Lessons from the Dying: My Aunt & Her Cancer

by | Sep 16, 2017

Six weeks ago I found out my Aunt has a grade 4 brain cancer in her frontal lobe.

It’s called a Glioblastoma Multiforme and it’s the most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain.

She learned this while on a trip in the United Kingdom with many of her family and friends, who had all flown to the UK from different parts of the world to celebrate her 60th birthday.

Due to my aunt’s rapid mental and physical deterioration (brain fog; loss of memory; lack of energy), her birthday celebrations were called off and she returned back to her home in South Africa to meet with doctors.

For me and many members of my family, this was a massive WAKE UP CALL.

We had been blessed with no major illness or death in the family up until that point. Even all four of my grandparents are still alive in their 90s today.

And while I’d love to say that we (and I) had truly grasped the inevitability of death and thus cherished and made the most of our time with each other, I think we had become complacent.

We intellectually understood the relationships we share with family, friends, and even strangers are among the most valuable gifts of life.

However what we either forgot or perhaps chose to ignore was that these relationships are also temporary… and that during this particular lifetime in these particular physical bodies, there is a limit to both our time and our love.

You, me, we all know in our heart of hearts there will come a time when the lights go off. We know that.

But do we allow this truth to find its way into our daily lives? Do we allow this awareness of our mortality to guide our thoughts, feelings, and actions on a day-to-day, interaction-to-interaction basis?


Instead, we assume that tomorrow’s going to come.

We assume that tomorrow the sun will rise and we will be there to see it.

This false assumption is why we often get led astray by bright and shiny things that, in the end, hold little importance;

This false assumption is why we often leave words and deeds of love, compassion, and kindness unsaid and undone;

This false assumption is why we postpone our dreams;

And this false assumption is why the number one regret of the dying is that they didn’t live a life true to themselves.

My aunt’s brain cancer means she may never see her granddaughter grow up.

She may never see her granddaughter go to school, fall in love, backpack through Europe;

She may never see her granddaughter become heartbroken, cry herself to sleep at night, unfairly lose her job…

My aunt has come face-to-face with the stark reality of the fragility of life.

She knows how many weeks she is likely to live.

She knows how very close she is to the precipice of death.

And this is her GIFT to me, to you, to the world.

She’s gifted us all a WAKE UP CALL.

She’s given us an opportunity to pause and to ponder that if the end were to come far sooner than we expected, what dreams would die with us? What adventures would we never have? What words would we leave unsaid?

Could we truly say we did all we could, gave all we had, and lived the best life possible?

Could we truly say we had a life well lived?

Death is always waiting in the wings.

Don’t fear this; embrace it.

Let death guide you toward a life of passion, focus, and intent.

Let death enable you to spend your time and energy wisely so that when the end comes, you will pass with contentment.

Start today by being grateful for your very next breath of air.

Start today by saying “I Love You” to those you care for.

And start today by choosing to follow your heart’s calling, even if leads you off the well-worn path.

Until next time.

Your friend,
James Melouney