Relationships

“How Stage IV Cancer Taught Me to Live”

What My Stage IV Cancer Taught Me, by Kate Bowler

When she was 35, Kate Bowler had all she ever wanted: she was a college professor, married to a high-school sweetheart and raising her baby boy. Then, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As her world flipped upside down, Kate wrote a memoir, Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. (What a title.) This week, I spoke to her about nine things she has learned…


1. Everyone is human.
The realization that something genuinely awful could happen to me, that it could happen to anyone, was the most humbling part of this: I’m not the exception to the rule that bad things happen. The silver lining was how it made me feel connected to people around me. Once you let your guard down, you start noticing humility everywhere. I felt like I figured out the secret to the universe: everyone is trying so hard to keep it together. Suddenly, I felt tremendous compassion. That became an entry point into discovering how fragile and beautiful everyone’s life is.

2. You don’t need to be cheerful all the time.
At first, I was great at putting on a front. I was so f-ing cheerful. I’d wake up at 4 a.m., answer all my emails with as many happy emoticons as possible, then fly to a hospital in Atlanta; by 8:30 a.m., I was in blood work, which is THE LITERAL WORST, and there I am, basically whistling. I joyfully received the news of my cancer. It was a nightmare, but I felt like I had to stay positive and prove that everything was okay. Still, I kept hoping, there must be a place where I can just relax. Then a nurse sat down beside me and quietly shared her deepest pain about losing a child — not as a burden, but as a bridge — like, you’re not on the other side of glass. We’re in this together.

3. Stupid presents are good.
My friends and relatives each figured out their love languages. Maybe their thing was totally stupid presents. I was totally into Smencils, so my friend Mandy would bring me weird office supplies. People fed me for over a year; food just kept showing up. Other people who were terrible with words would drive me to appointments in complete silence, and that felt so good. My friend Abbey said — and she was definitely lying — “I really like to clean as a workout, so I’m just going to come on Wednesdays, I hope that’s okay with you.” I needed that so badly.

4. Embrace simple pleasures, like The Bachelor.
We bought a used 31-foot Airstream trailer from the 1980s; it looks like my childhood, just short of popcorn ceilings. It’s in our yard, and we’re taking it on little trips so we don’t have to do other stuff, like laundry or becoming more invested in sea salt. I don’t want to take time to be fancier, I want to be more basic. I also spend an Olympic amount of time in the bath. My mantra is “don’t be above it.” I’m not above The Bachelor. For two years, I wore yoga pants, even to faculty meetings. Whatever makes the world a little gentler so I can do the harder stuff. I want to give myself some grace.

5. Each day has a peak moment.
I think differently about time. Before my diagnosis, I was always trying to get somewhere else. Now I try so hard to be present. There’s a moment every day, when you realize, this is it, this is the mountaintop. My little kid is looking at me with his giant oversized head, and he puts his wet hand on my cheek and says something funny like, I love you more than bananas. And I think, I peaked today! Ahh, that kid, that is my dream. And that head is way too big. Every day we’re trying to get his sweatshirt off, and it’s always too hard.

6. Love is in the details.
Universal platitudes — like “everything happens for a reason” — are so unsatisfying because everything beautiful is specific. Noticing the particularities of your wonderful, totally ridiculous life is the best part. My husband’s eyes and hair are the same color, 100% the same color, and it sounds super blah, but I love it. This is the crappy bungalow I live in, that’s the lawn I’m never going to seed in the fall, this is my life! If you don’t notice life in its specificity, you’re not in it. You’re somewhere else. You’re somewhere else until you’re asked to trade it out, and then all you want are the specifics.

7. It’s okay to feel mad at your body.
Illness makes you feel like you’re stuck in an alien form; I want to crawl out of my skin. I get claustrophobic. How am I trapped in this thing that’s going to kill me? And when you’re in pain, you feel completely alone in the universe. It’s pure isolation. I’ll never forget at time when I was wheeling into surgery and suddenly remembered a poem from college: ‘But one by one we must all file on / through the narrow aisles of pain.’ Having friends find ways to break through that, that is the gift. Embrace anything that shows you that your body is good. A cool breeze. A warm beverage in your hands. Facial products. They remind you that you’re a person, and that helps you fight.

8. Your children will always remember you.
All the time, I’m staring at my son and thinking, am I in there? Have I poured enough of myself into you? We’ve also been trying to create traditions. My mom was so cute: she used to make us apple fritters every time the snow stayed on the ground — the snow had to stick! I’m teaching my son to match pitch, so every morning we sing to the coffee grinder at the top of our lungs and try to match pitch. And every night after dinner, we choose a song and dance.

9. Life is beautiful.
Some friends felt uncomfortable at first because my illness reminded them of their own mortality. And I understand that. I don’t want to be the anti-Oprah who is like, you’re going to die, you’re going to die, look under your chair!!! How to spend the years is the great challenge we all get faced with; mine is just more acute. If we’re fragile, if we’re finite, then what do we love? How do we be brave?


Thank you so much, Kate. You are wonderful.

P.S. What to say to someone in grief, and how to write a condolence note. Also, wholeness vs. happiness.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo. As-told-to interview by Joanna Goddard.)

  1. Cindy Urben says...

    My husband was diagnosed stage 4 colo rectal cancer, given 6 mos to live, it was all over his liver, lymph system , and more, that was 13 years ago! He is in total remission !! If you have any questions for him send me or him , email; csugbi@gmail.com. I will pray for your healing , Cindy Urben

  2. Leanne says...

    I keep thinking about this post, and about this woman and her studying prosperity gospel, and about the title: “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved”.

    The quote I keep returning to is from the writer Ann Patchett:
    “The trouble with good fortune is that people tend to equate it with personal goodness, so that if things are going well for us and as well for others, we think they must have done something to have brought it on themselves. We speak of ourselves as being blessed, what but what can that mean except that others are not blessed, and that God has picked out a few of us to love more? It is our responsibility to care for one another, to create fairness in the face of unfairness, and to find equality where none may have existed in the past.”

    • That’s so beautiful Leanne!

    • Lauren says...

      I love Ann Patchett – and I love that quote, Thank you!

    • Rhonda says...

      I absolutely love this quote. Ty Leanne!

  3. Stella Tinglin-Webb says...

    Thank you for this…I agree with all of these learnings. I have just spent the last year being treated for Stage 3 breast cancer and learning to stay present (still working on it) has been such a gift. xoxo

  4. …and I’m crying in the car waiting to pick my son up from a birthday party. I’m going to squeeze that kid extra tight.

  5. kaela says...

    “Whatever makes the world a little gentler so I can do the harder stuff.” I needed that line. It feels encouraging to just -be- in a hard season. Thank you for sharing. xo

  6. Amanda Butler says...

    Thank you for sharing Jo and Kate – very thought provoking and heartbreaking ! We are all in such a race to the next goal that we forget to stop and appreciate the here and now! I am often reminding my partner Hamish to BE present – one never knows how life can change in a second!! Sending you both love and blessings !

  7. “I don’t want to take time to be fancier, I want to be more basic”
    and the poem ‘But one by one we must all file on / through the narrow aisles of pain.’
    I’m just bawling like a baby over here. This is so powerful. Thank you!

  8. Cara says...

    Love this line: “Whatever makes the world a little gentler so I can do the harder stuff. I want to give myself some grace.”

  9. I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer almost 4 years ago at 45. I tried to get pregnant when I was 41 as a single mother but it didn’t happen. I love CupofJo so much despite not being married or a mother. The one thing I do have in common with this post is how my life has changed and how I (sometimes) struggle with moving forward without fear taking over and wondering how much time I have left. Dating is a huge challenge when I reveal to a potential partner I do not have breasts (and did not reconstruct). Cancer changes your life. I send love and strength to Kate and her family.

    • mamabird says...

      Sending mountains of strength to you Rachel and wishing you happiness.

    • Mirna says...

      You are inspirational Rachel! I send love and strength to you!

    • Also wishing you happiness Rachel.

  10. Kelly says...

    Thank you Kate and Joanna for this incredible piece and powerful reminder of all that is important in life – the fact that Kate and her son dance after every dinner, the little details in our daily lives that matter so much, the fact that life is finite and so very precious. I remember when my mom was very sick, and we were living in a heightened state of grief, I kept looking around me at work, on the subway, in parks, wondering, how many other people are enduring this right now? What if that guy who was rude to me has a child in the hospital and he is just trying to survive his day. Just like Kate said, we feel connected to others when we start viewing the world from a sense of compassion.

  11. Katherine says...

    Thank you for this. This is a lifetime of insights – at once heartbreaking and illuminating; general and yet so personal and specific. It’s what we all need to hear. Thank you for sharing what you have realized through your diagnosis, Kate.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. My mother has stage 4 breast cancer and reading this really helped me understand her perspective.

  13. Allison says...

    Stunning. She will live in my thoughts and heart forever; especially the line you highlighted on Instagram and the reverberating anti-Oprah analogy. I smile and cringe at the same time, which is the point I think. Love to all.

  14. Christa says...

    My 4 year old son was recently diagnosed with Leukemia and I am in tears reading this. I am grateful to read these words and cry while he is taking a nap. I know that when he wakes up, all he wants to to is embrace all of the stupid gifts and simple pleasures in the most sincere way possible.

    • Jg says...

      I am so so sorry you’re going through this.

    • Allison says...

      I too am sorry for your son’s illness and your pain. Love to you – in all the simple pleasures and hard struggles.

    • Molly says...

      Sending you and your family strength and light.

    • rachael says...

      I too am so sorry that you are having to deal with this. Please know that your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Christa, I’m so sorry to hear of your son’s diagnosis. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age 2. She is about to turn 7… 4 years cancer free. From once cancer mom to another, I am sending you a virtual hug.

    • Lauren says...

      Sending you so much love, Christa.

  15. Katherine says...

    I am going to have to come back later to finish reading these comments, because I’m too overcome to continue. Thank you for this, Joanna and Kate. We are human, which means we are messy and complicated and broken and healing and a million other things all at once, and that is okay. Kate, your outlook on life and what it means to truly live is astounding and humbling. My peak of today is reading this, and sharing love with other readers through the comments, while I’m ugly crying in my hammock in my backyard, feeling the breeze and sunshine on my unshaven, hairy legs.

  16. Anna says...

    Wow, the thing with „being specific“ absolutely blew my mind!
    Beautifully said, so true, so simple, so important, so great.
    I wish you all the strength and love in the world and Thanks for sharing. Love from Germany.

  17. Hannah says...

    Joanna, thanks for this post. After my mom’s diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer several months ago, the Kate Bowlers and the Paul Kalanithis have helped me through. I was also moved very much by Lucy’s words on this week’s Modern Love podcast and pleasantly surprised to run into her in the second half of the episode. Cheers to you, her, and her magical couch. Life is beautiful.

  18. Liz says...

    My father-in-law who I love so dearly was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. I can’t even think to write more or I will cry and I’m at work so I feel the need to keep it together. I have been trying to figure out how to be around him (I mean how many times do people ask him, “how are you doing?” with the world’s saddest overtone), how to help him (to quote the Crown, “death by bad conversation” could be deadly so I thought maybe just talking to him about…all the silly stuff we normally talk about is still ok), but mostly wondering what he is thinking without wanting to ask directly and this is so…helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Cora says...

    #4; that one resonated. What can we do to ease the day in order to face the hard stuff. Yoga pants at staff meetings seems like a great first step.

  20. Dana says...

    This is wonderful. I haven’t read Kate’s book yet, but her recent interview with Terri Gross is amazing. I cried from start to finish, thinking about my little boys and about losing my own mother to cancer ten years ago. She cracked me right open in the best possible way. Thank you for this post.

  21. This illustration is so fitting and beautiful.

  22. Carrie Cloud says...

    Thank you, looking forward to reading.

  23. Melanie says...

    So, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cololorectal cancer recently. Lots of thoughts after I read this…
    Most of all, I love her sense of humor and perspective.
    I’m not sure if I would have known the “right” thing to say to a friend before this. So I can’t fault well-intentioned friends/family. But I try to emphasize that I’m the same person. I’m working full-time as a physician (wow, and though I thought I was compassionate before, this has given me a whole new respect for what patients experience), and doing the same activities with my husband (ironically, an oncologist) and 2 young daughters.
    I hate drama and people fussing over me, so I’m quick to redirect our conversations. I hate the way cancer (more than many other serious medical conditions) seems to define one’s identity. I want to talk about other things (like how to make a good cocktail) rather than how lousy I feel with chemo or how I struggle to eat (thank goodness I’m not a chef or food critic!).
    Most of all, I value kindness. From those I know, and those I don’t (have gotten teary-eyed when a car let me in when driving).
    Thanks for this post.

    • Katherine says...

      Melanie, my heart goes out to you and your family as you navigate through this time. My dad has Stage IV esophageal cancer and he, too, doesn’t just want to sit around talking about his cancer, as that is not what defines him. I hope those near and dear to you still see you as the person you are. For my dad, it’s his photography and continuing his Meals on Wheels route.

    • Hayley says...

      Sending you so much love and a warm embrace, Melanie. Your family and your patients are so lucky to have you.

    • Mirna says...

      Sending you my warmest thoughts Melanie…

  24. My very beloved, kind, generous mother in law passed away from colon cancer, and I was so angry. Angry we didn’t catch it earlier. Angry it was happening to her. Angry she had to move to Korea to get proper medical care because she wasn’t on her medicare yet (2 years until she qualified, and she retired earlier feeling quite healthy, and thought it wasn’t important to have insurance until she got to 65). Thankfully, she was able to get health care in Korea, as they have nationalized health care, and even if you have taken citizenship in another country, if you were born there, you can buy into the insurance system. Unfortunately, her cancer was extremely aggressive, and she was gone before a year. I got pregnant with my 2nd child while she was nearing the end, and while she never got to meet her grandson, I feel like she gave him part of her heart because he reminds me of my mother in law — kind, giving, patient…
    Reading all your words made me so happy! Thank you for sharing all these words of wisdom and love — I cried and laughed, and now want to go watch the Golden Girls in my robe without any judgment.

  25. Faith says...

    Gorgeous! Thank you. faith.

  26. Xenia says...

    So beautiful and touching your heart. Love is in details indeed. Simple as it is, but we often forget it.
    Thank you for sharing.

  27. Kelli says...

    I really loved this article; this line in particular:
    “You’re somewhere else until you’re asked to trade it out, and then all you want are the specifics.”

    It’s a valuable lesson; a reminder to be present and I’m thankful to Kate for the reminder.

    • Jane says...

      This line stick a chord with me too, and many others did too. I printed out this essay so I can read it again and again.

  28. Julie says...

    Just beautiful. Many great reminders for each and everyone one of us, no matter where we are on the mortality spectrum – or where we may not know we are.

  29. Chloe says...

    Stunning post, cannot wait to read Kate’s book. And THANK YOU for linking to an indie bookstore! They are necessary for writers and publishers to keep doing what they do! Thank you for supporting small business, it means so much.

  30. Lauren says...

    I am so grateful for this post, it hits every feeling.
    Kate Bowler and Nora McInerny really need to meet/talk – they would be the perfect match.

  31. I told my friend who at 38 has been diagnosed with stage IV incurable cancer, to listen to Kate’s interview on Fresh Air because I loved her attitude and outlook. I will also forward this to her because I think she will find it comforting. And Kate, no your children won’t forget you. My Mom died 26 years ago from cancer and I honestly think of her every day. It’s the little things; her smell, how she always drank iced tea, how she used to do the Jane Fonda workout…

  32. MCK says...

    I have to learn to stop reading these touching, beautifully-written posts and the comments section at work! I’m either laughing out loud at my office desk or crying or in this case, both!

  33. Carla says...

    I fell in love with Kate Bowler when listening to her Fresh Air interview, and her podcast has been life-altering for me. Thank you for featuring such a wonderful person!

  34. alycia says...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this, COJ. And thank you, Kate, for your openness, strength, humor, and love.

  35. AJ says...

    Just beautiful… thank you ❤️

  36. Heidi says...

    This, this is so beautiful. Reading this is my “peak” today!!

  37. Erin says...

    “Don’t be above it”. Love that. Going to live by that.

  38. Annie says...

    Oh, what a lovely interview! Kate sounds wonderful.

    I am also 35 and am currently watching my 38 year old best friend enter her final stages of brain cancer. It has been surreal to witness this from beginning to end in our 30’s, and I don’t understand why cancer seems to be so much more prevalent in our generation, yet there are no covered preventative tests without cause. That being said, I can’t imagine going through what she’s been through at any age.

    My thoughts are with you, Kate. I’m so glad you have such a wonderful support system around you with your family, and your sense of humor is inspiring (the Oprah bit made me literally lol)!

  39. Jamie says...

    Goodness, what beautiful lessons.

  40. Amelia says...

    What a beautiful moving post, I feel lucky to have read it. Thanks also for linking to Powell’s to buy Kate’s book, it was so refreshing and important to see an independent book store rather than amazon.

  41. Eliza says...

    Best piece ever.

  42. Marlena says...

    “You’re somewhere else until you’re asked to trade it out, and then all you want are the specifics.” THIS. RIGHT HERE. I learned this with the passing of my father. What I wouldn’t give to go back for one hour to take in the specifics with him. Even now, even the ugly stuff, I work hard to notice it and take it in because it’s the specifics and those moments are everything.

  43. Thank you, Kate, for sharing your words and reminding me (on a day I needed reminding) that life is beautiful. While not even remotely the same, I am struggling (quite hard lately) with infertility. Some days I despise my body for not being able to do the one thing it should do as a woman. Your list made me laugh, and I think sometimes laughter can fix anything.

    • Elissa says...

      Hi Kelly – I’m in a similar boat as you – I’m 37 and I’ve just suffered my 2nd miscarriage after trying for years and feel the same way about my body. This made me realize I need to be present more often and enjoy all the things around me – not just focus on the urge to get pregnant. My husband, my friends, my family will only be here a finite amount of time, and I need to remember to be here now. Sending love from another lady struggling with infertility – I hope you get what you’ve been wishing for so deeply. xoxo.

  44. Kimberly G says...

    It’s truly amazing that this post and this site has inspired so many to be so open, and honest, in sharing our struggles, and the joys that keep us moving. All so heart wrenching, and also beautiful. My heart aches for all of our pains. ♥️

    • Jane says...

      Yes! This.

  45. Thank you for this. What a beautiful read. My father was diagnosed unexpectedly with metatastic melanoma this time last year. He was given the weekend to live. We are so grateful that over a year later he is still with us. My heart goes out to all those living with cancer and their loved ones. Since being diagnosed my father (who was a teacher, and was teaching right up until the week he was diagnosed) has started writing a blog, it is mostly a collection of his musings. He says he is writing down his stores, for us, his children. But it’s given him the platform to pursue his writing – something he has always wanted to explore – as well as a renewed sense of purpose. Serendipitously, his latest post (https://how2livewithcancer.blogspot.ie/2018/03/71-blog-sites.html), is a compilation of terminal cancer blogs that he has found useful and entertaining throughout the past year. I hope this post and his blog may be of some help to others going through similar experiences.

  46. Lisa says...

    I have an aunt that was my mother because I was raised by a single father. She died of cancer a few years ago and I think about her daily. I feel like she poured herself into me and I will never forget her. She shows up in my mind and heart every single day with seemingly small things that are lodged in my memories (like rubbing on my face cream just like she would…). My husband and I named our daughter after her and she’s in her too. Your sons will never forget.

  47. Maryann says...

    Oh my, her words are so tender and real and funny. I really loved the giant head comment – I remember that stage like it was yesterday. My son was such a bobble head.

  48. Silly gifts, yes! When my now husband was diagnosed with leukemia, we talked about how his health would change once he went through treatment. His grossly enlarged spleen (the “filter” full of bad cancer cells) would shrink back to it’s normal size. So I bought him a stuffed spleen from Uncommon Goods (they have a whole collection of hilarious stuffed organs). He kept it with him when he was in the hospital for treatment. The staff all got a kick out of it, too.

  49. Harriet says...

    Dear Kate, I’m so sorry about your illness and hope that as you face the end of life, you find faith in God and hope in eternal life if you have not already. Thanks also for that last portion about being the anti-Oprah, it made me chuckle a bit.

    My grandmother who lived with my family for so many years passed away in November and every day since that morning has been a firm reminder that life is so fragile and does indeed come to an end. Sending you loads of courage and lots of love. God bless you!

  50. Chelsa Williams says...

    Thank you so much for this post! It is fantastic perspective – and truly I wish we could be on the receiving end of it without such a terrible cancer dx to be at the root of it. But, I am grateful for Kate – that she is sharing her thoughts/world with us.

    PSA (because it is my line of work/a passion) It is Colon Cancer Awareness Month – every month should be truly – one of the strongest risk factors is a family history of endometrial, ovarian, gastric, colon, pancreatic – these cancers are all a part of Lynch Syndrome. Lynch Syndrome is a genetic predisposition you are BORN with to any of the above cancers. Often when there is young or multiple occurrences of cancer in a family, you should receive genetic risk testing to determine if you need earlier and more frequent screenings. Of course a personal dx of any of these cancers before age 50 is automatic clinical indication for genetic testing. 1 in 422 people are affected with Lynch Syndrome and less than 5% have been diagnosed. Knowledge is Power – always, always be proactive about your health and seek help if your doctor doesn’t proactively discuss with you!
    https://lynchcancers.com

    • Tess says...

      Thank you for the PSA! Sometimes all it takes is one seed of advice to have a huge impact on all who read it. Just a nudge even from a stranger!

  51. Jamie says...

    This article is written in such a beautiful, unrestrained, human way. All the best to Kate and thanks for sharing with us.

  52. Catherine says...

    Thank you, Kate! & Joanna, thank you for also linking to Powell’s books instead of Amazon. Love the switch.

  53. Cinders says...

    Wow. That is some bracing, and much needed, perspective. On good days, as well as bad days, I get lost in the whole need-to-do, should-have-done, hamster-on-the-wheel mindset and lose the gift of the moment.
    A beautiful message.

  54. Laura says...

    “we don’t have to do other stuff, like laundry or becoming more invested in sea salt. ”

    hahaha, loved this line.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      me too! i laughed out loud like 30 times on the phone with her. she’s really amazing.

  55. This was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing Kate’s story.

  56. Jessica says...

    This line… “All the time, I’m staring at my son and thinking, am I in there? Have I poured enough of myself into you?” it knocked the wind out of me. I lost my best friend last summer and she died on her son’s 3rd birthday. Her biggest fear was that he would not remember her and I worry every day about keeping her ‘alive’ for him. This line helped me realize that even if he doesn’t explicitly remember her, she’s in there. I see evidence of it all the time. I hope she knows that too.

  57. Lizzie says...

    Thank you for your incredible words, Kate!

  58. Kim says...

    Well said Kate. I have stage IV metastatic breast cancer. It has changed the way I see the world. Everyday is a blessing. I’ m grateful for all the little things and live in the moment.

  59. Sinking into the ground over this line: All the time, I’m staring at my son and thinking, am I in there? Have I poured enough of myself into you?

  60. “Everything beautiful is specific.”
    Precisely this post. What a warm and wise writer. I smiled, I cried and felt immediately compelled to open my arms and heart to all who I love and have loved. Thanks for sharing this.

  61. Ramona says...

    It is helpful for all of us when people with serious or even terminal illnesses have the ability to express themselves so clearly and honestly. It’s hard to know how to “be there” for someone going through something like that, and I think that well-meaning instincts like giving advice or being super positive aren’t always helpful for sick people.

    And YES your kids will remember you! According to attachment theory, a child’s strong attachment to their parents as a baby forms the basis of the child’s close relationships for the rest of their life. So even if your child is too young to have specific memories of what you look like or do, that attachment will always be there and will help your child have good friendships, good partnerships, and be a good parent.

  62. Abby Low says...

    Pure goodness. I’m a devout listener of Kate’s podcast. So much wisdom.

  63. Liv says...

    Joanna, I don’t know how you conceive of these posts and find people to write so exquisitely, but your posts bring me to tears (in a good way!) on a regular basis. Thank you so much. ❤️

  64. Maggie A. says...

    SUCH a wonderful post, Joanna and team. My favorite line is from #5, “Before my diagnosis, I was always trying to get somewhere else. Now I try so hard to be present”. This is something that I have always struggled with – looking forward to X or when X happens then things will be X. Life is short, I am making a concerted effort to TRULY enjoy the present! Thank you for this.

  65. I can really relate to this as my mother is going through stage IV cancer. My goal when I am around her or contact her in any way is to remind her she is still a person. Cancer at this stage, or really any, has such a brutal way of stripping your sense of self. So if I can provide even the smallest distraction to make her belly laugh, think of a sassy comment, or have a genuinely warm smile, I know I’ve at least helped a little. It also helps me to know that no matter the outcome that I can offer her some sort of comfort. I can’t take her pain away, but I can be there with her in it.

    • Katherine says...

      My dad has Stage IV cancer, so I feel this very much, too, Adelaide. Peace be with you and your mom and family.

  66. Colleen says...

    My favorite post you’ve ever done. So beautiful, funny, and real.

  67. Richelle says...

    My beautiful, brilliant, quirky, funny, blue eyed son passed away at 13 yrs old, after 3 years of grueling treatment, from cancer. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of his treatment. Truly the darkest times… My peak moments were laying on my bed with him reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” together laughing until we had tears streaming and our bellies hurt. Life is beautiful.❤️

    • Virginia Galvan says...

      Just sending you love. Love, love, love to you.

    • Miruska says...

      Sending a lot of love to you. I have no idea how you find strength to go on after something like that, but I admire you for it and it is so inspiring. I wish you all the best.

    • Laura C. says...

      Lots of love and lots of hugs, Richelle.

    • Caitlin says...

      I’m in awe of your courage and so very sorry for your loss.

    • Katherine says...

      Richelle, my heart is with you and your family. I love that books were a happy memory for you and your son. How wonderful to be able to reread them now and think of him and his laugh. Peace and blessings to you, dear heart.

    • Sending you so much love and peace <3

  68. Giselle says...

    thank you, thank you, thank you from the very bottom of my heart. to kate, for her courage in sharing her story to give us an opportunity to think about how we are approaching life. to joanna, for giving us a space and community of constant inspiration, realness, and relevance. I love this blog so much.

  69. Nicole says...

    What beautiful words and yet another gut wrenchingly positive reminder that life is short, we are all truly trying our best, and it is ok to cut yourself a break, put the phone down, make yourself laugh, dance in the mirror, take a deep breath and do everything in your power to embrace each moment with the utmost gratitude and humility! Positive Energy and Love to Kate! <3

  70. Julia says...

    I always wonder if my friends would also be like yours: cooking for me, coming over for “no” reason, just to spend time with me, being there for me. I think having friends like yours is such a great gift. Lots of people are afraid of doing someting wrong or – like you say – to be reminded that they will die one day.

  71. Kate says...

    This was wonderful to read. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and while it’s not life-threatening like cancer, I struggle daily with how to feel like myself and not give up on a body that’s constantly in pain and fighting me. Her reminder that you don’t need to be cheerful all the time is especially helpful, as I tend to put on a sunny outlook to friends and family, only letting my husband in to how awful I’m really feeling.

    Thanks so much for sharing this <3

    • Kat says...

      Hi Kate,

      This is also a struggle for me, as I live with multiple chronic pain conditions and am currently recovering from my 13th surgery. I used to hide the pain underneath all of that artificially neon sunshine that you speak of, but then I came to realize that no one will ever understand my truth (and for me, that means a daily war waged with your body) unless I speak it. So I speak that truth a little more often now, and that’s been freeing. <3

  72. A says...

    This. Oh, this. All of it.

    I am thirty with a seven week old baby, and I found a lump in my breast over the weekend. I am having a biopsy on Monday. On this side of that, all I can think about is #8…and how he wouldn’t remember me. I am terrified of that version of our future.

    Sending so much love to Kate, and to all the other readers.

    • Laura C. says...

      Everything is going to be OK. I send you a big hug.

    • Nikki B says...

      Thinking of you today. Hope it all went well. hugs.

    • mollcoll says...

      Just sent some positive vibes your way, A.

    • My best friend was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer while she was 5 months pregnant. It was tough going for a while, but she’s now cancer-free with a healthy 1.5 year old, a new house, and a new job. I hope your story works out similarly (or with no cancer at all!) and sending hopeful thoughts and good vibes your way.

    • Virginia Galvan says...

      Sending you love and a reminder to keeping breathing through this. I have been there and understand. Will say a prayer for the best possible outcome.

    • Leah says...

      Thinking of you and your sweet baby and wishing you only the best!!

  73. Anne says...

    I feel the need to save this and reread it regularly…so much poignancy and truth in one piece.

  74. annie says...

    I felt wonderfully alive while reading this. Thank you for sharing pieces of your journey, Kate. Sending you every good wish.

  75. Megan says...

    This is the most beautiful and truthful thing I’ve ever read. My mom has been living with Stage IV breast cancer for the last three years, and I want to call her and ask (and care!) about every detail of her life. “If you don’t notice life in its specificity, you’re not in it. ” Right to the heart.

    Personally, last year I had a molar pregnancy. After getting the “all clear” after nearly a year of waiting on blood work and more blood work, we miscarried again last week. I feel so mad at my body, but after reading this, I’m practically in tears just holding my hot cup of tea.

    Thank you, Kate, for transcending even cancer and making us all feel connected. As Maya Angelou often quoted “I am human, and I think nothing of which is human is alien to me.”

    • theresa says...

      I am so sorry for your truly; people say I understand how you feel, and maybe that’s true. But there are those of us who have been through it, a semi-secret club you’d rather not be part of. sending you love and hugs ~

  76. Thank you for sharing your heart, your pain, and the highs and lows in between. Much love from all of us to you.

  77. Sarah says...

    Thank you for this post. This is one of the most honest, heartfelt pieces I’ve ever read.

  78. Ali says...

    This really had me choked up. My sister-in-law’s wonderful mum has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and we’re all a bit lost with it. This is such a wonderful reminder of all the wonderful things about life, even for those of us who aren’t battling something like this. Thank you.

  79. Natasha says...

    Oh my goodness, this is so beautiful. Thank you Kate for sharing. I have tears in my eyes. Wishing you moments of joy every day. xo

  80. Ceridwen says...

    Made me cry. Very beautiful and I Love the idea of looking at and embracing the specifics of your life. My mum also has stage 4 colon cancer. It’s been tough. It has also sucked us all in together and she is enjoying the specifics of her life and we are enjoying those with her. I now appreciate when her name pops up on my phone. There have been times when she felt too unwell to talk. In those times I lay beside her. My dad just posted a photo on Instagram of her driving, looking so full of joy and life. Thank you for your beautiful post and sharing the image of your little kid with wet hands in your face and a too big head.

  81. J says...

    As an ostomy nurse in a busy top 10 US hospital I have a completely different view of this journey. The number of young adults being diagnosed with colon cancer has steadily increased over the past decade (especially in the Caucasian population). Our patient population went from the elderly to a lot of young adults … which is alarming to say the least. I urge everyone to read the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/signs-and-symptoms-of-colon-cancer.html

    https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/colorectal-cancer-rates-rising-in-younger-people-3-key-takeaways.html

  82. One of my favorite articles on this blog! So touching and tender. :)

  83. Stephanie says...

    I was diagnosed 1 year ago tomorrow with Stage 3 rectal cancer. I was 38 at the time, with two young kids, 3 and 5. Thank you for putting into words so much of how I feel, which I often have a hard time articulating to friends and family. A cancer diagnosis is a very lonely place to be, no matter how much love and support is surrounding you. Thank you also for the permission to “not be above it”– I too indulge in extra long baths, watch the Real Housewives whenever I feel like it, wear soft leggings every day and treat myself to yummy smelling face products just because they make me feel good. My biggest fear in life is not being around to raise my kids into adulthood, but your words that they will always remember me brings me comfort.

  84. “There’s a moment every day, when you realize, this is it, this is the mountaintop. My little kid is looking at me with his giant oversized head, and he puts his wet hand on my cheek and says something funny like, I love you more than bananas. And I think, I peaked today!”

    This is going on the fridge.

  85. margaret says...

    lovely and inspirational

  86. L says...

    What a beautiful post. My two year old was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and there was a lot articulated in Kate’s writing that I haven’t found the words to say on my own. Reading all of the comments just reminds me how many incredibly difficult things happen to so many good people. Sending out love to all and will be going back to read this over and over.

    • d says...

      I wish I could reach through this computer and give you a hug. So very sorry that you’re going though this right now. You and your little one in my thoughts.

    • Jill says...

      Oh that is so incredibly hard. Wishing you and your son strength, healing and peace. Kids are more resilient than we could ever imagine. Hope you get all the support you need.

    • Lauren says...

      sending you so much love. I have a 17 month old and can’t imagine what you’re going through. I realize there are no words, but I came here to say that you’re not alone.

  87. Beautiful post! Yes to #2! I.had a molar pregnancy that basically is a tumor forming in utero instead of a baby. That tumor was stubborn and became cancerous. I would downplay the whole thing and tell everyone I was.okay, it’s not that bad. I was doing the whole Spiel to a nurse and she said to me that it was okay to feel sad and that what I was going through was hard. Having that acknowledged made a world of a difference. I then allowed myself to know that what I was going through was hard and to stop comparing myself to everyone else. Nurses are amazing. I am well now. Recently, I went back after 3 years with my new squirmy healthy baby and told her that she made an impact on me. It was a surreal experience to be back in the chemo Ward, this time on the healthy side. Health is something that is so appreciated!

  88. M says...

    Thanks, Kate! Number 8 (Your children will always remember you) resonated with me. My mom died of cancer when I was six. I remember her every day and the special memories we shared, including making chocolate chip cookies and eating dough from the mixer on the stairs.

  89. sandy says...

    I have Stage 4 BC, all of these things ring true. I might add our family mantra…be present and be nimble. Simple words, but so important as we navigate this- terrifying and beautiful all at once phase in my life.

  90. Vida says...

    Being an oncologist has been a continuing life lesson for me. My patients often remind me that everyday is a fragile gift, and that it’s the simple pleasures (a child’s laugh, a friend’s smile, the silence when it’s snowing outside, the gift of a shared family recipe, the sound of wind through the trees) that really help shape life. As you can see, others are finding a bonding comfort by your sharing your experiences. “Notice the details.” Thank you, Kate.

  91. Erika says...

    Yes. Everyone is just trying to keep it together. How much better the world would be if we all kept that at the very front of our minds.

  92. Peg says...

    Thank you for this. I’m an oncology social worker (previously a hospice social worker), and I sent this to my work email to read and read again when I need to. 11 years ago this month my son was hospitalized with what would turn out to be Guillain-Barre Syndrome. He became almost completely paralyzed, had to have a trach to help him breathe, and had a feeding tube because he lost 30 lbs. He was 19 and in the middle of his second semester of college. When people said, “There’s a reason for everything,” I wondered (and still do) what could possibly be the reason for this. It was awful awful awful, but it just happened to him. Bad things happen, and we usually don’t know why. I will purchase this book, which I’m sure will help me in my professional and personal lives.

    • L says...

      Oh wow. Peg, I am so sorry. I am a hospice social worker and my toddler was recently diagnosed with cancer. Truly shook me to the core to find myself on the other side of things. Sending you much love and peace.

    • Heather says...

      Peg, your story about your son really touched me. At 14 I experienced severe blood clots in my leg and lungs, with many complications that landed me in the hospital for months. Now, it’s been nearly 14 years since that episode, and as an adult it is just beginning to dawn on me what a complete hell it must have been for my parents. I’m so sorry that you and your son had to go through that expeirence, and am sending so much light and love to you today. While I was in the hospital my family and I were lucky to have amazing social workers helping us navigate my illness, recovery and subsequent diagnosis of a rare metabolic disorder. Thank you to you and all of the work that you do for your clients!

  93. Kerry says...

    So so good. Such important truths and reminders and kicks-in-the-ass.

    I saw a billboard this week that said: GET UNSTUCK.

    Wow. I love that billboard and I love this post. Get unstuck, get your head outta the sand, get moving, get going, get on it all.

  94. This is so awesome. The “anti-Oprah” line totally made me LOL. I wish I could go have coffee with Kate. I get her better than I wish I did.

  95. Andrea says...

    She studies the prosperity gospel, she doesn’t endorse it. The PG is just heresy in modern clothes.

  96. Kate has a really amazing way of communicating – I’ve heard her in many different forums at this point – and I always take something (usually many new things) away with me that are truly helpful.

    She really has a talent for communicating on illness and life. Well done, Kate – thank you for sharing with us!

    • Stephanie says...

      I’ve not heard her before but I so agree about the take away…
      “If you don’t notice life in its specificity, you’re not in it. You’re somewhere else.” This really hit me, along with what she said about not being above anything. ❤️

  97. Shan says...

    Gahhh tears – beautiful post.

  98. Kimberly G says...

    Thank you so much for this post.

    My family has gone through hell in the last six months.
    We lost a close family member to a horrific attempted carjacking. The details are just devastating. It’s been so hard. And the struggle doesn’t get better. We’re wading through change of lawyers, pleas, a trial, and god forbid, appeals…etc. It is horrifically heart wrenching. Some days feel brighter, and thank god we have so many young children to bring us out of our darkest times. This was such a good reminder on a particularly hard day for me, and my entire family. Thank you. I need reminders like these to stay present for my children, and to enjoy the small things that can really turn into the big things with time and reflection.

    • Lisa C says...

      Sending love. This sounds so hard. xoxo – another die hard cup of jo reader.

    • Stephanie says...

      Hugs to you!

    • Courtney says...

      <3 I’m so sorry.

    • Neile says...

      Very sorry someone did such a terrible thing to your family. Wishing you love and healing.

    • Kimberly G says...

      Thank you so much, I truly appreciate the kind words.

      Anyone have any contacts in the media? I spend my days annoying the new District Attorney in Philly and begging my representatives for help in seeking justice.

      Luckily for us, we have a literal army of people fighting with us. ♥️

    • Ellen, Australia says...

      Kimberly I am so sorry to read this. The court process must be compounding the grief. Thank goodness for children to lighten the mood when it’s needed most. Thinking of you and your family x

  99. Ooooh, this is so wonderful. Thank you, Kate. And thank you, Joanna, for sharing this with your readers. I laughed, I cried. Gold.

  100. Audrey Johnson says...

    I previously worked in the Cancer Unit of a hospital. We were taught many things to try and be the best support for our patients. These little tidbits are wonderful. They show appreciation and acceptance that most of us will never understand. Thank you for sharing this story and the advice.

  101. Emma says...

    Thank you so much for this post. Kate, I’m so sorry you and your family are faced with this. I resonated with so much of what you wrote. I’m going to look up your book right now. I am 15 weeks pregnant, and last week, found out that my baby has unsurvivable health issues, most likely due to chromosomal abnormalities. I feel like I am in a nightmare waiting to wake up. My husband and I are now faced with a horrible decision and I don’t know where to start. Thanks for being a safe place where I can share and hugs to everyone who needs them today.

    • Peg says...

      I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Emma.

    • Sandra says...

      I just wanted to say I am so very sorry you are going through this heartache.

    • KGB says...

      Sending you thoughts and prayers Emma. There are no words.

    • Jackie says...

      Oh, Emma. I had a similar experience. Sending so much love your way. As someone who is on the other side (if that is even a thing), I can share that right after a diagnosis like that, it feels like you’re standing in an ocean and waves hit you every second. Over time, the waves become farther apart. You can breathe. And then, every once in a while, one hits again when you least expect it.

      For me, when someone called a little girl by my daughter’s name at the farmers’ market. Hearing her name was so bittersweet. And strangely enough, I kind of revel in those unexpected waves knocking me over again. It reminds me that I loved, and I survived. But mostly, that I loved.

      Hugs to you.

    • Madeline says...

      Sending love and hope for healing to you. I am so, so sorry.

    • Alisa says...

      Sending love your way. F*%! That’s so hard.

    • Sending love to you, your husband, and your baby. Just the hardest thing ❤️❤️❤️

    • Courtney says...

      <3

    • Heather says...

      Sending so much love and light to you and your husband.

    • Meg says...

      Hugs to you, emma. I’ve been where you are. You are stronger than you know. Take good care.

    • A big hug to you too Emma!

    • Vickie says...

      Sending you strength Emma. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

    • Cate says...

      My heart too goes out to you, Emma. I’ve been in a similar position too and was trying to think of what to say but Jackie put it best. Time helps…..and I finally found a therapist who specializes in pregnancy loss and it helped the healing start. Hugs.

    • Katherine says...

      Emma, my heart is with you. I don’t know how to comfort or soothe someone who is facing this, but I’m sending love to you, wherever you are.

  102. Elyse says...

    Beautifully put. As a 35-year old who was recently diagnosed with Stage IV incurable cancer, with a 1-year old to boot, I just sent this article to my friends and family. It so perfectly expresses so much of what I have been unable to articulate.

    • Emma says...

      Sending you so much love, Elyse, from this comments section.

    • misha says...

      Elyse, I’m so sorry. I’m thinking of you this evening & sending you gentle hugs.

    • Emily says...

      My heart goes out to you. There are no words, and yet so glad that someone has helped find them.

    • M says...

      <3

    • Amy says...

      Oh, so much love to you, Elyse.

    • Wendy says...

      Hug

    • Lauren O'Neill says...

      Elyse, I’m so sorry you are going through this. I wish I could squeeze your hand through those hard times because I too am teetering on stage IV metastatic cancer following a rare sarcoma resection two years ago. I wish you all the best + sending you love and light through the difficult and trying times.

    • Courtney says...

      <3

    • Blandine says...

      I am so sorry Elyse. I am glad this article helped you put words on your feelings and I am sending you tons of strength and light.

    • Liz says...

      I am so sorry xx

    • Heather says...

      Warmest hugs to you and your family, Elyse.

    • Maia says...

      I’m so sorry, Elyse. Xoxo

    • Virginia says...

      Sending you love and peace.

    • Vera says...

      Big hugs to you, Elyse and Lauren.

    • Katherine says...

      Elyse, my heart is with you. Sending you so much love and peace, wherever you are.

  103. Lindsey says...

    Kate these words are beautiful and centered me today. Thank you!

    Cup of Jo team – thank you for linking the book via Powells instead of Amazon. That is such a simple way you can support local independent bookstores. What a great idea! Thank you!

    • Luna says...

      Yes! I came to say this about the Powell’s link as well. Thank you Cup of Jo!

  104. Diana says...

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience, Kate! I am a cancer doctor and am constantly reminded of our own mortality. I know exactly what you mean by appreciating daily peaked moments and being present: something one shouldn’t take a granted! What profound insight to the universe. Sometimes you realize, it takes so little to be happy. Remember the scene “All it takes is chocolate ice cream!” in “Life is Beautiful”? Enjoy your family, Kate!

  105. Kate says...

    I’m coming up on 5 years without my mama, whom I lost to stage IV breast cancer. So much of this hit me hard. Instead of cheerful, my mom was endlessly hopeful that her treatment would work, so much so that she managed to hide from me the truth that it wasn’t IF the disease would kill her, but WHEN. I was too naive to educate myself properly and it wasn’t until a month before she died that an ER doctor bluntly told me to Google palliative care. I blame some of the propaganda surrounding breast cancer for this. My mom’s sense of hope was something to admire, but I wish I knew better and gave her permission to be sad and angry sometimes, too. I’ve recently watched a facebook friend’s struggle with colon cancer and was unexpectedly thrown back into that anger stage of grief when they posted hopefully (and unfortunately incorrectly), “all cancer diagnoses are curable!” There is beauty in being cheerful and hopeful, but I learned a huge lesson about the authenticity of living in the truth, even when it fucking breaks your heart. Perhaps I would have been more intentional about the time I had with my mom.

    Feeling all the feels. Sending love out to everyone else feeling all the feels after reading this beautiful post.

    • Lana says...

      I have to concur. I wasn’t allowed to know about my mom’s terminal cancer as a child and was shocked when she died at the age of 29 and I was 10. I wasn’t allowed to “feel sorry for myself”. There was no therapy, no tears. It was standard operating procedure in the house.

      Now, I embrace feelings. When my kids moved out eventually, I recognized my feelings and it was ok. I got over it. When my husband had brain surgery, I processed it along with the myriad of other issues over the decades.

      Life is meant to feel, to emote and friends and family can come along side each other and share happiness and grief.

      Our human-ness connects us all. We all need to be compassionate and be sensitive.

    • Laura says...

      Thanks for sharing, Kate. All my love and understanding. X

    • Sharon says...

      I’m coming up on the 5 year anniversary of my mom’s death (unexpectedly from a random bacterial infection), and I feel all the feels. One of the silver linings though… how much I clearly still feel the love that I have for her. It’s as real as the day she passed, perhaps even deeper and more true and clear than when she was alive. I was a typically kid with an amazing mom, so of course I said some cruel and selfish things that I now think back on and cringe. But through it all, I know how much she loved me, and I know she felt my love… and THAT is more than enough.

    • I had cancer and was so hopeful in the beginning and when my bad numbers went up, I remember asking the oncologist saying a positive attitude didn’t make my numbers go down! And he said a positive attitude is.good BUT medically, it.didn’t work..I’m okay now though!

      I’m.so sorry about your mom.there is a lot of hype about.a positive attitude but.it can only.go.so.far

    • Charlie says...

      Kate, thanks for sharing. I lost my mom 5 years ago to stage IV cancer too. I was her rock thru that time, and caregiver. And I wouldn’t trade that time for the world, but it prevented me from feeling real feelings, from allowing myself to grieve and feel sad. I remember being overcome by grief sometimes late at night, and I lock myself in the bathroom and allow myself 30 seconds of a hard, silent, painful cry, wash my face, put a smile back on and go get my mom water. I knew I had to smile and keep my chin up for everyone else. And while that’s a beautiful thing, it’s not reality. Sharing sadness, sharing reality, and confronting it together is so important. I’m just now learning that it’s ok to feel sad, but I wish I’d known earlier.

    • Katherine says...

      Thank you for sharing this, Kate. My dad has Stage IV cancer and the only time I’ve cried around him was on the phone when he called to tell me the news. I have cried and been so angry about it all when he’s not around, but I appreciate the reminder that it is okay to share those all-too human emotions with him as well. He may even appreciate it. F*ck cancer, it is the literal worst. Sending love to you and your mom, may she Rest In Peace.

  106. Lauren E. says...

    Wow wow wow. Just beautiful. Thank you for this.

  107. Nina says...

    My heart. I, too, have tried since my son was born to stuff as much as me as I could into him. I don’t know why…each year as he aged I think OK, now he’ll remember me if I die.

    Maybe because my mother’s mother died when she was very young and her only memory is of trying to wake up her dead body?

    He’s 10. I think I’ve made it. But even so I worry…we fade…our laugh or voice or smell is forgotten. What a lovely legacy she is leaving with our words.

    • Amanda says...

      My son is only 2 and I think about this all the time. It’s so painful to think of something were to happen to me now he would have no memory of me. My mom’s mom also died when she was young and she has a few memories but not many.

    • nadine says...

      Nina, I’m sure your son feels the love you have for him, you sound like a wonderful mother. Sending you a hug, if you feel you need it..

      My grand mother passed away when I was around 8. Over 25 years later I still happen to recognise the precise smell that was in her house: wooden floors, sun coming through the windows, fresh cleaned cotton towels and a hint of chocolate (from the secret drawer where she kept it for our visits). But mostly I remember her teaching us grand childrens about honesty, humility and caring of the others. What lovely legacies are indeed words and teachings.

    • Marissa says...

      Hi Nina – I just came here to say, my mom passed when I was 10 and while I don’t remember certain things about her perfectly, the important things – how she made me feel, her compassion for others via her actions and most certainly her scent (a sweet family member once gifted me her signature fragrance, which I wear on special occasions when I want to “include” her) have never faded away. As an adult, at times I mourn not having had the chance to get to know her better (would we get along today? would she be on Facebook? what would she think of my fiance?), but I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t take many years for the important stuff to “stick” and I find comfort in that.

  108. CJ says...

    Just ordered the book on Audible. Thank you for being so real Kate. This was a peak for me today.

  109. Brilliant stuff. So well written and completely platitude-free. I read her piece in the New York Times too and it is refreshingly incisive. We can only wish her well.

  110. My mom had metastatic breast cancer and lived with it for 12 years, so I Kate’s work means a lot to me. It’s a very familiar landscape – the looming cloud of terminal illness that hangs over everything, and the way it makes people say and do awkward things, and the way it totally turns everything you thought you believed on its head. But also, the beautiful way it illuminates the best parts of life and humanity. I’m in a stage of my life right now where I don’t feel grateful or like I’m able to notice things, and I really miss my mom. I needed this post. Thank you, Kate.

  111. Cecile says...

    Beautifully observed. Especially #2… so true and so much of a lesson. I’m still learning that really nobody needs me to be the bravest, wittyest, most energetic patient in the History of All Hospitals. That it would be so much more real to reach out as the hurting person that I am at this point.

  112. Hannah says...

    Mine too. ?

  113. Wow, talk about peaks. Reading her words really feels like today’s peak. After a particularly tough “terrible twos” morning with my son in conjunction with a pile of projects that are all small, but feel monumental when taken together, I have been feeling pretty downtrodden and unfocused. This advice and perspective is like a tragic breath of fresh air. I’m so grateful to have read it. There are horrifying reminders of our finite and fragile human state more and more often these days. Gentle reminders like hers are stronger than any others.

  114. Anya says...

    I love Kate Bowler. She is my newest lady-crush. I loved her interview with Terri Gross, and I love her podcast and I’m in the middle of her book.

    I love how she handles things with grace – that she’s so vulnerable about it all.

    • Andrea says...

      Also, she has great hair and a terrific smile in her photos!

    • Lindsey says...

      SAME!

  115. Shauna S says...

    I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

  116. Jill C. says...

    Thank you for this… thank you Karen for sharing this with all of us.

  117. RDT says...

    Wow. That was cathartic to read. 1. I hear you about big heads and trying to get shirts off your kids. 2. You’re supposed to seed the lawn in the fall!?! Oh boy…

  118. Andrea says...

    I love this, her book and her podcast. Listening to the latest podcast last night, I remembered that a friend had been asked (in public! on FB!) WHY SHE GOT BREAST CANCER! Was it what she ate, or what she did?

    Honestly, I was gobsmacked that someone would ask that question (yes, if we knew what caused cancer, we’d be better off tackling the disease), but Bowler’s book makes you understand all the crap words and actions that sick people have to endure. As if being sick were not burden enough!

  119. Cate says...

    It says she was given a year to live at 35….not to ask for spoilers but did she beat that diagnosis? Is she still considered terminal? I’m hoping you say she’s at least 38 or 39 now…

    • Cait says...

      She got the diagnosis in 2015, so she is 37 or 38 now :)

    • Cate says...

      Cait-Thank you!

  120. This was beautifully written and Kate’s perspective was special to read. I also want to thank you for linking to Powell’s to purchase her book (instead of Amazon). That’s a gesture that means a lot to many business owners, so thank you. XO

    • jane says...

      second this! So happy to support independent bookstores

  121. t says...

    Kate and Cup of Jo, thank you for making me think and hurt and grow.

    • Liz says...

      Love the way you put this. Ditto <3

    • Alice says...

      Perfectly put. I feel exactly this x

  122. How timely. I’m listening to Bowler’s audio book right now and I keep having to pause it while I cry in the car. I love her insight and perspective on everything in our lives, from the big to the small.

  123. Pearl says...

    I’m having one of those no-good-very-bad-sad days (and I fully appreciate that the scales are vastly, vastly different), but I just wanted to take a moment to say that the peak of my day today was reading this.

    thank you for sharing your kind, wise words. they are making an impact.

  124. Kelly says...

    So beautiful and truthful. Thanks so much.

  125. Fiona says...

    This was amazing. Thank you.

  126. Rebecca says...

    Last Monday I finally dragged myself to the doctor for a knee injury that’s been bugging me for months. Turns out, it’s a benign tumor. Days before surgery, my doctor called me last night to inform me it might be cancer. I have 3 children under 5, and am active and healthy. I am rocked. I needed to read this.

    • Andrea says...

      That really sucks. I’m sorry you’re facing that. I hope that it turns out OK.

    • Sasha says...

      I had this same situation Rebecca, my Dr only told me when pathology came back that he hadn’t been so sure my tumor was benign. I hope yours is benign as well, and your healing from the surgery goes smoothly. Fingers crossed for you.

    • Sarah says...

      Im sorry, Rebecca. Holding your name in my heart.

    • CJ says...

      Sending you a huge hug from Colorado. Although you may feel alone you are not.

    • Oh Rebecca, what shitty news. I’m thinking of you and your family and wish you the best. xo

    • Laura says...

      Fingers crossed in the other side of the ocean for you. All my love.

    • Lauren O'Neill says...

      Rebecca, I’ve been in your spot but with my shoulder, they thought it might be a Desmoid but turned out to be Synovial Sarcoma. Hang in there through the uncertainty, it’s tough, I know. Have someone by your side at appointments. Sending you all my best, regardless of what the news is, you are so much stronger than you think. xx

  127. Margaret says...

    Thank you for sharing, Karen, and Joanna for giving her the platform! My husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 23 and died at 31. It’s hard to explain to others (or even understand myself) what we learned and experienced during those years. I always appreciate real talk about life, death, and illness.

    • E says...

      Damn Margaret, I’m so sorry.

    • Sasha says...

      I’m so sorry Margaret. I can imagine that it’s wonderful when you meet some who truly understands

    • Sasha F says...

      I’m so sorry to hear that. Have you read When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Joanna’s sister’s late husband? It absolutely rocked my approach to mortality and was a gentle, inspiring read that touches on the topics you bring up. Sending love.

  128. Amber says...

    Oh this is so beautiful. It almost takes my breath away. Adding her book to my wishlist!

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Joanna <3

  129. CMR says...

    “I really like to clean as a workout,” made me cry.

    • E says...

      Same!

    • Anna says...

      Me too. What a beautiful act of love and friendship.

  130. Estee says...

    Yes this. I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2017 at 31 years old..two weeks after my wedding. My husband and I were planning to try for children this fall. It all seemed like such a cruel joke. I never thought this would be my life but here I am. Having other people who struggled with loss over fertility and cancer saying, “of course this happened to me. I am a person and hard stuff happens” was strangely comforting and made me feel less alone and “targeted” by some horrible twist of fate.

    • Rebecca says...

      “I am a person and hard stuff happens”. Love this, new mantra.

    • Sasha says...

      ((hugs)) Estee, and best of luck.

    • Gina says...

      Estee,
      I, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. I never imagined this life, but oh so glad it was diagnosed sooner than later. My care has been exceptional and for that I feel lucky. While I am not thrilled with my lopsided breasts as a result, I AM however embracing my new heads of curls as a result!!
      I am not one to believe that things happen for a reason….things just happen, PERIOD!
      Thank you Cup Of Jo for sharing this story

  131. Wow. Kate, you are such an exquisite mixture of grace and humanity. Thank you Joanna, for this beautiful interview.

  132. Beatriz says...

    This is so beautiful. Thanks a million for sharing this piece

  133. Lauren says...

    This is one of the most helpful books I’ve read in a long time. I’m a pastor and I deal with grief and death and dying all the time. Kate’s writing was just so damn helpful. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is a human being and will die one day, or is around other human beings who will die one day.

  134. Katie says...

    I’m pumping at work and crying, thank you so so so much for sharing

    • CJ says...

      Here’s to the pumping mama at work! We are heroes and you brought me right back to when I was pumping at work and reading COJ every damn day 3 years ago.

    • Sara says...

      I got tears in my eyes when I read your comment. You can do it :) Been there (twice now) and it’s not always easy. Just take it one day at a time!

  135. This is very powerful. Thank you for sharing it.

  136. Jenn J. says...

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing! <3

  137. Hannah says...

    I choked up many times reading the post. My mom passed away from brain and lung cancer almost 3 years ago (wow, where does time go?) and I wish I could have told her that she didn’t need to be cheerful all the time. She really wanted to and did so until the day she died – but I know she wasn’t. It’s ok to have hard days and to be sad sometimes – a poignant reminder that a) we are human and b) life is beautiful – a perfect bookend as Kate has so beautifully pointed out.

    And it’s so true – your children will always remember you. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my mom and that’s a huge reason why I decided to finally have a child of my own (now almost 2 years old!)

    • Sasha says...

      My gosh Hannah, this comment is so beautiful. Crying over here! I’m so sorry you lost your mom.

    • Lauren says...

      You just brought me to tears, Hannah. How incredible that your mom inspired you to become a mom. You are so right, and I think we all know we don’t have to be happy and cheerful, but have those overwhelming pressure as moms, to make sure that our kids don’t feel pain. We need to remind ourselves (our moms, kids, partners, people), that we can all be not cheerful together.

  138. Celeste says...

    “Universal platitudes — like ‘everything happens for a reason’ — are so unsatisfying because everything beautiful is specific. Noticing the particularities of your wonderful, totally ridiculous life is the best part. ”

    Breaking my heart with the truth right now.

    Also, THANK YOU for permission to be angry with our bodies sometimes! I have chronic pain and there are days I just can’t be cheerful for another second that all attempts at normality are derailed by pain and fog and the reminder that despite everything I’ve done my body just doesn’t work right. As I write through that pain and fog today I’m struck by the grace you just extended through the internet to strangers. Thank you.

  139. Jane says...

    This is heartbreaking beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story Kate. I am sobbing at work! Thank you.

  140. “You’re somewhere else until you’re asked to trade it out, and then all you want are the specifics.”

    Damn. As someone who is always looking ahead, I need to learn how to cherish the specifics of my now. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Emily says...

      “I need to learn how to cherish the specifics of my now.” Exactly. I’m always planning the next move. This part really stood out to me, too. It’s such an important lesson.

  141. Steph says...

    This is so very, very beautiful and such practical advice. Thank you for sharing this!
    PS And we have enormous heads in my family too. It baffles my husband. ❤️

  142. Emily says...

    Thank you for sharing

  143. Karen says...

    Beautiful post. My sister is a cancer survivor (osteosarcoma at age 16) and it was incredibly difficult to witness the reality that my family was living. She is strong and every time i look at her she is more beautiful and intelligent and caring and sensitive.

    Side note – i didn’t understand #3. Did she want her friend to lie to her?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      not at all! she just knew her friend was telling her that so she wouldn’t feel bad for having her clean her home. she just said that in kindness, and they both knew it :)

    • Silver says...

      I think her friend doesn’t really clean as a workout – but her friend wanted to clean her house as a token of how much she cared and to make life easier in some small way. Saying it was a workout was just a way of not having the talk about why she needed to help.

    • Karen says...

      Thank you, Joanna and Silver. Her friend’s intention is now clear :)

  144. Megan says...

    This was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this. Karen you are an inspiration – I love the way that you look at the world and especially your ability to find humor in the small things, even when everything isn’t going your way.

  145. You missed one of the most interesting (to me) parts of her story! Her whole thesis was on the prosperity gospel https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/opinion/sunday/death-the-prosperity-gospel-and-me.html and how essentially bad things happen to people who don’t pray enough and aren’t praising God enough. To me that just deepens her situation and emotional exploration all the more.
    Heart breaking, living life inspiring, and a fascinating growth story!

    • bisbee says...

      I read her article and didn’t get that at all! Just the opposite…but then, prosperity gospel isn’t something I look at with benevolence. Kate’s article seems to say she is not all in either…I certainly don’t get that she believes she got sick because she doesn’t pray enough!

    • Sasha says...

      Thank you for the link Katie, that’s an enlightening read.
      I attended a New Thought church for many years because I had small children and the world suddenly felt frightening. It seemed good to be positive in the face of anything, and to talk about love and healing. But deep down I knew it wasn’t quite for me. Now I’ve come to grips (as well as anyone can) with death without heaven, living without God having a plan for all of us, the existence of evil and that terrible things happen, randomly. I’m learning to let go of fear, not because there’s nothing to fear, but because life is finite and I want to be happy. Not hope and pray and envision happiness…… But just be happy, right now, despite it all.

    • Leah says...

      I find this so interesting too, about how she studied prosperity gospel!

      Thank you so much for your comment Sasha. I’ve never been part of a New Thought church, but I’ve been really curious about why people turn to them, and what that experience is like.

    • Oneida says...

      Thank you for sharing this!

  146. TJ says...

    This! Wow…this. ❤️

  147. Molly says...

    Such a beautiful post and a reminder to cherish even the smallest things that this life has given us. I’m spending my last week with my 15-month old daughter before I start a full time job on Monday. It’s been such a gift to have had all this time with her and now I’m trying to squeeze in so much love these last few days. She’ll be fine when I go back to work, I know. I’m going to pay attention just a little bit more as I watch her go down the slide at the park or run to the swings.

  148. Sonja says...

    My heart is cracked open.