Surviving a Terminal Illness
- Surviving a Terminal Illness [if 220[/if 220] by Don
I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in August of 2009 at age 71, and have been experiencing a rate of progression that is relatively slow, but nonetheless debilitating. ALS is a fatal neurological disease and has no known cause or cure. The average life expectancy is approximately 3 years after diagnosis. Progression is typically seen in muscle atrophy, weakness, loss of voice, swallowing, and ultimately, breathing.
I live in Taylor, MS along with my wife Andi who has been, and still is, my everything, including my caregiver. I am an active member of Gideons International, an active member of my church, a Sunday School teacher, a high maintenance husband, a doting father and grandfather, and an avid ex-golfer with many stories to tell.
To all who would read this, please be assured that I am unwavering in my resolve to keep a positive attitude and treasure each and every day. Above all, my faith is strong, and I know He is, and will be, at my elbow all the way to the end (or I should say the beginning, YES!) So folks, read your bibles every day as if it were the program guide to heaven, because it is, and I know it will give you hope and peace every day of your life too.
As St. Thomas Aquinas put it: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”
If I have learned anything in life, it is that relationships, both past and present, and not material things, are the only things that really matter in life. As we go through this life together, His grace and perfect love, in addition to our love and support for each other, is all that we really need to comfort and sustain us through all of life’s needs and negative influences. That is why I am writing this, to tell all the ALS patients, their family, friends, caregivers, and circle of support angels, that I love you and recognize you as God’s people carrying out His will, here on earth.
Life can sometimes seem fleeting, tenuous, and even unfair sometimes, but it depends on your viewpoint and the spiritual resources you can draw upon to offset hope depriving attitudes. For peace is the reward for those that maintain a positive attitude in the face of a terminal diagnosis. This reduces stress and makes the end days much more peaceful and tolerable for you, and especially for those around you. Each day brings more contentment and acceptance when you can celebrate the things you still can do, and not waste precious energy worrying about what you can no longer do.
As I cope with this terrible disease within the security of a faith perspective, I can allow myself to think about all that is happening to me. In doing so, I have developed some personal reflections or observations about my journey of ALS progression that few would dare to entertain:
Everyone is terminal, some more than others
A person must examine where they are in their walk of faith
All clocks seem to be running a little fast
A person is forced to confront their mortality
The desire to accumulate material things evaporates
No one argues or disagrees with you any more(well, almost no one)
Death is the final cure for suffering and incurable disease
To all things there is a season and a natural cycle of life as God has wisely planned
Suffering draws you away from worldly cares and brings you closer to the Lord
You realize the spirit is immortal, the body is temporary
You no longer care where you left your car keys or wallet
Friends become ministers, ministers become friends
Youth is precious
You can usually make unhurried plans for the time you have left
Your wife now opens jar lids and kills bugs for you
You take no one or nothing for granted
You can usually plan your goodbyes in person, writing, or other means
You develop an awareness or sense of God’s presence in every precious moment
Longevity becomes a relative term
Anticipating being in paradise in the presence of Almighty God and our Lord Jesus is awe inspiring
You can finally sit back and critique your spouse’s driving skills with impunity
The sensory perceptions seem more acute
A lifetime of memories flood daily conscious thought
Sleep is necessary but barely tolerated
Prayers become more personal and preparatory
You feel the need to repair broken relationships, drop any old grudges, and forgive all
You develop a large social network made up of doctors, nurses, caregivers, therapists, pharmacists, and clergy
Maybe for the first time, you clearly see the sad human condition with all of its failings and worldliness and are moved to pray for God’s holy intervention into the affairs of mankind
Angels surround you daily to comfort you, many of which are human
You have a unique opportunity to witness to others from a credible, faith based, and positive perspective
You have the satisfaction of knowing that God’s purpose for you must surely be fulfilled
No more job responsibilities
You get the remote control more often
You revert back to a childlike state, with someone feeding, bathing, and dressing you
No more needless suffering, thanks to home healthcare and hospice
Friends, family, and neighbors email, drop by or call more often
No more picking up dog poop
Some of Don’s favorite scripture passages (blue titles are links):
John 14:1-3 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also”.
Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”.
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”.
Romans 8:6 “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace”.
Psalm 56:3-4 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”
Psalm 16:8 “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken”.
Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.