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-gnawing days later, he said he wanted to do a biopsy (extract the golf ball from its hole). I asked to see the MRI Report. “I tell you what you need to know,” he replied, and then left the room. The Report was still on the counter, so 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 acting so happy?”) filled me with joy. 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-oppers. 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 assured him, then asked about his ministry and 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 even harder:

To live for Him.

About mitchteemley

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

103 Responses to My Dress Rehearsal for Death

  1. rmwk100 says:

    Hi Mitch, what a stunning blog. I’ve got breast cancer (mastectomy last September), and my experience has a lot in common with yours (apart from it not being cancer). I was so ready to die – in fact, I was looking forward to it – that after the surgery it was hard to face the fact that I’d now got to continue with life, whilst also being even more limited in what I can do. Plus, I have to live with the unpleasant side effects of my drugs for the next 5 years, at the very least. This is because my cancer can’t be cured, but drugs can help to hold it at bay.

    Anyway, I’m so glad you’ve had a good outcome, and hope you can now stay well for a long time to come XXXXX

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Pleasure to meet you, Ruth, and to hear a bit about your journey. Our circumstances are different, of course, but I do see the parallels, and I’m looking forward to reading more at your blog site. May you also stay well for a long time to come, surpassing even the most upbeat of prognoses!

      Like

  2. WOW. Just WOW. I have also had personal encounters with God and been ready to meet Him, and not gotten there. (I did not have what you had, but something that also early on, mimicked lymphoma). I am so pleased to hear that, at that moment, you helped the minister!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is such a great post! Such a game changer and really challenging others to see what is actually important to them! Thanks for sharing!
    If you ever want to guest post please check our DailyPS we would love to have you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Geoff Church says:

    Wow. What an experience. Amazing that you were able to face the experience with such vitality. As a buddhist it all looks a bit different to me but I am absolutely convinced that our relationship with death and with life are profoundly interlinked. Sounds like your dress rehearsal has given you true freedom 😊👍

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: My Scar Stories | Mitch Teemley

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