Read the Afterword by Resident Editor, Jonathan Klein, MD
by Frédéric Messier, caregiver and supporter
My wife Weifun and I had several good conversations around life and values after she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour at age 28, a mere 4 months after the birth of our baby-boy. ‘What’s worth living for?’ was a pivotal question that accompanied us at nearly every turn. Despite appearances, we were quickly forced to think just what it was that was worth doing on a daily basis, beyond the obvious (i.e. raising a child).
Almost right upon diagnosis, Weifun’s world became smaller as a result of being confined to a new life of medical treatments and physical rehabilitation. Life: redefined. Options: fewer. Scope: narrower. Frustration: (much) higher.
Contemplating the best-case scenario, we were looking forward to a long life of birthdays, anniversaries, meaningful work and parenting. Every day, small victories – over rehab, fatigue, daily activities – compounded into one another, paving the way towards the goal of a long, healthy and purposeful life. At many junctures, this felt absolutely awesome.
Yet cancer forced us to consider the worst-case scenario. What if… things went south? What long-term impact could Weifun still have on our son? On this world? On the lives of others around her? Shouldn’t this, too, be a part of everyday life, just in case?
Thus came a resolve to live every day in a way that she could be proud of. Beneficial to both herself and others. A way that would be satisfying in its own right, and create a meaningful legacy which could outlive her in the worst case scenario.
The result was a string of gestures, big and small, that she tried to do every day, which felt purposeful and meaningful. The end result was more satisfaction for herself, and a number of legacy items that she could be proud of.
Weifun became adept at appreciating the little things in life. Feeding her son. Eating a cookie. Watching TV in bed. The company of friends. Grocery shopping. Manicures. Haircuts. The dollar store.
She also made a point of starting to build a small legacy which would outlive her. We shot biographical DVDs of her telling her life story, for her son to watch. We openly discussed the values we should raise him by. She took part in a number of community activities. She climbed Signal Hill in St. John’s Newfoundland during a fundraising walk for young adults with cancer and inspired others to meet a variety of challenges.
All in all, she tried to lead by example. Not only in larger symbolic gestures, but through the more mundane and frustrating daily struggles that cancer put her through.
Now, although she lost her fight with cancer in May 2010, I am still immensely proud of her for the impact that she had on everyone around her, including our son and I. And I remind myself daily that little gestures matter, and that no matter what, 365 little gestures a year can make a significant difference around us.
So my point here is to also raise the question: Do we give ourselves enough credit for the stuff we do? The small daily gestures? The small things we do for others, and ourselves? The small victories which, added up, should make us so proud and make life worth living?
Every day, there is a reason to be happy. And proud. There is a chance to do something you truly believe in. An opportunity to impact someone else. A way to make a difference in your world.
So here’s my question: What’s worth living for? Today. For you.