Cancer, Death, and the Gift of Clarity

The prospect of our inevitable death should make us appreciate our life so much more.

The prospect of our inevitable death should make us appreciate our life so much more.We all think and act like we will live forever, or, at least until some far off, future date that we prefer not to think about.

This is very much how I thought of my time on this earth. As a child, I was obsessed with academic performance. And then for almost 20 years I was obsessed with my career and compensation. In the past few years, I’ve been obsessed with financial independence.

But this was always in the context of balancing an enjoyable and fulfilling life now with an even more enjoyable and more fulfilling life in the future.

What if that future turns out to be only 5 years later? or 2 years? or 1 year?

Abnormal Cancer Screening Test Result

I don’t know if I have (or will ever have) cancer. But I do know I will die, whether it be from cancer or something else.

This possibility has become frightfully true for me because a cancer screening test has come back abnormal.

Right now, I’m at the stage where further testing is needed to find out more. To find out if there’s an actual tumor. And if so, then if it’s benign or malignant.

It has made me think of the following Bible verse:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  – James 4:13-16 (NIV)

Yes, I’m anxious and concerned and scared.

But the results and outcomes are not in my control. These are in the hands of God.

What is in my control is how I choose to deal with the fear, anxiety, and regret for a potentially lost future . And, if it comes to it, the pain and suffering of treatment and eventual death.

What is in my control is how I treat others and how I value people in my life.

Even if I don’t have cancer or if I have it but can live an active life for several decades still, this episode is giving me the gift of clarity. Clarity to actively decide what really, really matters. And not to just blindly follow society’s mandates.

5 Years Left To Live?

So what would I do if I only had 5 left years to live?

This is particularly relevant because the cancer I was pre-screened for had a 90% survival rate 5 years later. The bad news is that it drops off a lot after that.

In the past, when I did this exercise from one of Paula Pant’s Afford Anything Podcast episodes, I really focused on experiences and accomplishments. I had lofty goals of visiting every country in the world, founding a solo entrepreneurial venture, leaving a legacy of knowledge for the benefit of the world, and volunteering for causes.

But now, I realize that I want to take tangible actions to love people and love God. These are the only things that really matter.

To Love People

To love people, community, our neighbors as ourselves

My wife – My wife brings light and laughter to my heart. The greatest gifts I can leave for her are wonderful memories and financial security.

I would create as many amazing experiences as possible for us to enjoy together, especially travel and meeting different people, in the short time we have left. If we are so blessed, perhaps we can have a child.

I would ensure she would be financially secure, even raising a child. And, I would set systems in place to streamline the management of our investments and put in place trusted advisors.

My parents – They have sacrificed so much for their children, not just time and money but their own happiness. What they want the most is the comfort and assurance of my presence to help and aid them during the remaining years of their lives.

For whatever time left, I would be by their side to ease their worries and anxieties. And I would arrange for a trusted person to live with them so they can stay in their home for as long as possible.

My friends – I have been very bad at keeping up with friends over the years. Not every friendship can become life-long, but unfortunately, too many that had the potential have fallen to the wayside. Life happens. But there are a select, like-minded few whom I would seek out and build a community of mutual edification.

I’ve already started doing this a few months ago, with phone calls and occasional visits. But I would want to visit them more often and develop the relationship deeper.

People – I no longer have the ambition to leave a lasting legacy for public admiration. But on a small, individual scale, I can have an impact.

There is the old story of a boy encountering a beach full of starfish washed up on shore, dying in the hot sun. As he tosses them back to the ocean one by one to save them, a passerby tells him not to bother, since there are so many that he can’t make a difference. The boy responds that he made a big difference for each starfish he saved, and continues tossing.

So if I can find discrete, actionable, and, perhaps in some people’s view, minor ways to help others, I will try. This may mean just being more involved in my church, or going on a missions trip to help out in an orphanage, or giving a homeless person my granola bar lunch. I don’t need to save the world – God will do  that according to his plan. I’ll just do what I can according to the circumstances I’m in.

To Love God

To know and love God. When faced with my own mortality, the old adage “There are no atheists in foxholes” rings true.

When faced with my own mortality, the old adage “There are no atheists in foxholes” rings true.I have not always been close to God. In fact, most of the time, I have been far away, carried off by the concerns of this world. I pray that I believe and for Him to help my unbelief. I have always struggled between faith and reason, usually falsely believing that they are mutually exclusive.

There is the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

When you come face to face with imminent death, you will have the conviction that there is a higher power, a judging power. And in the face of this power, you will tremble and plead for mercy.

As I face the certainty of death (whether it be in 5 years or 45 years), I know that my soul will be comforted through prayer, meditation, and faith.

When I received the news of the abnormal test result, I realized what I needed most of all was not the reasoning faculty. What I needed was a relationship with God. And that is what the Christian faith offers to me.

What are your thoughts?

What would you concentrate on if you had only 5 years left to live?

Often personal health and other struggles don’t make it into the FIRE blogosphere, so I hope this can start a discussion.


Follow up treatment and screening have negated the initial positive cancer screening result.

Definitely a relief, but there are lessons. I pray that I remember them.

2 Replies to “Cancer, Death, and the Gift of Clarity”

    1. Yes, thanks DragonGal. But it’s one of those things that need to be constantly checked. So I need to consider my time left on earth as incredibly precious and not to waste it on negative thoughts!

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