My Dress Rehearsal for Death

are_you_there_god_268x268In the year 2000 I found a golf ball-sized lump in my neck. Not having swallowed any golf balls recently, I decided I’d better see a doctor.

Dr. Yamagata was the opposite of the cold-but-efficient Asian doctor stereotype. He was friendly, laid-back to the point of “dude, what are you on?” and had a hopelessly disheveled office. He felt my neck and said “nothing to worry about,” then scheduled an MRI.

When I returned three cuticle-chewing days later, he said he wanted to do a biopsy (extract the golf ball from its hole). I asked to see the MRI Report. He said, “I tell you what you need to know,” then left the room to schedule surgery. The Report was still on the counter. I scanned it. The word “lymphoma” jumped off the page and floated around in front of me.

I spent the rest of the day reading up on my new roommate. The facts were disturbing: non-Hodgkin lymphoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer (in 31 flavors) has an alarmingly efficient kill rate. My wife and I prayed hard. That evening, the sheer preciousness of time with my clueless daughters (“Why is Daddy so happy?”) made my face glow. We played like there was no tomorrow.  Because there might not be.

The days leading up to surgery were among the most transformative of my life. I was already a God guy, but the possibility of imminent death pushed Him from always-in-the-picture to dead center, obliterating former “concerns” (the need to fix that drippy kitchen faucet). My prayers evolved from “Please don’t let it be cancer!” to “I trust you, Lord, but…” to “Your will be done.” By the night before surgery, I was oddly excited. I might survive, I might not. But if I didn’t I’d have a year (give-or-take) to love the hell out of everyone!

The next morning they rolled me into a waiting room with several other pre-opers. A skinny young minister approached: “Excuse me…would you like me to, uh, you know, pray with you?”

I told him I’d been doing nothing but praying, but would be happy to have him join me. He said it was his first time as a chaplain and admitted he was terrified. So I asked him if he cared, and he answered, “Oh, yes!”

“Good. God’s got everything else covered,” I said. Then I asked him about his ministry and his family. He gratefully gushed. I was grateful, too—for having something else to focus on. Then I prayed for him.

When the orderly wheeled my gurney away, the chaplain shouted, “Thank you. You really helped me!”

I awoke with my wife’s hands around mine. Minutes later, Dr. Y came in looking unusually alert and said, “The tumor is benign.”

Turns out I had Rosai-Dorfman Disease, a dead ringer for lymphoma that is far rarer—only about 650 people on the planet have ever gotten it. It’s sole product: cancer-free golf balls.  I was relieved, of course.

But also disappointed.

I hadn’t needed to make peace with God—we were already friends—but I’d spent a lot of time preparing to die for Him—to fully accept His will. After all, I had cancer.

But then I didn’t.

rjsphoto-act-081009-035I’m grateful for my dress rehearsal for death. It showed me what was in me: what (and who) I really valued, what (and who) I really believed. It allowed me to prepare to die for God (not as hard as I’d thought), and it prompted me to work on something much harder:

To live for Him.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

106 Responses to My Dress Rehearsal for Death

  1. n3v3rm0r3 says:

    Beautiful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so relieved you’re healthy and God left you here awhile longer to help light up the world and make us all laugh. God bless.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Megan says:

    So glad all is well, and that you’ll be with us for a lot longer!

    It’s good to make friends with God, and I’m sure you’ll do credit in living for him too…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jacobemet says:

    Death. The last enemy to be destroyed. And yet, with the saints, it is hope. Hope to finally be rid of this mortal toil. Hope to finally see our Friend and Creator. Hope to rejoin the countless gone on before us. Death, for the saint, is the seal of our promise under Christ, that, like He, we will rise anew, like Him.
    You, sir, are a beautiful example of the mindset and liberty of every believer. You bless me by your testimony. For by such, they, the saints, have overcome the adversary. “And they loved not their lives unto death.”
    Ah! Your sentiment is refreshing. Angels watch in awe.
    Btw, really, really loved, LOVED, this line: ” I hadn’t needed to make peace with God—we were already friends—”
    Ha! The joy of the friend of God!
    Hallelujah! You got me excited, brother!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. atimetoshare says:

    Great post and even better news! I think God has more for you to do on this side of eternity. Keep bringing the good news to others. We often don’t see the personal side of our fellow bloggers. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. alslaff says:

    Mitch, relieved all is well. Many years ago when I was still living in Indiana, I bought tickets to a special church function to hear a famous speaker. I can’t remember his name. I can’t remember the topic or anything he said. And, yes, dinner was rubber chicken, I think. Yet an impromptu comment he made has stuck with me all these years. He said a friend of his was a mortician and behind his desk on the wall of his office there was a big sign that read: Every day above ground is a great day. Even on my most worst days, I thank God for each breath, each day of life. (Even if I forget to thank Him, I thank Him.) And I thank God for you. May He continue to bless you and your family richly in all things. L’chaim.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Glad you continue to be a rare bird this side of heaven! It is wonderful to know God, yet so vulnerable along the way…… your family is a blessing to you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful post, I am glad your okay. I especially like the part about the chaplain.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. BARBARA says:


    Liked by 1 person

  10. bonmedi says:

    Wow! Love your faith filled story. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m so glad you’re healthy and okay. At first I was going to tell you to not give up hope when I first started reading because I was supposed to be dead 3 years ago and the doctors are still amazed I’m doing as good as I’m doing. God can do what man can’t. I told the doctors and still do that God has a purpose. God bless you and I’m so grateful you’re ok. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You did kept me on my toes while reading till the end when I could release a huge Hallelujah, thanks God you’re doing fine. Such an experience is really life changing and puts everything in a different perspective. We are more then happy that you’re around and keep us laughing and spreading us with your humor…you’re a blessing to many.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Yu/stan/kema says:

    Very good post, Mitch. Glad you are ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. dawnlizjones says:

    I’ve had a few brushes, and it really has a tendency to make me re-think some of the “leaky faucets” in my life. LOVE the part also about helping the young chaplin.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ahh, that was just wonderful! What a great story. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mitch, your faith is well placed. :O)

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Lucie says:

    Beautiful piece, Mitch. Heartfelt, funny, honest, emotional…thank you for sharing. The words “thy will be done” are words that I need reminded of on a regular basis. Thanks for the reminder….A visiting Pastor at our church recently spoke about a very similar experience that HE had as a Pastor…wouldn’t it be funny if HE were YOUR chaplain?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Good piece, and thank you for your testimony, brother! Praise God, His will is that all be healed: Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) and healed ALL the sick brought to Him. He never told a diseased person it was the Father’s will that they remain sick or die from the disease! See post entitled “Dan Mohler on Healing – Powerful” on for link to the 34 minute long awesome video OR read my transcript of it. Taking God’s word on the matter to heart, we Christians really are called and therefore empoweredto lay our hands on the sick and heal them by the authority given us in Christ Jesus! P.S. I’m a recently retired physician sub-specialized in hematopathology: diagnosis of lymphomas, leukemia, anemias, and other blood disorders. By Christ’s blood our sins are forgiven, and by His wounds we HAVE BEEN healed! Let’s know it, believe it, and run with it! 😊


  19. Mike Cullen says:

    loved it Mitch ! It reminded me of a similar time. Thanks for sharing this

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Pingback: Sweetness… | See, there's this thing called biology...

  21. ColorStorm says:


    Liked by 1 person

  22. I love your style of writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Beautiful story. So glad it was merely a dress rehearsal. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. My father is a drama queen every time he gets sick. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it through this one, Kat.”
    Dad? It’s a stomach flu. You’ll be fine.

    And while I’m not the best one to question greater works… It could be you were supposed to be there for the chaplain.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. tmcasciano says:

    Wow, what an experience. You have such a great perspective on death and an amazing example of faith!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thanks for sharing your story. Glad you’re cancer-free, enjoying life with your family and growing stronger as a follower of Jesus!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. jaynezak says:

    so scary but thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  28. fatmilton says:

    I am very happy that this happened, not the dying part, the surviving part! Having had the unfortunate companionship of Mr-Near-Death all too many times, I can relate and offer my empathy, for what it is worth.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. kerbey says:

    It seems odd to applaud a rare disease, but bravo. God had you in His hands. Even if you’d had cancer, He still would have. But thank God you’re healthy.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    I’ve lived to see another year. But why? Gifts are always given for a reason.


  31. carhicks says:

    I am happy that things turned out the way they did for you Mitch. You have a lot of living yet to do. Your posts over the past few months have uplifted me greatly. There are many of us that need these posts and you are there for us.

    When my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past July, we were all blindsided. Unfortunately for him, he was never a religious or spiritual man, but that did not stop me and many others from praying for him. I do not know what others prayed for, but I prayed that if this was his time, please make it as painless as possible, but of course if it was not, then bring people into our lives to treat him. Well, God answers our prayers and he was taken from us quickly, but relatively painlessly. I do not know if he reconciled himself with the Lord, but I am thankful that my prayers were answered as they were. God works in mysterious ways. I am still very sad and teary at a moment’s notice (he passed November 20th) but I know it will get better and God has put many people in my life to help me deal with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. enitsirk24 says:

    Favorite lines
    Not having swallowed any golf balls recently, I decided I’d better see a doctor.
    When I returned three cuticle-chewing days later,

    Gongrats on the benign diagnosis.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Awesome sharing of your walk of faith. Love the connection with you and the chaplain! I bet he shared meeting you as the best part of his day! Simply perfect….you providing ministry before your surgery! Strong testimony! I have prostate cancer, thankfully early stage and currently in the watch and wait mode. I thank God for each day. Praise God you were ok! Thank you for touching many hearts with this post, including mine!!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Extraordinary post Mitch! And so true, living for Him is definitely a challenge. From my vantage point, you do it quite well… may we all do it even better every day, week, month and/or year of our lives… whatever increment we have left! Thank you for stirring so many valuable thoughts in all of us! Blessings! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  35. oneta hayes says:

    Thanks for your story. I had an interesting interaction with the chaplain during my “near-death” experience. I don’t remember the details well enough to tell the story straight. But as evidenced by her last words to me, I was a pleasant surprise to her. Beats me how God works out some things. I don’t believe I was there because of her but I do believe God decided to use my condition to help her in some way. I do know when she came to pray with me, I ended up doing the praying. My illness at the time plus intervening time have tended to make me forgetful. Which is a good thing! I find it a bit ego building (in a bad way) when I realize I have been used by God. That’s not good. It generally means I have to go do some humbling things for a while to become fit clay for his use. Humbling often involves a pruning process. Again, not good.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. sashiengland says:

    Hi Mitch,

    Thanks for your inspiring story. I could relate because I had a mountain to climb last October. Now I’ve never been in a hospital except when I was born which doesn’t count since my memory doesn’t go back that far. So it rocked my world to actually have something beyond the common cold.

    My mountain began with bleeding. For a change, I’ll keep this story short. The top of the mountain was a normal biopsy. From the first sign of bleeding to the phone call of a normal biopsy, I endeavored to keep it in the Lord’s hands where it belonged. I tried to imagine myself climbing the mountain with Him holding my hand. I would tell myself many a time, “Look at this as an opportunity to live your faith!” Sometimes during that month, my faith was weak but it never ceased. Now with hindsight I’m grateful for the mountain. If there hadn’t been a mountain, I wouldn’t now be on the right medication. If the problem had shown up later, the biopsy results might have been different.

    I’m sorry you had the discomfort of a golf ball in your neck, and surgery, but I’m glad it was a cancer-free ball. Most of all, the experience gave you a testimony to share and thanks for sharing it. God bless you and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Nancy Ruegg says:

    What a glorious, miraculous story–not that your golf ball turned out to be a non-issue (although that’s pretty spectacular given the numbers), but that God’s amazing, totally inexplicable peace kept you calm and strong . The fact YOU ministered to the chaplain is proof of just how powerful His peace really is. ‘Greatly appreciate this post, Mitch, that provides such hope for the day when each of us will face death. With God by our sides, we have nothing to fear!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Thank you for sharing, Mitch. Life is fragile, but the Mighty Fortress is our God! May His messenger, your guardian angel continue to watch over you!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Tekoa says:

    Beautiful words!

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Relax... says:

    🙂 Good heavens, I didn’t know you ’til 5 minutes ago. Glad I got a chance to say, “Pleased to meet you!”

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Jennie says:

    Wonderful story! Your words put the reader in your shoes. So, we feel, laugh, worry…whatever you are writing and feeling. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Roos Ruse says:

    This post jumped to the top of my favorite posts of all time – over two other Mitch Reports. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for me. See email. Thank You again, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. A wonderful post. Glad you’ll be around to write another. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  44. **By the night before surgery, I was oddly excited. I might survive, I might not. But if I didn’t I’d have a year (give-or-take) to love the hell out of everyone!**

    Thank you for sharing this.. insightful and encouraging.. continue to fight the good fight! Praise God for fellowship.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. My “brush with death” taught me to live more in the moment and to look for beauty and joy every day.

    Liked by 1 person

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  48. It’s amazing what a near brush with death does for our perspective, isn’t it? So glad it wasn’t cancer, Mitch! Grateful to God actually… but probably not as grateful as your family. 🙂 You and your blog are truly a blessing to so many of us; I’m glad God has given you time to write many more posts! God bless you big time!

    P.S. Reading this because your post about your top posts of 2017 referred me here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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