strong offer Friday : transform terror into commitment, and entitlement into hope

Laurie at Camp 2013

Photo by Lynne Gillis.

I asked my friend, Laurie Foley, to speak on the topic, “The Courage to Be Mortal,” at the first Camp I hosted, in September 2013, thirteen months after she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It just so happened–as I learned during her speech–that she was diagnosed on the evening of my 53rd birthday as I was turning the age my father was when he died, while nursing my husband, John, a week after he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer. There were a lot of balls up in the air on that day in history, but none so heavy as Laurie’s.

She wasn’t sure she could be at Camp, because of her health, and I told her there would be a space for her if she could, even at the last minute.

What she brought that gathering was a perfectly constructed speech, and more heart and wisdom than our souls could absorb in one sitting. Hers is a message we can all learn from. May it be shared widely, because it changes lives. I have seen the truth in this talk, for myself and many others who heard her speak that day.

Laurie Foley has entered hospice care this week, and in her active dying continues to teach all of us about the power we all have to transform the energy of terror into commitment, and entitlement into hope. If I had to choose five friends to be in my lifeboat as the Titanic went down, Laurie Foley would be there. So this week leaves me feeling bereft, and in her honor, I will transform that into molecule-rearranging love as she departs this earthly existence. She will never be far from me.

 A transcript of her talk is below the video.

The Courage to Be Mortal

by Laurie Foley at

Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp, September 2013

-Transcript-

Thank you. 

Patti, thank you for inviting me.

I’m Laurie Foley.

And thank you for choosing a light, pre-lunch topic, “The Courage To Be Mortal.”

I can’t promise it will be appetizing, but I’ll do my best.

What were you doing on Thursday, August 16, 2012, a year ago, at 6:32 in the evening? Maybe you were having a rather ordinary moment. I was. I was with my husband and my son and we were sitting in our family room thinking about what to make for dinner. It was a very ordinary moment.

But five minutes later, I was going to get a phone call that was going to change my life forever.

Five minutes later I was talking to my doctor on the phone and she was explaining the results of a CT scan that I had had earlier in the day. She thought I had diverticulitis, it hadn’t responded to antibiotics, and she said “let’s check it out.” But on this phone call, she said, “Laurie, this doesn’t look good.”

I’m like, “well, how not good?” She said “really not good.” She said, “You have implants all throughout your abdominal cavity. And ‘implants’ is really just a sanitized word for ‘tumors.’”

And I said, “In my stomach?” She said, “No, pretty much everywhere.”

And at that point, I was just…I could hardly hear anything she was saying after that, and I put her on speaker phone, and I asked her to repeat it, so my husband and son could hear what was going on, and she said, “This is consistent with ovarian cancer.”

And she said, “We’ve already booked you in to see an oncologist as soon as possible, and in the meantime, I want you to stay off the Internet.”

Well, she didn’t know that I already had my medical degree from the University of Google, or that I actually do have a PhD in computer science and helped build the Internet.

I said, “I’ll try.”

But what was really going through my head was, “Am I going to live ’til Christmas?” Because really, if anybody is told that you have a pretty bad cancer, that’s probably the first thing you think about. “Am I going to die?”

So, yes, I am going to die. And you’re gonna die. My milk carton, as I like to think of it, has definitely been moved closer to the front of the shelf, but I don’t know my expiration date, and neither do you.

I think we’ve all heard the story about death and taxes–that they’re both inevitable. I know some people who don’t pay taxes, so I’m not so sure that’s true, but death? That’s gonna get us.

Death is part of what makes us human. So let’s talk for a minute about what makes us human. Used to be that scientists thought that what makes us human is our ability to use tools. but now we know that primates, and even birds, use tools. Then scientists thought maybe it’s communication or language. Well we actually know that animals like dolphins and even dogs have a form of language.

So, the very interesting proposition to me about what makes us human is our ability to transform states of energy.

Our ability to transform states of energy.

For example, freezing water into ice. Or even mixing flour, sugar, eggs, milk to make a cupcake for a birthday party. Which brings me back to that night on August 16th.

I was terrified. Would I see my son’s 16th birthday? Would I celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary? All of these things were racing through my head. My husband and I had just begun to talk about his retirement a few years out. Would I get to enjoy retirement with him?

Would I ever hold a grandchild? I was only 51 years old. I also wondered, would I ever see my son graduate from college? He was only 15 the night of that phone call, and two-thirds of the women who are diagnosed at my stage, 3C, and by the way, there are only four stages, die within 5 years.

It was a bad night.

It actually got worse. Two nights later, I woke up in absolute panic. I’d had panic attacks in the past. This was über panic. This was waking up in the middle of the night trying to trip your clothes off screaming terror, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. How did this happen?”

Of course, this woke up my husband, and he reached over and squeezed me as hard as he could, and he just held onto me, and in that moment, he transformed the energy of terror into the energy of presence and love.

A few months later, after a lot of stuff had happened–chemo, monster surgery, more chemo, failing chemo, having to restart chemo, lots of things had happened, I asked him. “How do you deal with the anger about this situation?” because I’d seen very little of that from him. And he said, “I have my ways. Don’t worry about it.”

But he said, “The main thing is, the morning after we got that phone call, I woke up and I told myself “I will never give up.'”

And in that moment, he transformed the energy of despair into the energy of commitment. He may be the most amazing human that I know.

So, another awesome human is my dad. My dad is 75 years old. He’s very sprightly for 75. He’s very cute. If you follow me on FB, you’ve probably seen my picture with him because he’s my favorite chemo buddy.

He travels 300 miles each way to go with me to chemo very often. He brings a little backpack, he wears a funny baseball cap, he brings an inflatable pillow, he brings an extra jacket; while the little magical medicines drip into me, he reads blogs on his little iPod Touch, not even an iPad. And he is infinitely patient. He holds my hand, and he tells me to breathe.

Recently we had finished one of those chemos and he was headed home, and I was feeling so thankful – as I always do, and a little guilty as I always do, that he goes to all this trouble to come to be with me, and I just said, “You know, you don’t have to do this. I appreciate it so much. Thank you for being with me.”

And he held me by the shoulders, and he looked me in the eyes, “Don’t ever ask me not to come.”

And with those seven words, “don’t ever ask me not to come,” he transformed the energy of an terrified little girl into the energy of a beloved daughter.

And in that moment, I felt a massive wave of love that felt like it was rearranging every molecule in my body.

It was one of the most healing moments I’ve ever felt in my life.

So my question for you is “How do you want to use this amazing power that we have as humans to transform energy—for yourself, or for the people that you care about?”

My husband and my father did it through their commitment and their love. And I believe that that is what is healing me today, even if just for today. And that is enough.

How do I use this power? I have three ways that I want to share with you:

One is when something like this happens, and I would call it a catastrophic diagnosis, very quickly you are plunged into a world that is like going to a foreign country. You don’t know the language, the customs; you don’t know any of it. And it is exhausting. And then they start cutting you open, and they start filling you with poison. I said that my treatment plan was “poison me, fillet me, poison me,” and that’s pretty much we’ve done.

What happens in the course of that is that you have very low energy. Very low energy. All your energy is being used by your body for healing and for dealing with everything that’s coming into your body. So I began to see this crisis as an energy management event, because I have a technical background.

So to me, it really came down to a simple question that I use over and over and over again. Any decision that I needed to make, any choice, is really the question of “is this energizing, or is it draining?”

Is it energizing or is it draining?

This has turned out to be a pretty good metric. if a friend wants to visit and it’s a really low day, I can make the energizing choice, and say, “let’s do it another time.” These are not always easy choices to make, but the priority is clear. I have to choose what’s energizing, and really, I think living for anybody is about making choices that are energizing.

I had a successful solo coaching and consulting and coaching practice that was running at the time of my diagnosis. That was a very hard decision. What do I do with this? I didn’t have a team. I didn’t have people to delegate it to. But when I applied that question, “Is it energizing or is it draining to try to work at this same pace?” it was a very hard choice, but the choice was very clear to pause that business for a while.

I think the question of “is something energizing or draining?” is ultimately an extremely personal question. What would be energizing for me wouldn’t be energizing for somebody else. One of the decisions that we made as a family was to be very open about what was going on, and especially to be completely open with our son.

He’s old enough that we believed he could handle whatever information would come along, and he, like me, loves data and loves information, so it seemed natural to do that. And now when he comes in from school and he knows I’ve had a doctor appointment that morning, he’s like, ‘How’d it go Mom?” And boy is that ever transforming, to see this boy becoming a loving man.

So I believe that this question, “is this energizing or is it draining?”, is really the ultimate question that we can ask to manage energy in a crisis.

The second way that I use the power of transforming energy was really to recognize what really made me suffer the most early on. And it was my desire for control and certainty—to want to know what’s going to happen.

Because I didn’t stay off the internet. I spent many, many, many hours on the Internet scared the crap outta me, and it just made me want more control. But what I learned in the process of all that suffering, through wanting control, was that what felt better was to make a choice. So the power – MY power – lies in making a choice, not in having control. And for the Meta thinkers among you, yes, that is a form of control, but it’s always available.

I chose the power of choice. I choose the power of choice. I choose to be in present time. I choose to come back to my body and to breathe if it starts to feel hard. I choose to examine what I am trying to control when I start to suffer.

The third way that I use this power of transformation really goes back to all my fears that I felt that first night, all the fears of the things that I thought I might miss, and ultimately the fear of dying.

Painfully, I came to realize that I felt entitled.

I’m still struggling with this. I felt entitled to live 80 years. I felt entitled to have a long and happy marriage. I felt entitled to see my son grow up and have a family of his own. But I am not entitled, and I never was.

So, learning and examining how to transform this energy of entitlement has been a huge challenge. But what I discovered is that I can transform it if I shift it into the energy of hope. I hope for a long and abundant life. I hope to witness everything that brings joy. I hope to be there for my husband when he has a crisis some day. I hope to experience love and connection as long as possible.

I never would have chosen cancer. Cancer chose me. I am no longer enjoying the illusion of entitlement, but cancer is not entitled to my sense of hope.

So I invite you in this moment, I’m not sure exactly what time it is, but to take a moment and pause. I feel extraordinary gratitude for this moment, and for each of you, and especially for Patti.

We don’t know what is coming in five minutes or five weeks or five years, but I do know with all my heart that whatever comes along to challenge you or the people that you care about, that you will have the power of choice.

You can choose and transform despair into commitment. You can choose and transform entitlement into hope. You can choose and transform mortal fear into molecule-rearranging love.

So, I’d like for you to remember this little cupcake. (This is where we burn down the room.)

So with this little cupcake, I hope that you’ll remember whatever really raw ingredients life may bring your way, you have the power to choose and transform them into something sweet, into something loving, and profoundly hopeful.

Thank you.

22 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing Laurie with us, Patti. I did not have the privilege of meeting her, but I am grateful to experience a piece of her legacy through the molecule-rearranging love in this talk.

    Reply
  2. Last part of the story for now. Laurie shared with her facebook friends about her favour phlobotimist who came to work with a migraine rather than keave her patients with a replacement. Laurie told her she had a wonderful facebook group who would send prayers and good thought s to her. Her reply was to say Yes please but tell them to pray for me on my best days too – not just my worst days… I spent a week thinking about the lady, rang Laurie and told I’d like to make a GPS for her too. I was nearly finished Laurie’s one but I got the two to send together. On July 4th 2014 I went to my 4 square gracery store and posted off thre packages to Iowa -6 days to arrive – Pennsylvania – 1 week to arrive and the two to Laurie. I began to think I had lost them – they took three weeks to arrive and then on her next visit for blood she took it to the lady. She freaked out and backed up against the wall as if she had seen a ghost! The night before she was so near the end of her rope she went to her computer to look up Prayer Shawls to buy herself one… And the next day Laurie turned up with one that had been travelling and made well before the right time when it arrived!!

    Reply
  3. When our friend Gwyn Michael died Easter 2014 I spoke to Laurie on the phone about her wonderful blog post Re-Mission and how glad we were. She was worried about her good news and Gwyn’s news together but I said we need you to give us hope at such hard times. Forward to a short time later and Caringbridge post becomes “I can see clearly now”.

    Again I phoned from New Zealand wanting to make her a new prayer shawl. For all her friends from her Episcopal Church – I knew you gave her one the first time round but I wanted to make a long scarf one to have at home full of rainbows and bright colours for celebrating the good times and cheering up the hard times so you were part of it too. When she couldn’t go to camp I had this little good idea – I phone Susan and asked if she would take the GPS to camp if Laurie agreed. Fortunately Laurie was ok with it and here was a true transformation with the Energy of Hope. It was a Godwink how that GPS ended up being passed from one camper to another as a sacred holy moment of caring for so much. And many campers wrapped them selves in that GPS UNDER THE HUGE GOLDEN TREE THEY NICKNAMED THE STORY TREE.(Oops when the caps appear I leave them as a NB). So Laurie sent hugs to them and they sent hugs back and the Gracynjoy Prayer Shawl and the Storytree will always be part of LIAVCamp14 – just as the Transformational Cupcake was a part of the 2013 camp. Never was the tagline for the Gracynjoy Prayer Shawls better illustrated – Wrapped in love – knit together with Grace.

    Reply
  4. This talk was the highlight of the 2013 camp for many.

    In 2014 I had my daughter’s wedding the next weekend so I could not even think about attending so I once again was a virtual camper by facebook and phone. The week before camp Laurie posted that she was unable to attend but would “bunk down with Grace and hope I didn’t mind her snoring. That opened the gates for others who wanted to be there too and couldn’t so a private facebook group was created – of course there were 37 members!!!

    That year there was the creation of the Laurie Foley Transformational Cupcake Award to be sent home to Laurie with her Gracynjoy Prayer Shawl of Health Hope and Happiness that had been holding her space at the camp. There is a lovely photo of this somewhere.

    Reply
  5. Happy Valentines Day 2016 from the far side of the sea in the Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa New Zealand. I am at Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre before attending the 10am morning service for the first Sunday in Lent. It is the first Sunday in Lent and last year Laurie facilitated a Lent facebook group so it is very poignant – Anglican is the British term for Episcopalian…I attended the Ash Wednesday service with Laurie in mind and I think she would enjoy what has just happened. I wanted to share her with the Diosicene Training programme student and went to print out one version of this at their computer = somehow the one set of notes became three….

    Reply
  6. Thank you for posting this beautiful, moving talk. I am so sad for you and all those who are losing the mortal part of this wonderful woman, but I rejoice at what she is leaving behind. Her gifts to the world will certainly live on.

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  7. I was there and I remembered the feelings so well but not the words themselves. So thank you. Also a friend was diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer and I hope to share this both comforting and empowering talk.

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  8. I just happened to find this when I was so sad, missing my friend Laurie, and I just googled her name. Thank you for posting this. I was not a participant of the weekend, but I am a friend, a part of Laurie’s parish family at Holy Trinity, and I treasure this opportunity to hear and to see her speaking, and to read more of her words. She will always be with me as well. Thank you Patti for putting this out there on her Internet.

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  9. I feel so fortunate to have been in the room that day, to sit with Laurie and to witness her words. Thank you, Patti, for bringing us Laurie. Again. xo

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  10. The weekend our Mastermind group was together at the lake Laurie worked on her speech and we were so fortunate that she asked us for our thoughts. I can see us all sitting there moved to tears and remember it like it was yesterday. We did not have a copy of it so thank you for sharing the script. She was so incredibly honored to come to your event.

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  11. Thank you Patti for posting this video! Thank you for sharing your dreams and friends with us, so that we, too, could experience the healing and transformative power of words and energy.

    Reply
  12. It warmed my heart to see the photograph that I took of Laurie at Camp 2013 featured with this beautiful post. That one little piece of imagery will remain in my heart forever… her cupcake wisdom held as the sparkling, precious gem that she will always be to me.

    Reply
    • oh, I am so glad to know whose photo that is, Lynne!

      Reply
  13. I was honored to be there that day and hear Laurie speak. So very pleased to see and hear this talk again, thank you Patti.

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  14. Thank you for this gift of Laurie Foley. This is her legacy for our world, and this video keeps her in our hearts.

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  15. Patti, I am just so blown away by the way you were able to pull this together so quickly, especially in light of all that is going on currently in your life. What a special tribute to a dear friend. Witnessing the two of you affects us all. Much love to both you and Laurie and her family.

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  16. Thank you. I have been waiting for this video since camp when I missed part of her talk. Going on without her in the world is beyond my imagination and this helps in a small but measurable way.

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  17. I have no way to say how grateful I am for this. I am in over my head. How can she do this? What shall we do without her?

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  18. Wow, i will never look at a cupcake without this amazing talk in my head. Thank you so mich, it has left me speechless and so comforted. Thank you

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  19. MAR, could you make cards using Laurie’s ending quote and a glittery cupcake?
    It is grand.

    Reply
  20. Oh yes. What a day. Thank you for having camp so we could meet Laurie Foley.

    Reply

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