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5 Wise Principles Gleaned from a Too-Short Life of Excellence

Feb 03, 2015 // By Marcus Brotherton

julia01
I need to tell you about a friend named Julia.

The word “need” is intentionally used.

I need to do this, because the fierceness and freshness of Julia’s life is still heavy in my heart these days—and I know it’s going to benefit you by hearing about her.

And I need to do this because hers was an inspiring life. A life lived well. I take soul-notes on how she lived, and I hope you will too.

I present these stories with great carefulness, for it feels risky to try and draw conclusions from someone’s life as if that person merely lived to provide anecdotes for our betterment. That’s not my intention in presenting any of this. Her life was so much more. So much richer. So much fuller.

Still, she lived an example of a life of excellence, the opposite of a life of quiet desperation. And I’m always on the lookout of examples of wisdom in action.

This isn’t a short article. I invite you to get a cup of coffee, relax, and take some time to chew on this. Send it to someone you know who might benefit and discuss some of the principles together.

At the end in the comment section, I invite you to share your own stories of people you know who’ve battled cancer. Talk about what the journey’s been like for you.

Here are 5 wise principles I gleaned from how Julia lived. Let these inspire you to live well too.

Principle 1: Your job and your training are not who you are; they merely reflect who you are. And if you live well, then everything else shines.

Julia & Tracy

Julia (r) with her cousin Tracy, summer 1991, Camp Firwood, Bellingham, Washington.

 

I first met Julia in the summer of 1991 when we were both on staff at a summer camp in Bellingham, Washington.

She was dating a boy who lived three states away, and I was dating a girl who also worked at the camp, so our friendship developed in the periphery mostly. Yet I could see that Julia was a young woman of depth and substance, and I liked and respected her right away.

At that young age the summer days seemed endless. We spent our hours teaching waterskiing and sailing, helping kids, and marveling in the beauty of Lake Whatcom. When camp eventually concluded, I moved into a drafty old lake house a few miles down the road along with five to eight other college-age guys, depending on the month. Julia moved into a house a few streets over, along with two to three other college-age girls.

Everyone in those two houses knew each other, and we hung out in bunches, and our lives crossed paths at coffee shops and concerts, at movie nights and weddings. I’d just graduated from university and was taking a gap year, which meant I worked at a restaurant, snow-skied as much as I could, and tried to figure out what to do next.

Julia was somewhere in the middle of her college experience and worked as a housecleaner for the camp’s conference center, which struck me as odd but in a good way. In the back of my mind I had this image of her as being too proper for blue collar work. Too regal perhaps. But Julia was full of surprises. I saw how there was a gracious humility about her. If work needed to be done, even changing bed linens and scrubbing toilets, she rolled up her sleeves and did it.

At the end of my gap year, I moved to Los Angeles to begin a graduate program, and that was the last I saw of Julia on any regular basis for some time. In the meantime, she completed her degree and certificate and started looking for work.

Her degree was in Recreation, from Western Washington University. Where else but the Pacific Northwest can you get a degree in Recreation? Once when her father, a tenured professor at Highline Community College, asked Julia what she would do with her degree (implying that it might not be the most practical), Julia responded, “Someday it will help me be a really cool mom.”

After graduation, Julia found work as a teacher in an inner-city high school in Tacoma. She quickly won over all her students. They became her champions, even her protectors.

Julia described to me, using her best Rosie-Perez-voice, about one particularly tough girl who sidled over to her desk one day and asked, “Is anyone hassling you, Miss Julia? If so, we’ll beat her up for you. Just tell us who it is, and we’ll do it for you.”

Julia just chuckled.

In the 1996/1997 school year, in that hard-hitting environment, Julia was voted “Educator of the Year.”

THE TAKEAWAY: That’s how Julia approached all of life: excellently. It didn’t matter if she was a camp counselor, a toilet scrubber, a university student with a potentially unemployable degree, or a teacher in a tough school, she was going to draw on her strong character and then love and serve people with all she had. Are we living similarly? Our occupations and stages of life are not our identity; only reflections of our identity. We will be the same people no matter what we do.

Principle 2: When life’s difficulties unexpectedly hit you—and they always will to one degree or another—carry yourself with the same grace and dignity and faith equity you’ve always had.

In time, Julia met and married a bright-eyed wonder boy named Mike who’d graduated from the University of Washington. He was intense and smart, and he struck me as a cross between Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise. He was training to be a minister and later, after he completed his seminary degree in Portland, he started a church on the seminary’s campus.

Pohlman wedding

Presenting for the first time, Mr. & Mrs. Mike Pohlman.

 

It was 2001, and my wife and I were living in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river from Portland, where I worked as a newspaper reporter. Julia phoned me up one day out of the blue and we caught up. “We need someone who can lead singing at our church,” she said. “You play guitar. Come.”

And so we went to their church and heard Mike preach and I helped out with music a bit. He was an amazing orator, even as young as he was, a real Charles Spurgeon of a man. Julia said with a grin after the first service, “He really has the gift—doesn’t he.” It was a statement from her, not a question to us, and you could see how deeply proud of Mike she was.

During those years, Mary and I became close friends with Mike and Julia. We’d go over to their house for coffee and dessert and talk far into the evening about deep and needful things. They had two small children at first—Sam and Anna, then quickly another boy, Johnny—who was born just a few months before our daughter, Addy, was born in 2003.

Mike & Julia, 2003

Mike & Julia visiting us in 2003 in Vancouver, Washington. Mike is holding their son, Johnny. Julia is holding our newborn, Addy. Ten years and three moves later, Johnny and Addy serendipitously  found themselves in the same 5th grade class in elementary school.

 

In time, Mike decided he wanted more education. So the family packed up and headed out for Kentucky where Mike began a PhD program. Mary and I moved back to Bellingham in 2007 and we stayed in touch with Mike and Julia by distance. Another son was born to them, Michael. He was born right around the same time as our son, Zach.

***

In late 2008, news came out of nowhere.

Suddenly. Strangely. Terminally.

It landed with horrific force.

Julia was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

If she did chemo and radiation, she’d have about 5 years to live.

How does anyone begin to process news like that?

Their youngest son was still a baby at the time of the diagnosis. I asked Mike about some of his earliest responses to Julia’s disease, and he said that they both experienced every raw emotion possible—sadness, despair, wonderment, hope. “Fortunately,” he added, “we had some equity built up in our faith.”

One bright spot happened right around then. Mike completed the bulk of his doctoral degree and got a new job at a church—of all places, back in Bellingham. So they moved across country back to Washington State, and into a house about 5 miles down the road from us. I remember this good feeling of having close friends in the area again. Right away, we started going to their new church. It felt just like old times.

Julia began a battery of treatments immediately. She never let on how bad they were. I remember the first time seeing her in Bellingham again. They invited us over to their house along with a bunch of other people. It was summertime, and this person I didn’t recognize walked across the lawn over to Mary and me. She had closely cropped hair, like it was only beginning to regrow, and her body looked strangely swollen and medicated. She walked straight over to us and gave us big grins and hugs. Only then did I realize it was Julia.

And she was the same person I’ve always known her to be. She was always beautiful. Always bright. Always warm. Always funny. Even when she didn’t look or feel like herself. That’s hard to explain fully, unless you’ve seen a person who can carry herself with grace and dignity no matter what difficulties she’s going through.

THE TAKEAWAY: Julia lived so her difficulties weren’t the main thing anyone saw about her—at least beyond the surface. Are we doing this with our difficulties, whatever they may be? It’s okay to be honest about our difficulties, yet the call is never to let them define us.

Principle 3: Always live purposefully, particularly when you begin to sense that your time is short.

Weihnachtskugel - Hintergrund

Mike and Julia with their kids on Mike’s graduation day from his doctoral program.

Over the last few years, I guess you could say that Mary and I simply enjoyed Mike and Julia’s presence. We didn’t hang out with them all the time—pastors and pastors’ wives are too busy for that. But we saw them every week at church.

Often we sat right behind their family. I’m not exactly sure why we chose that location to sit. Maybe, at least subconsciously, we wanted to feel as connected to them as we could. We wanted to soak up as much of their friendship as time would allow.

Sitting right behind them, I could see the scar at the back of Julia’s neck where they’d fused a few vertebrae in her spine due to her disease. That image provided a paradoxical sermon—a larger one than Mike could ever preach on his own, even with all his powerful speaking abilities.

From where I sat in the pew, if I looked ahead and slightly to the left, I could see Mike preaching from the pulpit. Then, if I looked straight ahead I could see Julia’s scar. I’d look back and forth, back and forth. The pulpit, the scar, the pulpit, the scar.

Time and time again, Mike would preach about the goodness of God, about the necessity of holding fast to the hope that there is more to life than the here and now, about trusting in God even though we don’t always understand his ways and allowances. He preached all of this while his wife had Stage 4 breast cancer, and he preached it in sincerity. Somehow Mike and Julia were reconciling these two seemingly contradictory facts about life: a good God; a horrible disease.

Mary hung out with Julia more than I did—Johnny and Addy were in the same grade at the same elementary school, and Michael and Zach were the same age as toddlers—so their worlds intersected as young mothers. They went to Christmas-wreath making parties and a weekly children’s play time called Indoor Park.

Mary and Julia

My wife Mary (r) with Julia at a Christmas wreath making party.

 

Julia had her treatments every week, and she had seasons of various treatments. One would work for a while, then it would eventually run its course, and another treatment would begin.

She had a remarkable way of acting like her treatments were no big deal. You never sensed that she was sick. She joked around and baked cookies, and went to parties and get-togethers, and for a while got a part-time job, and ferried her older children to soccer practice and baseball games and horseback riding lessons. In the summertime she opened the screen doors to her backyard where all the neighborhood children played in the warm sun.

Pohlman family fun pic

The Pohlman family, joking around for a Christmas picture.

 

In 2013, Mary and I had our last child, a daughter, Amie. Mike and Julia were among the first to meet her at the hospital. It was a close moment as couples. Julia loved babies, and she held and rocked and cuddled Amie whenever she could.

Somewhere during that time, Mike and Julia enlisted a board of directors, jumped through legal paperwork, and created a national nonprofit organization called Team Julia. Various fundraisers are held to generate cash that goes to two purposes: breast cancer research, and to help other cancer-stricken families pay medical bills incurred by the disease.

THE TAKEAWAY: Even as Julia’s life ebbed away, Julia and Mike wanted to do something purposeful. And creating the nonprofit was but one example of this purpose in action. This strategic living was found in many other areas too—in how people felt at ease in Julia’s presence, in how she never expressed irritability or resentment due to her difficulties, in how she kept living hard and living well for as many days as she had left. She never gave up. That’s the example for us.

 

julia02

Julia with Ironman marathoners Brad Hutchenson (l) and John Whipple (r), who race in support of the nonprofit organization “Team Julia.”

 

Principle 4: Live in such a way that you inspire others. Your main point isn’t to inspire them, it’s to live well. But the inspiration will naturally occur as a byproduct of your life.

Over time, when you have a friend with that type of cancer, options dwindle. With Julia, we knew in our minds that it would happen, that options would fade, but it was hard to speak about it out loud. It never seemed like it actually would happen.

Toward the end of 2013, Mike reported the news that all the treatments had run their courses.

Julia was in and out of the hospital then. She missed ten weeks of being at church. She stopped answering most phone calls. She stayed at home only. Close to her family. Close to her husband and children and mother, who lived just down the street.

On Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014, the Seahawks became world champions for the first time ever, and Mike told me later it was such a surreal experience. Family members were all big Seahawks fans, and the TV was on in the living room, and Julia was in the bedroom on hospice, and the children would circulate back and forth between the joy of what was happening on the field, and the difficulty that night of slowly seeing their mother slip between worlds.

Late that night, in the privacy of immediate family, Julia breathed her last.

She was 43.

Julia, hospital

 

***

Weeks passed.

It snowed the day of her funeral, late February, and it hardly ever snows in rain-friendly Bellingham. Friends of the family lined miles of roadway with pink balloons and ribbons, (the international symbol of supporting breast cancer patients).

As Mary and I and our children drove from our house over to the church, we passed Mike and Julia’s house. The balloons and ribbons and snow stretched all the way from their house to the cemetery, located on a bluff that overlooks the ocean. The tribute offered a mass of starkly poignant color and white. It was almost too much to take in.

The service was packed. Anna’s soccer team came to support her. Johnny’s baseball team came to support him. Sam and Michael’s friends were there for them. The children each participated in the service, as did many extended family members. Person after person spoke in tribute of Julia.

Mary and I sat in the back of an overflow room. Despite the sincere celebration of life, it was difficult to be there. Overwhelming. Real. Painful. Mostly, we just tried to hold on and keep breathing.

THE TAKEAWAY: Why did we hurt so much? Because grief is real. Because the remembrance of Julia’s life was as powerful as the intense poignancy of the balloons and ribbons in the snow. Julia inspired people to look beyond themselves and see a larger world. Do we live this way too?

memorial

The memorial stone on Julia’s grave, Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, WA.

 

Principle 5: Always embrace wonder, mystery, and permanent things.

Almost a year after Julia’s death, Mike moved back to Kentucky with his four school-aged children.

He decided, wisely, that being a pastor without his wife was too taxing on his children. When he became a widower, he also became a single parent, and pastors tend to be away from the home a lot of nights and weekends—prime child-rearing time. So he took a new job as a professor at the Seminary where he did his doctoral work.

Their story is still being written in many ways. It’s a season of change for them, hopefully a season of restoration and rest. Of looking to the future. Of remembering and grieving and loving and continuing on.

I must confess it’s still a season of grief for me, as it is undoubtedly for so many others who knew Julia.

Life continues, sure. And it’s not like every waking moment is spent thinking about the friend we lost. But I find that the grief is still within me. It hits at the strangest of times. While driving down the road. While talking to certain people. While hearing certain songs.

The intent of this article isn’t to make anyone sad. Instead, it’s to offer an example of a life of excellence. It’s to point you to everlasting life, to the words on Julia’s gravestone, words she lived by. These are words we believe to be true in Julia’s passing, words about God from Psalm 16:11.

“You make known to me the path of life;
in Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right are pleasures forevermore.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Julia Pohlman’s life was a life well lived. We miss her. We thank her for always pointing us to permanent things—and what in this life is truly permanent? Love for others, the need to serve others, the fullness of joy in God’s presence.

Julia, 10

Question: Your turn. Share the story of someone you know and love who has battled cancer. What’s the journey been like?

[Note: if you don’t want to sign into Disqus, (as some of you have told me before) just write your comment in the space that says “enter the discussion,” then enter your name and an email address in the boxes provided underneath, then check the little square that says ‘I’d rather post as a guest.’ Hit enter. Your comment should post.]

 

 

  • Jeff

    Great post Marcus. Painful. I lost my dearest friend last year at this time to cancer. We had known each other since 1960. I miss him. I don’t believe you can ever replace that void. No one else would know me nor I him as my friend and I knew each other. Too much history. I spoke at his funeral and it helped me more than the people who attended. I will never forget the graveside experience. As my daughter and I sat in our car waiting for the cars in front of us to move, his casket sat in the cold Wyoming winter, unattended. So, we waited by it until everyone else was gone.He deserved a honor guard but the honor was mine to post the short vigil. I am glad I was the last lo leave him. We grieve, but as Paul said, “not as those who have no hope”. My friend believed in Jesus as his Savior and so do I. It is a comnfort but I still miss my friend. But one day…

    • MB

      Thank you, Jeff. Well said.

    • Beautiful, Jeff. Thank you.

  • Bryan

    I used to work as an orderly in a hospital. I met a lot of
    people battling cancer. Some of them had big families and there was a rotating
    crowd of no less than five there pretty much all the time. Others were far from
    home; maybe with a spouse, or maybe alone. I got to know several of them. A few
    really stick out in my mind. I remember one older lady in particular, and the
    day her daughter told me, “the doctor told us the cancer’s back, and she
    probably has less than two weeks.” And I had to learn how to respond to and help strangers who were constantly facing this. I watched families and patients deal with
    news, and cry their hearts out with family that they’d known for decades and
    with complete strangers, like me.

    Other days, a patient would tell me, “the doctor said the
    cancer is completely gone! I am cancer free!” Some of these people had gotten
    to know me well; others had never seen me before. Whether I knew them or not,
    it was awesome news to hear.

    Some of them were rich, and some were poor. They were all
    different races, and it didn’t matter. Humanity becomes a lot clearer in a
    cancer ward.

    As an orderly, I could clean the room, but couldn’t offer
    much physical help. It was hard to watch. I would often pray with the families.

    My faith was strengthened during that time. I was often
    reminded of the place in the Bible where it says, “the peace that passes
    understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I saw that in
    so many lives. I saw that patients and families that were facing the worst
    really did still have peace in their hearts. It passed understanding. They were
    crying just as hard as the others, but they were “not without hope.” It made a
    really deep impression on me.

    I love Psalm 16. I remember reading it to patients in the
    hospital. “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge…I have set the Lord
    always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I will not be greatly shaken.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells
    secure. You will not abandon my soul to the grave, or suffer your holy one to
    see corruption…”

    I really saw, as a young man, the importance of how we live.
    When people are facing death, they are really reflecting a lot on life, and I
    heard them talking about it a lot.

    So thanks, Marcus, for sharing this. You’ve made me think
    about how I’m living. And through your writing, Julia’s life has reminded me of
    my God. I cannot think of a better epitaph than that last verse of Psalm 16.
    God leads in life, and afterwards, fullness of joy with Him.

    • Marcus

      Wow, what an experience, Bryan. Thanks for sharing.

  • Duane Goerzen

    Thanks for sharing this, Marcus. On October 1, 2013, our 18 year old son, Jesse, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Life for him went from being a team captain on his football team, high school grad year, last year in a musical theatre troupe, and pursuing 2 trade apprenticeships to 3 months in the hospital, 4 brain surgeries (including a 10 hour craniotomy in May), spinal meningitis, 2 strokes, chemo, radiation, etc. It’s so true… life can change in moment. By God’s grace, Jesse just got a clear report back 6 months post treatment. We are so thankful. But our perspective on everything has changed. Every day is a gift. I had tears in my eyes as I read your post – it was so close to him. My heart breaks fro this precious family. Jesse has been rock through this all, and his faith has been what has sustained him. On the day we had to break the news of the tumour, he went silent for about an hour. His first words when he finally spoke were, “Mom & Dad, I don’t know how anybody could face stuff like this without God”. His faith is so strong. He has been on the brink of death a few times – but God obvioously still has planse for him here. He is not completely out of the water – ronically, it’s the fall-out from the meningitis that has caused him most grief, as he has had to learn how to walk again and deals with double vision, and some short term memory loss.
    When I started reading your post earlier it grabbed my heart so quickly. This story is a tragedy that is seemingly becoming more and more common. And that’s why sharing about Julie is so significant. People can draw hope from this – encouragement for their own road of uncertainty. We have Jesse’s story and our accompanying family journey at http://jesseprayerupdates.blogspot.ca/. We sure aren’t writers of your caliber, but if there can be any encouragement for others you connect with please feel free to share ait (or not…). Part of living in greater community is the realiazation of the heartache that many folks all around us are living in.

    Thanks again. You are making a difference.

    • Marcus

      Thanks for sharing this story of your son, Duane. Perfectly okay to share link to your blog, and definitely an encouragement.

  • Tuxedo Man

    My father was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2007 and passed the following December. He had a kind and gentle soul that shone best when making other people smile. The stories of his constant encouragement from family friends after his death exemplified his caring heart. But their was a moment I’ll always remember I think that defined who my father was. Growing up we had a single mother, Jan, with two kids living behind us. She was always working. We were a busy family. Besides my sister babysitting we never got together except for an occasional chat across the fence. But on the night of the viewing at the funeral home I was sitting in the pew and across the aisle Jan sat down. I looked over at her, and she was sitting quietly, so sad, and tears ran down her cheeks. I understood the legacy of my father, a man whose kindness impacted not just the lives of family and friends but acquaintances too. By now, for me, as the Dan Fogelberg song goes, “my life is a poor attempt to imitate the man”, but thru serving others and living a life of excellence maybe I will have done enough of His work so that when I pass even an acquaintance might shed a tear knowing there is one less loving heart in the world….and I truly was my father’s son.

    • Marcus

      Well said, Tuxedo Man. Thank you.

  • Billy Powell

    As I read this post, as someone who got to know Julia only within the last 4 years, we watched as Mike and Julia lived Christlike lives, with purpose, recognizing the reality of heaven as greater than the temporalness of this earthly life, I can see all you wrote and those principles lived out in their lives. At the same time, not yet 60 days ago, my sister, went to meet her Lord and Savior, after stage 4 cancer as well. I can also say much the same of Sandra, my sister, the almost 4 years since she was diagnosed, were lived with others in mind. She confided to a friend she did not want cancer to be the center of their family’s life, so she carried on with her kids sports and games, and church, and outings as if nothing was bothering her. On one occasion, 2 days after one of the major surgeries, she was out cheering her son, playing college football, all wrapped up in blankets. She was blessed by answered prayer, not for healing, but to see her two daughters get married, and then 2 weeks before her transport to heaven, she held her first grandchild, in the same hospital where she was being treated. She was on one floor, where doctors said, there is nothing else we can do, while her daughter was on another floor delivering her baby. Nurses and staff could not believe the faith of this family going from one floor to the other, and one emotion to the other. Another life well lived. I miss her too. Has she met Julia? I don’t know, my suspicion is that they are so much more excited to be with their Savior and Lord, in the presence of a holy, loving, merciful God, than forming a “cancer free group” and exchanging experiences. How do we live our lives?

    • Marcus

      Thank you for this, Billy.

  • Patricia Engelgau Jones

    I loved that woman. I loved her smile, her spirit and the way she lived.
    She always sent me notes while I traveled, and I miss her notes. Thanks
    for writing such a beautiful article about a beautiful woman.

    • Marcus

      Thank you Patricia. “I loved her smile, her spirit and the way she lived.” So true for so many who knew Julia.

  • Wow..Julia seemed like a wonderful person. So sorry for the loss of your dear friend. A wonderful blog/story here. Thank you for sharing it. It really made me emotional after reading this last night, and I just had to get away from it for a while. Now I am writing this. In 2000 I met a guy living in France on a forum of a musician we both love. His name is Mathieu, we all called him Matt. We wrote each other many emails, started calling, and a “long distance friendship” started. Matt had a dream to set up a record label, and work with starting bands, releasing records, promote them, all that stuff. I thought he had a great vision early on, and I could see the passion in what he was doing. He inspired me. He promoted the band I had at the time through CD samplers, French radio, and some magazine articles. It was great for my band! One day, I visited Paris, where he was living, and we met up, and had a great time! Our friendship really grew even stronger on that moment. Thanks to Social Media taking over the world, we could be in touch even more. We chatted online at least once a day. Then one day, he had a new picture online as his profile picture. His hair was gone, his head was shaven. I joked and said something like “wow, you are going for a new look now?!”. Then he called me up, and told me had been treated for cancer. He did not say anything as he did not want to worry me too much, and was convinced it would go away. And so it did. My friend Matt was “clean” of cancer for 1,5 years from that point. Then they found something again, and he had to get operated. Again, the whole chemo and radiation trajectory started. Matt stayed positive through it all. Even when I felt worried, Matt did not. What a trooper. I visited Paris several times again and we hung out. Matt was “cleared” of the cancer again and was healthy for 2 years. Then, something was found again. During the last couple of years, it went on like this. He was “clean”, then something was found, it was taken out, treated, and he was clear again. Over and over. He never complained once.
    One time, one of my personal dreams came true when I got to play drums for the musician that Matt and I both loved so much, and who was the reason we met in the first place. We would also play a show in Paris! Matt would be there too. But..his cancer struck again, and Matt was in the hospital when we arrived in Paris. The singer and me visited him at the Hospital on the day of our show. Matt was super surprised, it was awesome! Jonah, the singer, played his favorite songs while in his hospital room! I filmed the whole thing. It was very intimate, special and emotional. This was in 2006. (see attached picture).

    Then in 2007 I moved to Denmark, and Matt released an EP I recorded with my band in Denmark in 2010 and we were in touch a lot about this. When my dad and I visited Normandy, Matt and his girlfriend drove out there, and we had a great afternoon, all of us.
    When he left, we hugged for a long time, and I looked him in the eyes and told him I loved him and valued our friendship immensely. He told me the same. That moment is in my mind forever.We took a picture of us together 5 seconds later. (see attached). To me, a very special picture.

    I then moved to Australia, and we we chatting. Matt felt tired and sick, and had to go to the hospital for his knee. All the operations took some toll on his body. We chatted online on Thursday afternoon, and agreed to call each other when he got back from the hospital. The next morning, I opened my Facebook, and found a message in my inbox from his mom, in French. She wrote that Matt passed away during the night. My dear friend Matt passed away on April 28th, 2011. I was in shock. I just talked to him the day before. At that moment, I happened to be alone. My girlfriend was not in Australia because of work, and I only knew a few people. I felt helpless and alone, I cried for hours, and started drinking in the afternoon. I drank myself to sleep that day. Not proud of that, but the pain was just too much. I booked a flight to Europe, but could not make it to his funeral because of the high costs of flying to Europe from Australia.

    After the initial shock, anger and pain, I realized how Matt painted my life with bright colors. He influenced me with his passion, his determination to beat that cancer, to follow his dreams, to always stay positive.A part of me would never have been this good if it wasn’t for my buddy Matt. Now, every year in April there is a festival in France, honoring Matt, where all his friends show up, and Jonah, the singer, also flies out from the US to be there. Typing all of this really fills my eyes with tears again, but this comes from love. Thank you for listening to my long, long story and sharing yours. Stay safe, stay healthy.

    • Marcus

      Yuri, so good. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing this. Always good to hear from you.

  • Karen

    Oh Marcus, what a beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. Julia was a dear, dear friend to me and I miss her so much. Every day.

    Our stories of experiencing cancer in our family and circle of friends is one of differing views. My mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor. After two mastectomies, she is cancer free. Praise the Lord for that! My father-in-law survived for 7-8 years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. The Lord took him Home in July 2009. He went downhill so quickly, we hardly recognized him on our last visit. But, in spite of how he was feeling, some of his last words were a joke to my husband. It was always his way, to make a really, REALLY funny joke about anything. He was a strong, loving, serving, giving, Godly man who loved his family and his Lord with everything he had. It was so painful to see him suffer, but the Lord didn’t let him suffer long, and I thank Him for that.

    • Marcus

      Thank you so much, Karen. Love that your father-in-law kept such a strong sense of humor to the end. Great!

  • What a fantastic post about someone who sounds like an incredible person. It’s so incredibly sad to lose people before what we would consider their time. A friend from church here in Arizona passed away from cancer this past April so there are some feelings in common with this post. I wrote a little something inspired by her as well over at https://crzydjm.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/what-can-you-do-for-me/

    I’ve been following the blog (via RSS) for awhile now and this post is one of the finest you’ve put up sir.

    • Marcus

      Thanks for the good words, and also for linking to your post. Powerful.

  • Jodi

    Childhood cancer of all things…it hit us violently! Our almost 15 year old daughter was embarking on her freshman year, first year of varsity basketball, landing a part in a musical, and driving! A healthy childhood assaulted by acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

    “When life’s difficulties unexpectedly hit you….carry yourself with the same grace and dignity and faith equity you’ve always had.” I think I “get it” a little bit. I vividly remember desperate conversations with God…are You still with us? And will You really never leave us? Will You really give us the grace to walk even this road? ? Will you lead and guide us even along this terrible and unfamiliar path? Will You really be able to keep us from falling? To keep us believing in your goodness? Will You really give us all we need to trust You?

    I couldn’t imagine Him answering those questions with a Yes! But now I can imagine it for me and for each of us! I can say with all of my heart…God tenderly draws us close, gives us powerful glimpses of Himself at every turn, carries us with sufficient grace for unimaginably difficult trials piled high one upon the other. He IS faithful to do all these things just as He promised. Praise God, the Faithful One.

    After 28 months of chemo and with unbelievable side effects during the early months, Annika finished her last treatment just weeks ago on January 4, 2015! At 17, she shares a special intimacy with her tried and true God. Though worries still linger close by, He is Faithful to equip and instill hope. What a marvelous gift to witness!

    • Marcus

      So glad the treatments are over. Thank you for sharing about your daughter, Annika.

  • Stephanie

    I met Julia, only 2 times, once at My Uncle Erics Memorial service, as we were laying him to rest. He was my first experience with Cancer. He lived so full of grace and love always focusing on heavenly eternal things. Even to his last day here he was praising Jesus, and looking forward to what God had planned for him. That was almost years ago now, but it feels like yesterday. The most earth shattering experience I have had with Cancer, has been more recent. 6 months ago my Son was diagnosed with a stage 4 Glioma in his brain. Watching him at 6 years old, fight so hard full of grace is more then inspiring. He wrote the name of his cancer on the bottom of his shoes, because he firmly believes that the lord tells us to stomp the devil beneath our feet and he takes it literally. He has no problem talking about heaven, and more then anything the Love of Jesus. He cant help but Love Jesus, he knows absolutely no strangers, so he has no problem telling everyone how much he loves Jesus, and how much Jesus Loves Them! It amazes me that a 6 year old can have faith as strong as his is, and then live it out everyday. Its so hard to have the conversations about Heaven, and what it will be like, when your child is just SO excited about going there one day. Its what our outlook should be, heaven as the ultimate goal. I enjoyed reading your piece about Julia. I remember her wrapping my now 6 year old up in a huge hug, as we cried huge tears in the pew behind him. I remember looking at her and just praying. praying hard for her knowing she was in the fight of her life. A really sweet memory now, now that my 6 year old is walking a similar journey to her.
    Thank you again for sharing this.
    Praying You are blessed beyond measure, and that your grief doesn’t overshadow your joy, your joy that the lord himself has put into you heart.
    Stephanie

    • Marcus

      Stephanie, so sorry to hear about your son’s diagnosis. I love that he wrote the name of his cancer underneath his shoes. Great imagery. Praying for a turnaround for your son. Amen. Thanks for sharing here.

  • Definitely a moving story.. It’s so hard to deal with death. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even comprehend that it’s a real thing. People are just gone.. and that’s it. It’s incredible to think of the thousands of generations that have come before us and how they dealt with death.

    I don’t have a story of cancer, but just wanted to think out loud with you. I feel like our modern life is so focused on anti-aging and an almost denial of death that it makes it harder for us to grieve. I recently read an article by a couple researchers that are throwing out the idea that by preserving and adding makeup to people that have passed away, we are short-circuiting the natural coping mechanisms that the brain my have.. It was almost like you have to look like death for the brain to register it? Seems interesting but I don’t know if there’s anything to that.

    Will be a new reader of the blog, thanks for the story.

    • Marcus

      Thank you NJP. Appreciate the desire to “think out loud” together, as you mention. All best–MB

  • Within the span of two years, back during my early 20s, I lost both my grandfathers. One to a heart attack, the other after a relatively short but painful battle with cancer. In 21 months I had lost two of my best moral compasses, and I was not yet 24.
    My maternal grandfather, Alvin Carpenter, was the cancer victim. He was only 64. Ten years earlier he had survived then-risky heart bypass surgery, which was necessary in large part due to 40 years of smoking. He gave up tobacco and we had another decade with him. To this day, 45 years later, I think of him almost every day. A photo I took of him and his dog, during his last year of life, hangs on my wall.
    One of things my grandparents taught me was belief in God and faith in the eternity that Jesus promises us. So, my grief then was tempered by my knowledge, as sure as a young man could have, that I would see them again. Now I am almost as old as Grandpa Carpenter was when I saw him last. That in itself is hard to believe, and I know that at best I can expect about 30 more years on this orb, but I do not fear death. I know he will be waiting for me, and we can go fishing again. We will fish for eternity. In some ways I can hardly wait.

    • Marcus

      Thank you David. So well said. “In some ways I can hardly wait.”

  • Anne Schnedl

    She sounds very much like my friend Vickie … who is LIVING with stage 4 BC.

    Like many, she wants more than a pink ribbon:

    https://www.facebook.com/iwantmorethanapinkribbon?fref=ts

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.