This familiar poem by Robert Frost has great meaning for me now. At this point in my life, I feel that I have promises to keep. Months ago, I fervently wished that I could simply stop working and devote all of my attention to my illness. I thought it unfair that others could do this, but I had to keep working. But I don't feel that way anymore. Now, the limited time I've been given fills me with a sense of urgency. There are tasks that must be completed while I still have time. There are goals I want to meet. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
I've talked in this blog about having a legacy to protect, and about wanting to finish well. I think it's time to explain what I mean by that. It's time to spell it out for you, rather than talk in generalities. This will help you know how to pray for me specifically, if you are so inclined.
But first, I want to address my prognosis again; or rather, my reaction to it. I think some of you may have the impression that I simply take my oncologist's word as gospel, and that I have a fatalistic attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't believe in fate, I believe in a personal God who lets us make our own choices. I believe God has placed me here for a purpose. I can choose to be angry at God for my circumstances, or I can choose to do my best to fulfill his purpose for me. I choose the latter.
I don't want to derail this post by getting too far into this subject. That will be for another post. I'll just briefly try to explain why I accept this prognosis. First, ever since I was first diagnosed, my nature has been to accept my cancer rather than fight. Most cancer patients are fighters, but a few accept. I just happened to fall into the "accept" camp rather than the "fight" camp.
Second, I've had a strong feeling from early on in this process that I have about two years. So when I received a prognosis to that effect, it came as no surprise. I've learned to trust my feelings since this started. I could be wrong, and so could my oncologist. But I don't feel like he is wrong, or that I am.
Third, there are the statistics. The numbers don't lie. There are exceptions to every rule, but everybody doesn't get to be the exception. If they did, the exception would become the rule. I believe in miracles, but I'm not counting on one.
And fourth, I am unwilling to do some of the things that claim to prolong life for people in my circumstance. I won't do chemo. I won't do radical lifestyle or diet change. My priority is not living longer, it's getting my work done. It's trying my best to set my wife up financially while I can, because I haven't done that very well so far. It's doing what I can, while I can. That's what the rest of 2016 and all of 2017 will be about for me, God willing.
While I understand that my doctor may be wrong, and I could end up living much longer than he predicts, I think it would be very unwise for me to disregard what he says. If I spend the next year and a half doing all of these things that may or may not extend my life, and it doesn't work, I will die with regrets. I'll look back from my death bed and wish I had pursued my passions, and answered God's call on my life. I'd rather die sooner and feel like I've done all I could than live longer and die with unfinished business.
I'm an NFL football fan, and this being football season, I can't help but see this in those terms. When a team is 14 points behind with five minutes remaining in the game, if they want to have a chance of winning, they start to play with a sense of urgency. They go into the "hurry up offense." They throw the ball more, and try to get out of bounds to stop the clock. If they don't have that sense of urgency, they'll probably lose. That's how I feel. It's late in the fourth quarter, and I'm way behind. I've got to put some points on the board before the clock runs out. So I have a sense of urgency.
I hesitate to give you my actual to-do list, for fear that some of it may seem frivolous, or a pipe dream. But all of these things are very important to me. If I don't get all of these done, I will regret it.
I have a big public performance coming up this November. I'm lining up the musicians for it now, and soon I'll schedule rehearsals for it. I've put together a set of "bucket list" songs that I've always wanted to sing. The total program, including talking, will run about 90 minutes. I like to talk, in case you hadn't noticed. Many of my musician friends will participate. I hope it isn't my final major performance, but I have to treat it like it is. This event will test the limits of my endurance, but for me, it's not optional. If I skip it, I'll regret it. That's the first item on the agenda.
Early next year, I'll write and produce my last CD project. It will be volume 20 of a series that I've produced since the 1990's. This CD series is the main reason that I'm as well-known in certain circles as I am. It's my legacy, professionally and ministerially. I want to finish it well, and then hand the franchise off to the next person who will take it over. If I don't get volume 20 done, and have to end with volume 19, which I finished a few months ago, it's not the end of the world. But 20 is a nice round number. It will make me happy if I can get one more really good CD project out. That's the second item.
In July of 2017, my wife and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We'll get pictures taken and throw a big party with a live band at our home. We've done these types of events for big occasions before, the last one being for my 60th birthday party in May of 2015. This event will be a huge undertaking for us. But again, it's not optional. I'm not going to set this aside in favor of treatment. I wouldn't trade the memories of my birthday party for anything, even more time on this earth. Same for this party, as it will probably be the last one.
There are two more big items on the agenda. These will happen in no particular order, but must be done while I can still do them. I intend to turn this blog into a book, and I have a chance to put the gourmet dark chocolate ice cream I've made for years on the market. My hope is that, if successful, these will help support my wife after I'm gone. If a miracle happens, and I'm here longer than two years, they'll become my career in retirement.
These are just the highlights. I also look forward to continuing to mentor the young musicians I've been working with. I have to sell my recording equipment. I have to help my wife get rid of the clutter that inevitably builds up when you live in the same house for 16 years. I have to simplify the technology in this house, which I've always been in charge of, so it's a setup that my wife can operate easily in my absence. And I must continue writing this blog. Even after the book is out, I will continue telling my story for as long as I can.
While all of this is going on, my goal is to spend as much time as I can with the people I love, and who love me. As much as the work matters to me, the people matter much more.
That's why I have such a sense of urgency. That's why I so hope that I have at least a year with no pain. That's why I don't have time to do chemo. There's too much to do. It's more important to me to get these things done than it is to live longer.
So now you know how to pray for me more specifically. You can pray that I'll continue to have no pain so I can get these things done. You can pray that I'll have the strength and endurance to shine in my upcoming performance. You can pray that volume 20 of the CD series will be the best I've ever done. You can pray that my ice cream business will be a success, and that God will use my story to reach many. If you will pray that God will help me get all of these things done, I will be forever grateful to you, as I already am.
Can you feel my sense of urgency? Do you understand now why I won't set these things aside in order to try to get a little more time? I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. #waroncancer