A few years ago I attended the "Kinship With All Life" conference in San Francisco and was most impressed with the keynote speaker, Susan McElroy, who is the author of a wonderful book, Animals as Teachers and Healers (Ballantine Books, 1997).

At age thirty-seven, Susan was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her mouth. Such tumors are usually found in elderly, cigar-smoking, heavy drinking men. When such tumors are discovered in young, clean-living women, like Susan, they usually spread like a chemical wildfire. Susan's doctors basically told her that she had a very short time to live and suggested she go home, have a bottle of champagne, and get her affairs in order.

Susan said she had always been shielded from sickness and death and knew little about how to live with a serious illness, much less how to die from one. She said that even on 'good' days she felt terror and retching fear. Shortly after the diagnosis, she was sitting in her kitchen over a bowl of cereal crying hysterically and searching her mind for an example of how to live what was left of her life. Suddenly what came to her mind was her dog, Keesha, who had died some years back'also from cancer.

She said that Keesha eventually died from the disease despite radiation treatments, but that she lived with remarkable zest and exuberance until the end. One incident in particular had a profound impact on Susan. She writes, 'Several weeks before her death, Keesha had become quite weak from her disease. The long daily strolls along the marsh near our home became shorter and slower as her disease spread. In her healthier days, Keesha's greatest joy had been to swim in the deep lagoons filled with cattails and marsh grass. But now, too frail to swim, she looked to the glossy, shallow pools of rain that peppered our streets. At every opportunity, Keesha would plop into a big puddle and splash and bark for as long as I'd let her. The look on her face during those times was the look of a hog in wallow. On our last excursion together, she was only days away from death, yet she was in bliss.'

Susan said she looked down at her bowl of cereal, quit crying, and said to herself that she was going to enjoy eating that cereal. She said from a dog splashing in a rain puddle, she learned about choice'to celebrate whatever possibilities life had to offer her each moment or curl up and die. She got rid of her coping mechanisms of sarcasm and rebellion and added humor. Joy was in her life through surgeries, metastases, and treatments. Now 13 years later, Susan remains cancer-free.

As I sat in that audience with tears streaming down my face (like the other 500 people present), I began thinking more seriously about how very precious life is and how important it is to get rid of all the stuff and have JOY in one's life.

P.S. Check out my other column, , on Peer Pressure Reversal.

Copyright ©2016, Sharon Scott.