What mismatched socks taught us about living well with cancer

19 days ago
Marlys Johnson

My husband, Gary, and I were back in Hospice House after breaking out for two weeks. Love found us there, because there is no hiding from love. Visitors, food, chai tea in cheery red cups, overflowing gift baskets. And these groovy mismatched socks with the manufacturer’s tag that read: “Life’s too short to wear matching socks.”

The anniversary of Gary’s diagnosis had come and gone, marking ten years of living well with metastatic cancer. He wasn’t supposed to live this long.

I drifted back and forth between his bed and the window seat overlooking a garden blanketed in snow. I held his hand, stroked his cheek, ran my fingers through his hair that had grown in puppy-soft after chemo, reassuring him that I would be OK, that he could go home to heaven.

And then—as it took an interminably long time for him to take his next breath—I found myself thinking, Oh, but not just yet.

Selfish me.

The manufacturer’s tag that accompanied the mismatched socks reminded me that life’s too short for a plethora of things:

1. Life’s too short to live it fearfully, to not get off the couch and create adventure.

Ironically, the cancer years were the best years of our marriage. Maybe because Gary and I created more adventure, and took more road trips, and had more fun than in any other season.

2. Life’s too short to not do something that matters with our remaining days on earth.

After we worked through the initial devastation and self-pity, we said, Wouldn’t it have been nice back at the time of diagnosis to learn how others were living proactively? Particularly I wanted to hear from a married couple, because I wanted to know how to be a courageous, fierce, proactive caregiver. And so Gary and I decided to become that couple. Establishing a non-profit, writing for grant funding, presenting our hope-filled message across the country – this was way out of our league. But we persisted in bringing hope and encouragement.

3. Life’s too short to not speak words of love and affirmation to those in our care or influence.

Gary and I had the luxury of time to say everything we wanted to say to each other. Which is a reminder to speak those words – now – to the people in our sphere of love and influence. Because there is no guarantee of tomorrow with them.

4. Life’s too short to count what is lost instead of counting what remains.

Even with loss heaped upon loss, there was still much that remained. One more day together. This breath in; this breath out. These gracious children. These endearing grandkids. These family members and friends with their arms open wide in love and care. This beautiful central Oregon.

5. Life’s too short to not express gratitude.

If I challenged you to list 10 things you are grateful for in this moment – this very moment – what would your list look like?

Here’s my in-the-moment list:

  • Fireplace flickering
  • This cute little guesthouse that afforded me to move back to Oregon
  • Nature views out every window: Extravagant autumn colors against evergreen backdrop
  • Taste of homemade pumpkin spice tea latte
  • The gift of an early retirement to write full-time
  • Piano-and-strings music playing on Pandora and ears that hear well
  • Healthful foods in my refrigerator
  • Adult children who believe in my dreams
  • Gorgeous, compassionate, smart, sassy, knitting, coffee-and-tea-drinking girlfriends
  • Anticipation of a hike that will commence as soon as this blog is done

And that’s just in this moment.

I plan to wear these mismatched socks long after they sprout holes as a colorful reminder that life is too short to not sit up and pay attention to all the good that surrounds me.

Yes, even in sorrow and loss.

Tagged in:
cancer living wellness
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