If You Had a Year to Live, What Would You Want People to Say?

May 1, 2024 ◊ By Elisa Everts ◊

If You Had a Year to Live, What Would You Want People to Say?

In 2020 I was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer and told I might have a year to live. In the presence of that very ominous shadow of death, I wrote a blog with a note to my loved ones about how I wanted them to treat me (it later turned out to be a misdiagnosis and the stage IV cancer I did have was lymphoma and today I am cancer free, <take a breath, Everts> but for 3 weeks I was totally preparing to die).


Here is what I wrote to all my loved ones:

***
Please do not dance around the topic of death with me. I am a direct person and I am not afraid of death, so I am definitely not afraid of talking about it. Same with cancer. It is not taboo for me. And you often give things more power by refusing to name them aloud.

It's like when someone whispers, She's blind in front of my mother. She always wants to scream, Yeah, but I'm not deaf! She hates that whispering. It is first of all super patronizing to talk about someone in the third person in their presence. And then there is nothing more damning than euphemizing or whispering about something as if it really were too shameful or too powerful to say out loud. It's almost like you are revering it. Let us not revere cancer by being afraid to use its name. Let us be grown ups and call things as they are.

This pain is not unspeakable. It is totally speakable. . . Look! I am speaking it now! And when you speak it, you disarm it like a bomb. Just one little snip of a red wire. Very anticlimactic. 😆 And no more power to destroy you.

Also. Gallows humor. Yes, please. 😆

Didn't know about it, didn't plan it (not one of those weirdos who spent their teen years fantasizing about the most dramatic death they could stage like the dude in the absolutely wonderful movie, Harold and Maude, who was clearly an Enneagram 4), but I am up for it, folks! I am strong. I am prepared. I have the inner resources I need and I am floating in love, both human and divine. I have amazing framily (that's a family of friends) caring for me and helping me with every step. I have everything I need. Whom She calls, She also equips. 😀

Go ahead, ask me how I am. But not unless you want the truth, because, trust, I will always give you truth. Though if you've met me, you know that.

I am quite happy for you to pray for me and to tell me that you are praying for me. I like being prayed for. I approve of prayer. Actually practice it myself, just in case.

So instead of expressions of sympathy, I'd much rather hear words of authentic affirmation and admiration (please, never do me the disservice of saying something you don't believe; like most people, I can sniff that stuff out in seconds 😆). Remind me that I am a badass. That I am strong and fit and up for the fight.

I really appreciated it the other day when Soncee, my dear friend of 30 years said, Cancer has never faced a tougher opponent. (I see you have been honing your innate gift of encouragement all these years, Friend ). That made me stand up taller, puff out my chest and grin. She knows me well. After all these years.

Please tell me that you love me. Please tell me why you love me. Please tell me all those nice things you are going to say at my funeral (if it transpires in your lifetime.). (Caveat: you are allowed to wait until it looks like my situation is more dire if you can't stand the thought of me knowing how much you admire me if I am to go on living indefinitely.)

Better yet, please write them down for me in a love letter or a card. My care team are trying to fatten me up for chemo (new mantra: calories are my friend, calories are my friend. . . it's a hard U Turn, and eating all that ice cream is a real drag, but I am soldiering on), and I don't want to be egocentric, but I think it might be ok to fatten up my ego, too, for this journey into the bald wilderness of the blue wig (yes, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a turquoise wig).

If anything in your life is different because our paths have crossed, such revelations are worth more to me than solid gold (or even cookie dough ice cream!)

***

Telling my loved ones exactly how I wanted to be treated, with a little humor, is one of the important ways that I was able to manage hope in the shadow of impending death. You can tell your loved ones what you want too. You will find it empowering. And being empowered is critical to hope.

I speak to medical professionals and patients, helping them provide hope when there seems to be none. If you or your organization need someone to help process the difficult topics of cancer and grief, let's set up a complimentary call, 703-656-6691, ee@elisaeverts.com.

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About the author

Dr. Elisa Everts is the founder of Evertree Hope Management and is a dynamic public speaker, author and trainer. Dr Everts is passionate about helping cancer patients and bereaved people in their quest to survive and live a full life during and after cancer and grief. She has the personal experience of surviving Stage IV cancer and the loss of many loved ones. She understands the challenges inherent in these experiences and the importance of cultivating hope through the stories we tell others, and even more importantly, to ourselves.

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Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

I speak to medical professionals and patients, helping them provide hope when there seems to be none. If you or your organization need someone to help process the difficult topics of cancer and grief, let's set up a complimentary call, 703-656-6691, ee@elisaeverts.com.

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