What I’m about to tell you is the single greatest thing I can offer you. It has been gifted to me. And now I’d like to share it with you. The interesting thing is that you already have it. You just don’t realize it. Because you’re too busy with distractions. You’re too busy dealing with what confronts you every day. You’re focusing on trivial things that don’t matter. Convinced that you are invincible, never really considering your life before or after this earthly one. You’re going through the motions, half asleep. I know this because I was you. I was just like you until my oncologist told me I had two to five years to live. And that’s when I woke up. That’s when I snapped out of the distracted life I had always lived. I was going to die. So I had to figure out how I wanted to live. And my perspective completely changed. This is what I am offering you: an eternal perspective.
I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 when I was nursing my second child and pregnant with my third. While it was devastating to know that I had cancer (something I never thought I’d have), it seemed like there was an end in sight. I endured a mastectomy and 16 weeks of intense chemo while pregnant. I spent many days isolated in the hospital, fighting infections, trying to get my immune system above zero, and just trying to make it to the next round of chemo. After I gave birth to my son at the end of 2013, I had 12 more weeks of rough chemo and radiation, and then another year of infusions and surgeries. But I knew that if I endured all the treatment, eventually I would be done and could kiss cancer goodbye. Which I did. But living cancer free only lasted one year for me.
On November 11, 2015, my oncologist gave me the worst news of my life. The cancer had spread to my bones. I would be in treatment for the REST OF MY LIFE. And it would eventually kill me. He gave me two to five years.
During the hour ride home from the oncologist’s office, after receiving the devastating news, I didn’t want to let go of my husband’s hand. Because suddenly, everything became measurable. How many times do I have left to hold his hand? How many date nights will we have together? Does he really know how I feel about him? Have I expressed my love for him enough? During this same car trip home from the doctor’s office, I told my husband exactly what I was feeling. I didn’t want to hold back anymore. I wanted to worry less about his reactions and more about sharing my heart with him. I wanted to be honest and direct because I didn’t want to leave this life without him knowing what I was thinking and feeling. As you can imagine, we were mostly crying through our conversation that night. We talked about things we wanted to do to get the most out of the next few years.
I realized that I needed to shift my focus from worldly things, which are mostly distractions anyway, to eternal things that matter. I knew I needed to repent and to use Christ’s Atonement. If I was going to be in God’s presence someday, I knew I had to do everything I could to feel confident and not guilt for that future meeting.
Even though I knew they would never come after me, I paid a library fine from years previous because it was important to me to be completely honest with my fellow man. I felt determined to live better. To be more patient with people who frustrate me. I wanted to care less about what people thought of me, and I wanted to become braver about being my authentic self, to be more unapologetically myself with everyone. I wanted to say things I always wanted to say and do things I always wanted to do.
I also realized that so many things DIDN’T MATTER. Cancer taught me this quickly. During treatment, I felt a disconnect with most people and the things that concerned them. While people worried about their image and what to wear, I was bald with no eyebrows and wearing my husband’s shirts because I had drain tubes hanging out of my body from the latest surgery. While people gossiped and compared themselves to others on social media, I was just trying to survive each day, suffering from nausea, unbearable constipation, thrush, pneumonia, neuropathy, bone pain, 3rd degree burns from radiation, dehydration and weakness that kept me in bed most days. I remember one day being so weak that my husband had to lift me out of bed, carry me to the bathroom, hold me up in the shower, and wash my body so that I could be clean. That really put things in perspective for me.
In the months following my metastatic diagnosis, I was drowning in depression. My doctor told me I had only a few years to live, and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my kids without a mom and my husband without a wife. I was forced to consider what life would be like for them without me. And what would I be doing? I had to figure out if what I always believed about life after death is what I still believed. Eventually, I gained peace and comfort as I dug deep and confirmed what I already knew in my heart: that my time on earth is just a tiny part of my existence. As Deiter F. Uchtdorf explains it, “Disciples of Jesus Christ understand that compared to eternity, our existence in this mortal sphere is only ‘a small moment’ in space and time.” And in the Doctrine and Covenants, God reminds us of this truth as He speaks to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment”
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for a terminal illness to have an eternal perspective. In fact, although cancer helped me GAIN an eternal perspective, I have to choose every day to KEEP that perspective. Making a daily effort to close the gap between heaven and earth keeps me focused on my ultimate goal of returning to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I know I need to constantly seek them by working on my relationship with God through prayer and asking Him the questions of my heart, looking for answers in the scriptures, seeking His guidance by doing work in the temple, remembering my covenants I’ve made with Him by taking the sacrament every week, becoming closer to Christ by using his Atonement, and trying to give Sundays to Him. These are the keys for me to be happy, to maintain an eternal perspective, and to someday feel confident in His presence.
Not until my doctor told me I was going to die did I actually believe it would happen. I’ve always viewed death as an experience so far into the future that I never really thought about it or considered its implications. Now, as I stare death in the face, I have learned to be comfortable with it. I am at peace with my eventual death. But as far as you know, you’re not going to die, right? Not soon anyway. So how do I convince you to think about your eventual death and what that means for you? How do I convince you to start living with the end in mind? How can I help you realize that it’s important to evaluate what you believe about life after death? How do I convince you that what you do today has eternal implications? How do I convince you that keeping your house perfectly clean or wearing fashionable clothes really doesn’t matter?
I have been given the gift of an eternal perspective by way of my cancer diagnosis. My wake up call is that I will die sooner than I planned. I consider this a gift because it’s forced me to think about what’s most important. I’ve been given the opportunity to get things in order before I go. But you have this opportunity as well. To live how you want to live. To live in a way that includes repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. So that you can confidently stand in front of Christ and God someday, knowing that you remembered them and your eternal goals during your time on earth, and that they may say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt. 25:21.)
Eternal perspective is the greatest gift I can offer you. Will you accept it?
If you haven’t pondered what life will be like after death, I’m pleading with you to wake up! You really will die someday. We all will. So what are you going to do about it? Please, contemplate your future. Start with the end in mind and let that motivate you to live how you want to live now. Allow the future to mold your present. Don’t wait for a terminal illness to get you on track. Don’t wait for a tragic accident. Don’t wait. Start now.
Raised in Southern California, Melanie played basketball for UCLA then BYU, and served a mission to Portugal in between. Melanie was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, while pregnant with her 3rd child, and while her husband finished law school. In 2015, the cancer spread and she was given two to five years to live. In 2016, they moved to Utah, where they found a great oncologist and could be closer to loved ones. Melanie hopes to live a long life but is at peace with her prognosis. She spends her days with her loved ones and writes to share her perspective with others.
Subscribe to receive your free 8x10 downloadable print of "The Living Christ"