My beautiful cousin, Carlyle Herbert Dorroh, mother of three young children, was diagnosed in August, 2012, with advanced colon cancer. She wrote this piece soon after her diagnosis, and it speaks powerfully to the importance of living one's life in holy awe and gratitude for the blessings of each day. As Carlyle reflected, “It shouldn't take a life threatening illness to open our eyes to the goodness around us.”
[7/28/14 Carlyle slipped to heaven yesterday morning, just under two years from her original diagnosis. She was brave and faithful to the end. Only 42 years old, she is survived by her husband of 15 years and their three children ages 11, 9 and 5. May she rest in peace and light perpetual shine upon her. She has left an amazing legacy of courage, faith, and love.]
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I have been thinking a lot about birthdays recently. Campbell and Will have them fast approaching, so there is much chatter from them about celebrations. Though hers isn't until April, Charlotte cheerfully chimes in with her plans. It is so strange to be in this position now where I cannot even think ahead to November and December, much less April. I play along with them though because, as most of you know, I love to celebrate my children's birthdays. And this is one of those places where I will call on all the offers to help – because if I can't make it happen for them, I am determined that they will still have amazing birthdays.
In the cancer world, people use birthdays to mark milestones. Before cancer became my reality I loved the warm, fuzzy, positive ads about more birthdays. Now, I find it hard to think about mine. The girl who recently went to Vegas with her “besties” and our amazing husbands to celebrate 40 may well not be here to celebrate 50. That still feels so unreal.
This week I purchased 3 big boxes, one for each of my children, and tons of birthday and note cards. My intention is to fill each box with birthday cards for my sweet children and notes for life's milestones. This is not about my giving up, I promise I haven't and the fight hasn't even begun. This is about my being able to control something in this unknown world I now inhabit. And strangely, no matter how heartbreaking, it is also another gift. No one knows when our time here will end. Unfortunately cancer, especially advanced cancer like mine, makes a long future less and less certain. As I have said before, horrible, unexpected, unexplainable things happen every day. If I were to have been in a fatal car accident, I would not have this time to leave something for my children. It is my fervent hope and prayer that we sit together and open these letters and cards, but if not, I find some peace and comfort in leaving something for them. Likewise, every birthday (and every other day for that matter) becomes a special gift and a chance to make more and more memories for them.
As I have started to write their cards, I find myself reflecting on the days of their births. With each of them, excited as I was to meet them, I found myself a little sad in the days leading up to the birth. I knew the time they spent living and growing inside me would be the only time in their lives where I had them all to myself and could protect them from this imperfect world. Now, contemplating the nearly impossible idea that they may face this world without me much too young, I take heart in knowing that as they were and are a part of me, I am a part of them. No physical separation can change that. Giving birth, up to this point in my life, was the hardest most physically demanding thing I have ever done. I reached points where I despaired and though I simply cannot do this. But then, trusting in God and my body, I found extra strength I didn't know existed and I kept going. The reward for that work, seeing their beautiful faces and being in complete awe of God's plan for us, filled my heart with more love than I thought possible. After Will was born, one of the first things my sweet husband said through tears of joy was, “Why did we wait so long?” Children are one of the clearest examples of God's miracles, and a daily reminder to me that miracles do happen and there is still room to hope for many, many more birthdays.
In the coming months and years, I face the toughest journey of my life, but I will not walk it alone. The Lord has assembled quite a team to walk with me: a completely amazing husband, three precious children, a loving extended family, wonderfully supportive friends, a church and school community filled with unparalleled love and support, and people I don't even know who are praying for our family. I wish I could express to all of you, individually, how much your support means. Cards, gifts, flowers, dinners, groceries, lawn service, hugs, smiles, prayers… the depth of it all completely humbles me. Someone said to me this week, “If you want to know how good the world is, get cancer.”
So true – but also so sad.
Before this I appreciated my life, but didn't fully see how blessed I truly am. It shouldn't take a life threatening illness to open eyes to the goodness around us. Never again will I take anything for granted. Each day, each experience, each person in my life is a treasured gift. And I thank you.
When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. –Isaiah 43:2