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Facing Your Own Mortality: Are You Truly Living Your Life?

This is my personal story that served as a true wake-up call for my life.

I had my annual physical about two weeks ago, and never expected to hear anything from the doctor. Every year I go, I get an email that says "all test results are normal" and then I go on about my life.

But this year, it was different.

I was heading to work one morning when I got a call from my doctor's office. The nurse on the phone identified herself and told me that the doctor would like to see me before my two-week follow-up appointment to discuss my test results, and was it possible for me to come in that morning?

My heart stopped. Everyone knows what it means when you get the "we need to speak in person" call from your doctor. My mind started spinning as I tried to figure out what it could be. I told myself that I felt fine and didn't have any symptoms, so whatever it was couldn't be that bad. I tried not to focus on the "C" word, but because of my family's history, including my two sisters who are cancer survivors, I slowly began to panic.

"Is there any way that the doctor could call me? I am headed to work now and I'm not able to get to his office right away." Sure, I could have just headed to the doctor and called work to say I would be in late, but my fear forced me to try to buy a little more time just to get myself together.

"Sure," the nurse said. "I will schedule you for a phone appointment at 11:40am. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

Yes, you can tell me that I'll be okay, that this is will just be a routine courtesy call, and that I'm not going to die. That's what I thought, but this is what I said:

"No, thank you very much."

The doctor called promptly at 11:40 and I answered with my heart in my throat and listened quietly as he went through my test results, thankfully starting with the ones that were normal, but finally he asked,

"Which of your relatives did you say had pancreatic cancer?"

"My aunt," I answered. "Why?"

Brief pause, and then: "Your numbers came back high in a test that is used as a marker for pancreatic cancer. You may have it, or you may not, but further tests will be required. I'm referring you to the GI specialist for a CT scan or MRI so that......."

At that point, his voice may as well have been one of the teachers on Charlie Brown. Cancer? Pancreatic cancer? The cancer that can't be treated? The cancer with a less than 5 year survival rate? How was this possible? I hung up the phone and tried to focus on not having it, but my mind kept playing the most horrible tricks by forcing me to wonder, what if I did have cancer?

Over the next two weeks of appointments and testing, I began to think about my life and all the things I currently gave my time and energy to. When I got real honest with myself, I realized I had been focusing on the wrong things and not giving enough of myself to what really mattered. Not to sound ridiculously cliche, but everything started to become clear. Life was truly EASY, but I had been making it hard for YEARS. I knew how I should have been spending my time, but I just wasn't doing it. I was worrying about this, stressing about that, fighting to meet book deadlines that only I knew about anyway (and beating myself up about it when things took longer than I planned), giving my time to things that didn't have my best interests at heart, and entertaining people who only showed up in my life to see what I could do for them.

When I allowed myself to face my own mortality, I realized I hadn't been LIVING. I'd been planning, dreaming, hoping, wishing, and praying, but I hadn't been doing a whole lot of living. I traded human contact for text messages, and turned down many invites for dates, dinners, and gatherings. Even though I have no small children, I'd go home right after work every day instead of seeking someone out to have dinner with, or returning one of the many calls I'd received from people trying to link up. I hadn't been experiencing this beautiful life that had been given to me, and instead I was merely existing as the days on the calendars went by. And it wasn't until I was faced with wondering if those days were numbered that I made a promise to myself to make a change.

As for my health, I am grateful to say that I am healthy and the abnormal test was fortunately due to a non-life threatening issue. But those two weeks of wondering have definitely changed me for the rest of my days on this earth, upped my gratitude game, and given me another mantra to add to my daily reminders,


For all of the beautiful Queens out there: Are you EXISTING, or are you LIVING?

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