Live. Laugh. Love.

by Ashley-Anne Masters

Carol Masters in 2002 during one of her trips to India. This was one of the many trips around which she scheduled her treatments because there was work to be done and life to be lived.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” —Revelation 21:1–5 (NIV)

The “live, laugh, love” adage used to annoy me every time I saw it, whether on a Tervis Tumbler or a mass-produced piece of wall art at Bed Bath & Beyond. I pretended to nod in agreement of its inspirational powers when a friend was seriously considering getting it tattooed on her arm. I rolled my eyes when it was included on various pink flair during Breast Cancer Awareness month. However, a few years ago I chose to interpret it as an attitude prescription instead of an overused cliché.

My mother lived with various stages of breast cancer for three decades. In the midst of fears, surgeries, treatments, and unknowns, she made an intentional decision every day that though she had cancer, cancer did not have her. She chose not to let cancer consume her spirit or her thoughts. She chose not to let the darkness of the beast overcome the light of her faith. She chose life. She lived well. She laughed often. She loved much.

Mom referred to her breast cancer as “the beast” instead of using strict battle imagery, for battle imagery implies a person who dies of cancer is somehow a failure who lost the battle. She was often the first to say that those whom the beast of cancer invades are anything but failures. Cancer goes where it will; thus she was a champion of controlling everything that one can control outside of cancer’s route.

Our family tried to make our own fun when it came to living with the beast: going to chemo was “going to get a cocktail,” frequent trips to the Cancer Center were dropping by the “Country Club,” and the countless X-rays, CT Scans, MRIs and PET Scans were “photo shoots.” We celebrated when tumors shrank, or at least didn’t grow. We had balloons and cake on the thirtieth anniversary of her diagnosis. We went shoe shopping with the “drug money” she received as compensation for a trial treatment. She wore candy cane pajama pants in the hospital after a December surgery and we shared holiday candy with her nurses. We even got permission for the family dog to cuddle with her a bit in an ICU.

Cancer is indeed a beast, and even with a fervent faith and positive mindset, some seasons of it are downright brutal. There are plenty of days where even the best ginger ale (Vernors) and nausea meds cannot ease the side effects. When the beast is most powerful, those living with it need tangible reminders that God’s love for them is even fiercer than the beast. In her mastectomy journal, Mom noted that she felt “so ugly” due to surgery scars, hair loss from chemo, and swelling from neuropathy. She concluded that entry with a prayer, “Lord, help me remember I am more than a head of hair and a body.”

The week before she died, Mom proclaimed the fresh joy that would come from finally being cancer-free. She could not wait for her spirit to leave her earthly, cancer-consumed body behind and dance in the New Jerusalem where mourning, crying, cancer, chemo, radiation, scans, scars, neuropathy, hair loss, and pain are no more. She died just as she chose to live: surrounded by laughter and love. May her spirit be contagious.

This article won the 2013 Award of Merit for Devotional/Inspirational, Short Format – All Media from the Associated Church Press.

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