I never met Donna, but it seemed like I knew her. Even though ill, her friends described her as loving people and loving Jesus. Those around her felt blessed to be in her presence. She was everything I would hope to be given her situation. She was a flower quickly fading but still finding peace in terminal illness.
What did Donna have that made it possible to have peace in her circumstances?
When you get the bad news: Trusting God with your future
Receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness can be devastating. It can “knock the wind out of your sails”. It can cause anxiety, fear, and anger. Questions begin to surface like, “Why is God letting this happen? Why me? Why now?”
My adrenalin levels increase just in hearing the doctor’s say that I have to go in person to get the results of a medical test. In the back of my mind, I wonder, “What if I have something bad? Then what?” If I don’t control my thoughts, anxiety and fear can easily set in.
I wasn’t with Donna when she learned that she had Cancer. Because she was human, she most likely experienced all the normal negative feelings associated with “bad news”. At that moment she was at a crossroads. She could choose to trust God with her future and the peace that it brings, or spend the rest of her days with anxiety, depression, and fear. One of her signature verses was,
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
Donna knew that her life was in God’s hands. She knew that He held her future and that His plans for her were good.
When you understand your prognosis: Making choices
We all are “terminal” when you get right down to it. None of us are promised life beyond this very moment that we are writing or reading this text. Foolishly we approach our days as if we will live forever. We don’t write wills or directives to physicians because we don’t want to talk about our eventual demise. When we are in our twenties we feel invincible. When we reach our sixties or seventies we begin to put reality into perspective. The important things in life start to have higher priority.
Shortly after a person learns they have a terminal illness they are usually given a prognosis. They are usually told how long they may live if they choose treatment, no treatment, or somewhere in the middle. Most people choose to receive some type of treatment hoping that they will “get well”.
To treat or not to treat is only one of many choices that a person has to make. There are other questions that have to be answered.
- How and what do I tell friends and family?
- What do I do next?
- What do I want and what really matters?
- Do I have time for all the things I have always done before?
- What will increase the quality of my remaining life?
- What do I need to do to help my family and others to cope with losing me?
There are many good educational materials available for making informed decisions. The following are just a few of what is currently on the internet.
- Web MD. At this website, you can look up your diagnosis, drugs that you are taking, and much more.
- Hospice services. While most people think of hospice as a last resort, they have many educational materials that help you plan and answer all the questions listed above plus many more. Having worked for hospice myself, I urge readers to not wait until the last minute of life to sign up for their services. Many clients who were certified by a physician to only have 6 months or less left to live, survived several years due to the excellent care they received. In addition, hospice organizations continue to support the family for up to a year after the death of their loved one. If you are reading this post because your family member has a terminal illness, here is an example of what Crossroads Hospice offers to families and friends. Their online educational materials are exceptional.
- www.verywellhealth.com is a partner with the Cleveland Clinic and has many articles about the end of life. Take a look at this one: 10 tasks to do if you have a terminal illness.
- Many universities with a medical program have articles online that address coping with a terminal illness.
Terminal illness affects your entire support system. The more you know about your illness the easier it will be for you and everyone else to cope.
When you have done all you can do: Going from “getting well” to “finishing well”
Donna chose to treat her cancer. Then everything changed. Getting well was no longer an option as her body was not responding to treatment. In this marathon we call life, would she finish well or not?
Donna loved walking on the beach and playing games. She continued to do these activities as long as she could. More importantly, she loved people. In her last weeks when friends came to visit, Donna always wanted to know how they were doing. She would assure them that if they knew Jesus personally, they were only saying “see you later”, not “goodbye.” Every time I heard these accounts I thought, “What a picture of Jesus, caring for others emotionally while He was suffering physically.”
Donna was human though. She became quite anxious when her treatment was stopped. Once again, she was at a crossroads. Rather than ruminate on the things she feared, she prayed to Jesus for peace, understanding, and acceptance. She knew in her own strength this was not possible. But in God’s strength, all things are possible.
One evening she was reading in her bedroom, while her husband was watching the news in the living room. She heard a noise in her closet, where the light was on and the door ajar. She was overwhelmed with peace by the person she saw standing there. No words were exchanged but from that moment on, she knew she would be with Jesus forever. He would not leave her. She shared this experience with several of her family and friends. About 2 weeks later, Donna was indeed with Jesus forever.
The following words are comforting from Tony Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. “I have observed that . . .when people walk with God and He doesn’t take them suddenly, He will let them know, not only that it is time, but it is okay.” (1)
Dr. David Jeremiah, senior pastor at Shadow Mountain Community Church, wrote the following,
“God’s plan for our life goes past the grave and into eternity with Jesus Christ, and the transition isn’t as abrupt as it seems.” (2)
What God says about you and your terminal illness
There are no surprises with God. Psalm 139 tells us that God knew everything about us before we were born and He is aware of all our days here on earth. This entire psalm is an inspiration to the human heart, soul, and mind. I hope you will take the time to read it.
When we go through difficult days, God knows. Furthermore, when we have a relationship with Jesus, we may be, “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed,” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. Doesn’t hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, and struck down sound like having a terminal illness? There is no getting around it. Facing the end of life is not a picnic. However, our spirits and souls are not crushed, not despairing, not forsaken, not destroyed. This is God’s gift to us.
Another comforting passage is found in Isaiah 43:2,
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.”
When Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” it is not just a casual comment. When we pass from this earth into eternity with Jesus, it is good for us. God walks with us through the entirety of our terminal illness and welcomes us home. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15.
Finding peace in terminal illness
The key to finding peace in terminal illness is a solid relationship with Jesus. Do you know Him? If not, won’t you make a call or send a text to 1-888-Need-Him, or you can chat at chataboutjesus.com. Someone is waiting there to talk with you.
Once you have a relationship with Jesus, it is important to have reminders about God’s provision for peace in your terminal illness. I have prepared a couple of scripture cards that you can download and print. Place them on your mirror, refrigerator, in your Bible, and any other place that will help. Simply click on the photos below. No email required.
If printed in smaller sizes, these scripture cards can easily be laminated and hung by ribbon or twine. If you are looking for further scripture cards please see the resource page.
Finally, be encouraged that God has made a way for us to find peace when confronted with terminal illness. Yes, we are fading away, but we have a hope for a future with Jesus.
“I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow.” I Peter 1:24, Psalm 103:15. Also from the song, “Who Am I?”, by Casting Crowns
- Benjamin Gill, “Lois Evans Caught a Glimpse of Eternity: The Amazing Things She Saw Right Before She Died,” CBN News, January 15, 2020.
- Dr David Jeremiah, “Whether Present or Absent”, Turning Points Magazine, May 25, 2020.