Dale and Carole moved to our community more than thirty years ago. Carole battled depression most of her life, and although medications were helpful, she and Dale went through many hard times together. Several years ago Carole was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a fairly aggressive type, but it was caught early and had not spread too far, so the outlook was good. Although Carole’s specialists thought surgery alone would be sufficient, she was keen to go through chemotherapy as well. So she underwent the painful and disfiguring surgery, and then bravely proceeded through chemotherapy, a dose every two weeks for six months.
Carole was granted a complete remission for the next two years. However, early in 1998 she had chest and bone pain, and an X-ray showed a spread of the cancer to her lungs. Carole’s outlook, even with further therapy, was very poor. But she was not one to give up easily. Though she declined further chemotherapy, her attitude more than made up for that. What she faced is something to be envied: eternity. It is something each one of us faces every day, whether we realize it or not, because none of us knows when death will come. One of the most valuable lessons we can ever learn is that life is meaningful only in the context of eternity.
March 20, 1998
As I understand it, the cancer is already quite widespread. Dale and I have suspected this for quite a while as I have had some pretty strong chest pain and in the last month have not been able to sit very comfortable because of pain. If chemotherapy gives only a small chance of recovery we don’t want to sacrifice the last months of life with my spending days and nights vomiting and being totally out of it. It’s not an easy decision. We all want to “do something” but perhaps the best thing to do may be to look to God for strength, peace and courage to carry whatever comes…which I want to do in any case. You know, my faith is a bit like a limp dishrag. I don’t have any question that God can heal. I also can’t pray, “Please give healing, if it’s your will”…. I can’t believe that it is not in His will for healing to be given. I’ve never read in any of the Gospels where Jesus said, “I don’t want to heal you.” But I don’t and can’t have any idea how God plans our lives. The only thing we know for sure is that Dale and I want my life—our lives—to be in God’s hands, and that whatever form that takes, that we are not only willing but heart and soul for that. Meanwhile, our hearts are singing and shouting!!
I really must witness to the power of prayer. My whole life has been one tremendous fight against depression, against suicide, and I even had to be kept under strict watch at times.There were also times when my spirits were very high and I was unpredictable. The members of our church have prayed for me continuously, even when I had no courage whatsoever to even go to worship meetings, and in these last years I’ve also been faced with the fight against cancer. All I can say is that for me the battle was won five years ago when tremendous victory was given over my mental illness – when the darkness of depression had been so thick that I could even visualize death. This is completely gone now, and it is making my fight against cancer much easier. No one should feel sorry for me, because I can only say I have tremendous joy, and what I experience now in my fight with cancer is nothing compared to that fight against depression and suicide years ago.
May 25, 1998
You know, I hate the religious words bit, but because they are so over-used and meaningless in this day and age... But I just enjoy LIFE so…and I think that is where God is...how did it all get so squashed and wordy and judgmental and lifeless? Genuineness and straightforwardness and the depth of laughter that can carry the deepest pain…isn’t that where life is strong and pure?
I hope no one sees all this as superficial…or that I’m refusing to see reality. True reality expresses itself in many ways. I’ve wasted too many years on the “reality of death.”…. and whatever comes, the reality is LIFE. (Can you please help me remember that when the walls close in…you know darn well that I’m going to hit the dirt here and there.)
July 24, 1998
I get so much pressure from so many to ride in a car or take a chair lift or whatever and each time it just feels like a little bit off life is snipped off to do those things. I just want to live and move and run and walk as long as I can (till I’m bed-ridden). I just can’t tell you how much it means and I feel like I’m constantly having to fend of well meaning bits of help. You know, I’m no dummy. I’m losing a bit more ground each day and I just want to make the most of it.
Aug 6, 1998
Well, the old enzymes are still creeping up in my liver and time gets shorter…at least here in this place. It’s kind of stupid, but I do have to keep dealing with the “leaving” part even when I think the whole thing is conquered. One nice thing is that we’re really realizing the need to be together in our family and are making use of the time we have…. We always take so much for granted and think that things will just keep going along. It’s actually wonderful to have to be aware that there is an end to this life and a beginning in the next one. Dale read me something from a friend which says that "Eternity is the greatest reality". To realize that we will be even closer in death (if you want to call it that) is a tremendous comfort and joy.
Aug 21 1998
Up until a few days ago I said that I had no fear of death and had no difficulty with that at all. I'm sure I have heard that said by many people. In actual fact, I became very afraid of losing life, of losing Dale and the children, and of really facing God. Overcoming this fear of death has led to more time in prayer. I guess I don't spend a lot of time on my knees, but I'm always asking God to show me who he is and how he is. I feel that this has unfolded in a wonderful, wonderful way in our life together; that God is not the fearful (horrible almost), being that I knew as a child and who I have been continually afraid of, but there is a tremendous love and warmth and genuineness there as well as wonderful humor. I can only be thankful for that.
We’ve talked together about dying many, many times. Dale said that the time when he really faced losing me was when I went into the lock-up ward during a bout with depression. He said he feared I would never be able to “come back,” and now we’re so very much more together, even though we’ve had a few rough patches since then, but who hasn’t?
Dale and I feel that we need to really make use of the days and the minutes we have left together. We have often talked about how we wasted probably years of our lives with grudges and things we couldn’t work out, or we had trouble in our marriage because we couldn’t find humility with one another. We cannot change those things now, so we just have to keep making a new beginning every day.
My death will not be easy for Dale, but because of the togetherness we feel, it is also a tremendous comfort for us both that we have each other in our hearts. We love the talk and laughter of the young people in the evenings. Conversation and laughter are such precious things, and so encouraging to one in my situation.
If we always think, well, maybe tomorrow we’ll do this, or tomorrow I’ll follow through on that, it doesn’t make sense. We actually don’t have tomorrow. None of us has tomorrow. We only have today and we only have each other, the person sitting next to us, the person we work with. That’s a tremendous challenge to me – to really make use of every minute I have.
Carole Neal died of cancer, December 1st, 1998, surrounded by family and friends. Her story is included in the book, "Cries from the Heart: Stories of Struggle and Hope".