DEATH (chats) and TAXES (cancer treatments) Part I

The only things certain in a terminal cancer patient’s life are the taxes of cancer treatments, both emotional and physical…and then some. Talking about death and/or even making final arrangements with the patient/loved one’s input is not a certainty. It’s tough. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Besides, if we talk about it, doesn’t that mean we have given up hope?

Been there. Just did that. Still doing it, actually.

My Mom, Leslie Lehrman, called me earlier this month and said, “I just think you should make sure all of my plans are taken care of.” My Mom has been valiantly battling lung cancer for seven years. (No, she never smoked. You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer). I was a bit shocked by her call, but not completely. The urgency in her voice is what really got to me.

NoMo, Phoenix and I at Eppley Airfield in Omaha

So, SMAC! monkeys (Sock Monkeys Against Cancer) NoMo and Phoenix and I went to Arizona over the July 4th holiday to help start making arrangements with my Mom. I was nervous. I mean, what do you do, just walk in the door and say, “Hi Mom, we’re here. OK, let’s talk about your funeral?” Of course not…but how in the heck do you segue into this heavy stuff?

I thought I would share with you how everything unfolded during my visit. Here is my series of initial updates I posted on the WTF? Facebook page. As you’ll see, it was difficult, but, man, was it ever a blessing.

July 4th
Yay. I made it to Phoenix. Hi WTF–ers. We love you.

Mom and Me

July 5th
Update on Mom: It was so great finally getting to Phoenix. However, while I was in flight, Mom went to the ER yesterday. She had a sudden severe pain in her neck and throat and couldn’t breathe due to the pain. They went to the nearest hospital where, long story short, they gave her a shot of morphine and she came home.
Thankfully, her radiation oncologist at Mayo is going to check her out today before her radiation treatment. We need to get this figured out PRONTO.
After all of this, Pastor Linda will come to Mom’s house to go over arrangements and bring her communion. I have to admit, it does feel good to get arrangements finalized and out of the way to be put into action when needed. Hard stuff, but great to do together – the way Mom wants it. Heck, I’m thinking I should just get my own arrangements organized now!!
So, Mom was a little “drugged-up” when we got here (my brother and his family too), but we still had a great time. Thanks for all your awesome well-wishes and incredible messages. More updates to come.

Bob, Mom and grandsons Bennett & Cooper

July 5th
I did Mom’s hair..but messed around when she fell asleep. Ha.

Getting glam…with rabbit ears

July 5th
Much different tone just a few hours later. Just keeping it real. The start of funeral arrangement planning off to a rocky start.

Just keepin’ it real

July 5th
Ok, things are much better now. Talking about death and planning for it – whenever it may be – is not easy. Some people can’t bear to talk about it, others want to. So, this can make for pretty interesting situations, as you can imagine. But, they happen. It’s just life. Real life stuff. Tension is gone.

Mom and Pastor Linda Worsnop

July 5th
Pastor Linda came over. She is wonderful and a cancer survivor herself. Man, I love calm people. :) We talked about songs, scriptures, and other wishes my Mom has. No, my Mom isn’t on her death-bed right now – thank God – but some day, all of these plans will need to be put into action. I am thankful we are doing it with HER input…a blessing, really. She brought Mom communion, which was wonderful, too. I have a video I will post of that soon. I was soooo hoping for real wine. Nope, just grape juice. Presbyterians!!!!
I want to encourage everyone to talk to your family members with cancer or any terminal illness – whether they want to make arrangements now or not – just have a nice, deep conversation. It is sooooo worth it. Very revealing. Very fulfilling in so many ways.
Haven’t had a chance to read all of your comments from my previous post, but can see there are many. I soooooo appreciate your love and support. All is well here…really. Time for dinner and a dip in the pool. Hugzzzzzz.

July 5th

I just have to say that Pastor Linda ROCKETHS. She came by the house today. We chatted about songs, scriptures and she even brought communion. She is a cancer survivor herself and brought a lot of peace to us today. Here is a video of Mom and Pastor Linda talking about death and faith. This may not be your kind of thing to watch. If not, I completely understand. This is tough stuff, but it’s just real stuff. Real. Icky. Stuff. But, then again, not so icky. The whole process is actually quite beautiful. Those feelings flip-flop a lot right now, but that’s to be expected.

I so hope that by sharing our journey, it can bring more peace to yours. I know I am learning a whole heckuva lot about my Mom, myself, our relationship…and then some. Onward we march, WTF-ers!

In Part II of this series, I’ll continue to chronicle our journey as it happened. Mom also recorded a very raw and heart-filled video on how important it is for her to be part of planning her end-of-life celebration.

Mom undergoing radiation at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix

So, what’s my point in all of this death chat stuff? Mom and I received so many messages of “thanks” for sharing our journey and tackling the issue of openly talking about death and making final arrangements. I don’t know how many more times I can say it’s not easy, but, once you get past ignoring that HUGE elephant in the room and finally approach it, amazing experiences take place.

I so hope more of you can experience these meaningful conversations and moments. We continue to plan and consider this time a beautiful opportunity.

Are you in a similar situation? How have you handled end-of-life planning for yourself or a loved one?  Or were you (or a loved one) not able to talk openly about death and final arrangements?



  • Blchico

    My husband
    Steve (10.25.54-6.23.12) and i talked at length about his end days and the
    memorial service throughout the last 1 ½ years after diagnosis—but ESPECIALLY
    after he entered home hospice on May 16th. Before that time, it seemed we were
    really racing here and there against an unknown, ticking clock trying to fit
    the rest of his life into a small amount of time. Once it was clear that
    treatment was not working, we settled into planning, heart-to-heart talks,
    crying, hugging and, yes, even smiling & laughing. With the help of
    wonderful family, friends, clergy, hospice social worker and RNs, Steve’s
    physical and emotional comfort was at the forefront everyday … to the very
    last day. He was still planning events for the days ahead the day he died.


    I was able to
    carry out the plans of the cremation & memorial as we had discussed. It was
    a HUGE physical and emotional comfort to me to know, without a doubt, what to
    do. But make no mistake; nothing really prepares you for the heartbreak that is
    left when your love dies in your arms. Nothing. But I would not trade those
    last days for all the wealth in the world.

  • Bob LeDrew

    I feel bad for anyone who chooses to look away from this. This IS REAL. Death is real. We’re all going there, sooner or later. It’s what we do as living creatures. The more able we all are to face up to that, the more productively and happily we can live whatever time we have. Thanks to you and your mom and your family and Pastor Linda for sharing this with people like me. 

  • Shelly

    When I was diagnosed I felt such an urgency to get life in order including making plans for an afterlife party. I knew I wanted to be cremated and my family to scatter my ashes at our favorite vacation destination. I bought an empty paint can (to be used for my ashes) at the local hardware store and asked a best friend if she would paint something on it for me. She did the most beautiful beach scenes including a lighthouse and a spectacular sunset all from that favorite vacation destination. I’ve picked out a couple of poems to be read and have asked my son to play his guitar. All my wishes are written down as well as my obituary and in a box which my husband knows where to find when needed. I also make little notes as things pop into my head and add them to the box. This is such heavy stuff and I find that humor has definitely helped to make it and this whole journey a lot easier.

  • Klaudia

    Thank you Jennifer for this post. The moment my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer he spend few months on 2 things: #1 fighting the cancer #2 making sure everything was organized – so my mom didn’t need to worry.
    Now when I think about all that time, I know it was not easy but what my Dad did was incredible and he was so thoughtful. My Hero.

  • deb dobson

    A beautiful post.  I was the caretaker a few years ago of my best friend who was terminally ill.  It was the most beautiful, loving, heart wrenching experience of my life.  Thank you for sharing and sending you one giant hug.  

  • Andrea Strezinski

    My mother has lung cancer. When she first found out she and my dad met with their lawyer and put everything in order from a financial aspect. However, at that same time she told my sister and I she wanted to discuss funeral and other personal items she wanted done when she died. BUT that was it. She never told us what she would like or what she wanted. I have been afraid to ask her about her end of life plans, because I didn’t want her to think I was giving up on her.
    Now after reading your story and comments from everyone else, what am I afraid of? This is my mom and regardless if she has cancer or not eventually she is going to die.
    Thank you for sharing what you and your mother are dealing with, I feel fortunate to get to see and read how you and your mom tackling this.
    Thank you god bless
    Andrea Strezinski

  • Jennifer Windrum

    Thank you all so much for sharing your stories…and for reading my post. I so wish I could reply to each of you individually, but comments here and in so many other places have been overwhelming…I am still trying to catch up.  Please know how much I value you sharing such an intimate part of your life with me. It helps me a great deal, too. Many hugzzzz to all of of you. 

  • Dyoshida

    Thinking about your mom and praying she is doing better please update us on her condition

  • cna training

    I am Certified Nursing assistant, I always with cancer patients to take care of them 

  • miget

    hey I read some of the things here and I just wanted to share with you something that really comforts me Isaiah 33:24 ,”No resident will say I AM SICK!” I know times are rough I do but we all can cope with it with others it is important we remember whats in store for  us its promised it will thank you so much good bye

  • Robersonbj

    My Husband was told he had stage 4 lung cancer last Jan 2012  inoperable.  had chemo but now growing again and chemo is damaging kidneys.  we too have gone and made funeral arrangements.  picked out songs, etc.   Hardest thing we had to do.   But his motto has been from beginning “I am a winner either way”

    love you