Since Mom’s death, there’s a comment I’ve heard folks say often that makes me a bit queasy. It goes like this, “If Carol Masters can die of cancer, that means anyone can die of cancer.”
On the one hand, I get what folks mean by that, since she did have cancer for 30 years, and was given limited time on multiple occasions. However, the fact that anyone can die of cancer is not news simply because cancer did eventually take over her earthly body. It’s a reality that most of us, especially kids, parents, spouses, or siblings of loved ones who currently have, or have had, cancer are very aware of on levels we can’t even articulate.
Most importantly, though, if she heard you say that, you’d likely receive one of her “let me see your eyes when I’m talking to you” pep talks.
You see, Carol Masters had cancer for 30 years-16 consecutive years of Stage IV metastatic even-but cancer did not have Carol Masters. She refused to let it control everything. She had her stylist cut off her “chemo curls” each time her hair grew back, because she just didn’t like them. She had minor surgeries without anesthesia because she didn’t want to risk throwing up from the concoction in addition to having more tumors removed. She said, “No, thank you,” to certain chemo cocktails she’d already tried once and hated. She scheduled her routine scans, treatments, and surgeries around family events and holidays because she could. When she was working full-time and wrangling “the beast” full-time, she scheduled her treatments around her domestic and international business trips.
As I told her pastors in preparation for her celebration service, she embodied “life is a gift to be received with gratitude, and a task to be pursued with courage,” every day on every level. And one of her favorite prayers was this:
God who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and death. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
So, the next time cancer (or some other beast) starts speaking too loudly, and you are filled with the opposite of courage, you listen for Carol Masters saying, “Let me see your eyes when I’m talking to you. Remember that what you can learn from my death is that anyone can fully live.”
*Quotation from The Confession of 1967 and prayer from The Book of Common Worship