Hope for a Life Well Lived
by Gary Grieger
What is hope? One definition is that hope is a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain outcome to occur. I agree with that definition but would add that hope is never giving up, no matter the situation.
There were times along my cancer journey when hope was all I had (along with the best medical team in the world), and that was enough. As I learned more about cancer, I learned that people generally don’t recover overnight. So I never set my hopes on a miracle cure. I would hope to have a good day. Hope to enjoy my wife and kids. To appreciate the blessings I did have despite having cancer. At the end of each day, I wanted to feel at peace with the way I had lived my life and the way I treated people. Then the next day, I would get up and try to do it all over again. I’ve done this every day for nearly 19 years.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was given a life expectancy of a year to a year and a half but was told that some people do live longer. Was I shaken? Yes. But I also believed that I would be one of the people who lived longer. Doctors could measure my cancer, but they couldn’t measure my heart, my spirit, or my will to live.
At that time, my son had just started sixth grade, and my daughter fourth. The thought of not being there to see my oldest child off to high school hit me hard. But I soon realized that if I continued to dwell on milestones that I might not be around to see, I would be constantly down and depressed. No matter how much time I had left, I was not going to spend it miserable and unhappy. No, each day was an opportunity to enjoy my family and those closest to me, and to have some fun. With this mindset, I managed to find some joy and happiness every day, and I believe that’s a big reason why I’m still here 19 years later.
During a particularly emotional time, I came up with a concept that I call my lifetime resume. Instead of a summary of my work history, like a typical resume, I was interested in creating an overview of what I had accomplished and enjoyed in my life. My lifetime resume comprises my family’s successes, personal goals I’ve achieved, areas I’m working on, places my family has visited, and other special moments I’ve enjoyed with family and friends. When I look over my lifetime resume, I can’t help but feel good about my life and hope that I have another day to enjoy tomorrow.
When my time is up, I want to be able to say I have no regrets and have lived a great life.
People often make plans weeks and months in advance. I can’t do that. I take things one day at a time. I’ve only made one exception to this rule, and that was when my son and his bride announced their September 22, 2018, wedding. I had hope that I would still be around to enjoy this special day. The entire weekend was one of the highlights of my life. To say I was happy to be there is a huge understatement.
Another of my greatest memories is of an evening I spent with my father on one of the last days of his life. He was 87 years old and was happy and fulfilled and had no regrets. I had snuck a six-pack of beer into his room for us to imbibe as we watched the World Series together. It was fun and exciting because we were breaking the rules, which was very unlike my Dad. He displayed great calm and strength until the end, believing fully that he’d lived a great life.
I hope I’m at peace like my dad was at the end of his life when I reach the end of mine. When my time is up, I want to be able to say I have no regrets and have lived a great life.
I am a realist, and I know how unbelievably blessed I’ve been during the last 19 years. It’s amazing to me that I’ve been able to find some enjoyment every day of my life. But I must give hope the credit. At the end of each day, I’ve always had hope that I would get up tomorrow and enjoy another good day. I truly believe that, in spite of tests, treatments, or pain, if you are surrounded by people who love you and if you have hope, then anything is possible. Never give up hope.
Gary Grieger is a 19-year non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia survivor living in Lombard, IL. His son, John, is now 31 years old; his daughter, Laura, is 28; and he’s been married to his wife, Karen, for more than 33 years.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2019.