was still on track for the survival timeline he’d decided upon (at least 5 years) back in 2012.

In 2013, I had worried about Jim dying (among other things) but all my worry was meaningless because Jim is still alive (and the other stuff worked out fine too). One reason Jim is fine is because he’s too focused on living to worry.

Engage life without fear.

Again Jim’s experience is a good teacher. There is something about the way that he says he’ll live that makes me believe him. It’s more than a confidence in his assertion. It’s his whole demeanor. He’s not afraid to die and he’s not grasping for cures, or clutching at life.

He’s simply and fearlessly decided it’s not his time yet because his family isn’t ready yet for him to be gone. He’s decided his body has the resources it needs to keep the cancer at bay, especially if he helps it along with his diet and vitamins. So far it’s working. His oncologist was amazed that a PET scan in October 2013 showed the cancer really hadn’t progressed at all.

Attitude counts.

Observing Jim brings this theme into sharp focus. When Jim was diagnosed, it was only a month or two after the funeral of his best friend who had died of the same disease. He knew exactly what the diagnosis and terminal prognosis meant.

So why is he still alive? The only thing I can pinpoint is his attitude. His true fearlessness, his acceptance (“It is what it is”), and his motivation to be present for his wife, his children, and his grandchildren (one of whom has survived despite terrific odds against him too) gives Jim an attitude that is more than the sum of its parts.

Many people dying of cancer love their families and want to stay around so what is it that keeps Jim going? I can’t quite understand the mechanisms of miracles—for that is truly what Jim’s life is to me now—but I know that the disposition he brings to every morning’s dawning is life-giving. The lack of progression of his cancer, to me, is only one step away from regression. And if there’s anyone who has the attitude to make that miracle happen, it’s Jim.

So my plan for 2014 is to take a page from Jim’s playbook. He doesn’t waste time worrying about things he doesn’t control. He fearlessly engages life each day. And he maintains a life-giving attitude.

Thanks Jim. And here’s to a 2014 filled with love, healing, gratitude, and hope.



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