The Second Best Thing

by Nancy McKay

The second best thing about defying a terminal diagnosis is telling people that I am alive though I’m supposed to be dead. We love stories of beating the odds. We lean in a little to hear how that happened. Some want the medical saga and multiple details. Others seek an explanation. Some just rejoice and give their version of God the credit. Others point out Aunt Mathilda’s miraculous healing.

A few ask about my feelings and hope to hear that love indeed does heal. I can regale some with conversations I’ve had with Jesus. Others perk up at tellings of dreams and guided visualizations. Those who credit diet and exercise with everything good that ever happens turn away in disappointment. The scientific minded beam at the details of the experimental vaccine, the cytoxin, and the surgeries.

I have learned to let them all take what they hear. I still delight in watching the faces of the medically schooled. If I don’t elicit a big response, I poke and prod a bit to dislodge an “OH WOW!” or a “Really?” Makes me feel special. The impressed reactions imitate appreciation and who doesn’t like that?

Yet every telling becomes closer to a memorized and static recitation. No words in unalterable order can hold what I experienced. I don’t want to develop a script and repeat it and repeat it. The liveliness in my experiences is sucked out by rote repetition. More, it was more. More than I had ever had to cope with. More pain, more attention, more fear, and more love.

A terminal diagnosis is a big deal and people pay attention. Not everyone could go there with me. Many can. Small talk slides off the table. Conversations become more real, much more important. A vicarious thrill fills the one who listens to a story that has veered toward death. The time-line shortens and thus intensifies the current running in the conversation. Vivid colors bounce off each other. Strong winds blow with excitement. It almost hurts to breathe the charged air. I can’t remember being so alive.


Nancy McKay gives spiritual direction in the progressive Christian tradition. She also practices and teaches Bio-Spirituality through Focusing. She is a former presenter at the Cancer as a Turning Point, From Surviving to Thriving™ conference and a current Healing Journeys board member.