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There is a song by Tim McGraw called “Live Like You Were Dying” that tells the story of a middle-aged man who faces what “might really be the real end.” After the introduction of this news, the question is asked, “Man, what’d you do?” The lyrics then continue with an answer listing fantastic bucket list items and life improvements he made. Then the friend in the story says, “Someday I hope you get the chance/ To live like you were dying.”

The reality is that all of us will die. This life is a temporary state with risks that are just part of it. A person may be diagnosed with a terminal illness and face a guess from their doctor about how much longer they might live, or be going about their everyday business and be killed in a tragic accident. The legendary Clint Eastwood is credited with stating the obvious but poignant truth: “Tomorrow is promised to no one.”

I recently had a conversation with my friend and distant cousin who was one of our beloved authors until she felt she couldn’t continue to write because of her fight with a terminal cancer diagnosis, Lyn Misner. She told me, “I know some people are very private, but if anybody can learn from my experience in a way that might help them look at things in a different way that might be insightful to them, then I should share that.” She also insisted that she’s not doing anything out of the ordinary, and doesn’t think that she has any great insights into the mysteries of life, but I believe we all should learn from each other, and I do think she is a woman of great wisdom. 

Part of Lyn’s wisdom was hard won as she watched her husband fight and ultimately pass away from a brain tumor. His diagnosis came in 2008, and he was told he would have about 8 months to live, but he fought through and was miraculously able to stay alive until his sons finished missions they had committed to. He passed away in 2010. Lyn shared that he had always been very healthy and active, serving full time in the military and then in the National Guard. He had retired from that and was driving for a tour bus company, a route that was over 800 miles with some precarious sections, so their family sees it as a blessing that the seizure that led to the diagnosis happened on a day he was home with his family, rather than when he was driving. After his diagnosis, he would ride a bike six or seven miles to his radiation treatments as a way to stay active. One side effect of his treatment was that he lost feeling in his hands and feet; this sometimes caused him to fall off of his bike. Lyn shared that one day when she got home from work he reported to her that his solution for not being able to feel to hold onto the bike was to spray adhesive on the handlebars and get back on the bike. She said that has become a family motto, and is something that helps her when she is facing rough days.

Lyn’s own fight with cancer isn’t new, and this isn’t even her first time. She fought and won a battle in 1999 with “a really aggressive” cancer that they “treated aggressively” with radiation and chemotherapy. In 2019, she was diagnosed with a different type of cancer. She had just finished radiation treatments when the world went into lockdowns for COVID, which she appreciated because it was “a good excuse to not have to go anywhere” and she “could just stay home and recuperate.” The doctors told her she would be fine. In February, the same cancer recurred, and the prognosis is not good. She has been treated with chemotherapy, but discontinued that in June when her fingers and toes started to go numb. She recently started a new immunotherapy treatment that she is told by her doctors gives people an average of an additional year and five months to live. They won’t know for a few months if it is working for her, but she says, “It is in the Lord’s hands.”

Lyn considers every day after her 1999 cancer “a bonus.” She said, “If I had lived a generation earlier, I probably wouldn’t have lived.” Now, she says, she looks at the hours and days differently. When she wakes up in the morning, she thinks about what she’s going to do that day. This can vary on how she’s feeling with her pain level and her “brain capacity.” 

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

Maya Angelou

Lyn had been a school teacher for 35 years, and was able to retire when her husband passed away. She has had adventures in her little motor home. She has spent years doing family history research and giving service to her community and church. She has five children and 11 grandchildren. 

When Lyn was younger, she shared, she always thought when she was older she would make quilts. She had sewn clothes for herself starting at age 13, and had made some clothes for her children, and had saved scraps and gathered fabric for those future quilts. After finding that cutting quilt pieces was hard for arthritic hands, she was delighted to find a die cut machine that cuts the pieces for her. She told me she was thankful to now be able to sew the pieces together and work on these masterpieces which she gives as gifts that will be cherished by her children, grandchildren, and friends. 

Other days, when she isn’t quilting, and her mind is able to be more focused, Lyn still spends time trying to make her genealogical research available and usable by others. One thing she did say she would love to tell everyone is this: “If you have photographs, label them!” After we spoke about the connection she had felt to ancestors she learned about in her research, she shared with me how she felt it was so important to maintain relationships with our living relatives. She told me of some grudges that had kept family members apart for years and said, “Life is too short to hold those grudges!”

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Francis of Assisi

In Tim McGraw’s song, he sang:

And I loved deeper

And I spoke sweeter

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”

And he said

“Someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dying

Like tomorrow was a gift

And you’ve got eternity

To think about

What you’d do with it

What could you do with it? 

Each day has 24 hours. We get to decide how we’ll spend that time. We have an abundance of options. We can “spray adhesive on the handlebars and get back on the bike.” We can take scraps and create masterpieces.