Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Frances passed on 11/3/2020 at 11:22 in the arms of her husband, Andres, and three daughters -- Lindley, Rachel, and Adela, while they sang her Amazing Grace (her favorite hymn). Lindley originally posted this blog in December 2019.
We will host a celebration of life in New Mexico in summer 2021, pending COVID.
In loving memory:
Meet My Mom, Frances.
If you were to die tomorrow, would you feel satisfied with your life? This is a question my mom has to grapple with every day.
My mom was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in May of 2016, right after I had graduated from college. It came as a shock to our close family. Before her diagnosis, she was a busy real estate power-house and power mom. She has never smoked; all of us were floored by the diagnosis. Stage four cancer of any kind is the last stage, which meant we didn’t know how long she had to live. It could be three months, it could be for three years.
Today, my mom still lives with stage four lung cancer, and we know that any time could be her time. I wanted to interview her because she is such an inspiration to me and so many others. She has always pushed me to travel and reach, she is part of my foundation that drives to me travel and explore other lifestyles and cultures in Europe.
For me, documenting her thoughts and ideas is important. But also, I know part of her life’s purpose is to leave the world a better place. My mom has always been involved with small businesses and non-profits, often working for no pay, but for a cause she believed in.
If you know my mom, you probably know her for her sparkling personality and zest for life. She goes full heart into everything she does, and she makes a mark. I have drawn up some tough questions for her, and have asked her to ponder some of the big questions that we all have to ask ourselves at some point.
Given 6 months to live,
this is what she would tell you.
Q: What do you think you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were 20?
A: Take it easy more. My husband and I did everything the hard way. We worked our tails off and didn’t vacation enough. In real estate, I learned to “schedule your vacations first.” At the beginning of each year, take your calendar out and put in your vacations.
"At the beginning of each year, take your calendar out and put in your vacations."
Then schedule your work around that. We never did that, and it was a mistake. Since I’ve had cancer that is how we live. Like next summer we are going to Alaska as a family. It gives everyone hope for our next events together. It gives me something to live for. I have so much to do before I die. I can’t just sit around on the couch. (And believe me, I usually feel like it)
Q: What are the major values or principles you live by?
A: The Golden Rule. Treat everyone you meet like family. But my family wants me to put boundaries on that one. I would probably invite the whole town to Thanksgiving dinner. I once heard that if you go to an event and you don’t know anyone there, just pretend you were the host. That puts you in a giving place, looking out for everyone’s best interests, and it forces you to get to know everyone.
If you don’t act like the host, it could be easy to sit in the corner and be self-conscious and think of why you aren’t like the others in the room. Really we are all just alike, we want love, honesty, authenticity, and forgiveness from others. And we want to be accepted. In the end, you are who your friends are, so if you are not surrounded by love and acceptance, it is time to find new friends.
Q: What advice might you give to others about growing older?
A: Huh? Who doesn’t want to grow older?? My favorite people are old people. Old people are wise. I want to be wise—-and loving and kind. And I like to live passionately.
"I always saw myself as the cartoon of the woman diving and sliding toward her grave with wine and chocolate in her hand. I believe in living life to its fullest."
In the end, I’m spending more sick days on the couch than I imagined. It is a little humbling. But I can reflect on my passionate days —-so don’t miss the opportunity to create them today for yourself!!
Q: What are you most afraid of?
A: I’m really not a fearful person and any concerns I have are really minimal because I believe that the Lord has a plan and that we will all fulfill that plan. But if I must have an answer, I guess the scariest things in life revolve around my kids' happiness and well-being.
I pray that my kids know Christ, give back to their communities and world, are kind to others, and are happy in their personal and professional lives. And as far as cancer or sickness fears, honestly, I’m afraid of the pain. I don’t like pain, especially when it is constant and unstoppable.
Q: What brings you the greatest sense of comfort?
A: My faith. I have huge comfort that I will live in the afterlife in an amazing way that we can not fathom now. I look forward to being united with my grandmother and so many others I love.
I’m also comforted by my husband. He has been my hero throughout this cancer journey. We did not always have a happy marriage, but when you are faced with such devastating news you all step up to the bat; then he became the Superman I knew he could be. The last 3 1/2 years of our marriage have been the best of the last 30.
Also, I’m comforted by my children. I’m so proud of all of them. Each and every one of my daughters is so different but so special and unique in their own ways. And I trust them. I know they will create fabulous futures for themselves—because that is what they were taught to do. Take the bull by the horns and shake it!
Q: What role has faith played during your illness?
A: Faith is an ongoing journey and as my husband and I have continued our study of each of our own faiths and traditions, we have finally come to the same place in our beliefs.
We have recently loved following Richard Rohr’s work and it has brought us closer and to finally set aside our religious differences. Nothing matters but love, and that is what I want for the world.
Q: What advice would you give people who are looking for direction?
A: We are all different, and I have lots of “cancer buddies.” And we all have our own journeys so we all have to respect each others’ choices for treatment and care. The only things I can say are: practice your faith, get your affairs (financial, paperwork, and household junk) in order, and say your peace and love to all your friends and family.
"Cancer gives people permission to love"
I say “I love you” to more people now than ever. People out of the blue tell me they love me. Cancer gives people permission to love, so give out hugs generously. (Also buy insurance! We have been able to go on fabulous vacations in the last three years due to the cancer insurance my husband signed up for.)
Q: What is meaningful and valuable in life?
A: Getting together with friends. I still get together once a year with my grade school and high school buddies. And I keep making new buddies all the time. And giving back.
I’m currently volunteering for SCORE as a small business mentor. What could be better than helping people create their dreams?!… and help them make a living and gain self-worth!
Q: What kind of advice might you give to others about getting and staying married?
A: Well I don’t think marriage is for everyone, and life after marriage can be the best ever for many. But for me, my general advice is “Just Do It” - that is, getting and staying married.
I think I never could have imagined in my earlier years how satisfying it would be to live together into the second half of my life with my partner, especially since we have children together. I think for the first time in my life I can say, “I love being married.” It took years to get to that point. Of course, we try to spend each day as if it were our last together.
Q: What’s the secret to a long marriage?
A: Just stay together—no matter what. You can’t have a long marriage unless you stay together, so “just do it.” We could have been divorced 10 times over. It is so easy to fight about religion, or money, or vacations, or raising kids - the topics are endless.
Honestly, it is easy to fight over coffee in the morning. If you aren’t in the mood to be nice to your spouse, just get away for a while….maybe a long while. Once I ran off to help the turtles because I figured I could get along with them better than my husband.
"Do what you have to do to make it work."
Do what you have to do to make it work. Mostly I just never stood for a marriage that wasn’t working. Whenever things got bad I signed us up for seminars. Seminars are better than counseling because they are faster at getting results in a short period of time. They shake you out of your current state and get you back on track. Landmark and Klemmer are programs that kept us together.
Q: What advice do you have about raising children?
A: Make them do chores. Create boundaries. And talk to them—about everything! What mistakes should people avoid? Don’t spoil them. But no matter what, we will all make mistakes and we have to admit it and ask forgiveness and work together. We still are learning every day from our children.
In our house we often say “WWDD” What Would our Daughter Do/say about that? We think they are very insightful and we need to be brought up to speed all the time on the new ways of our culture.
If I missed anything— feel free to add here (any closing thoughts):
Most importantly I feel I’ve been blessed by cancer. Quality over quantity of days is what is important, right!? I’ve had the opportunity to talk to my kids about life and death and I’m ready. My husband and I have had the best years of our lives. And I’m finally grateful for my upbringing. (I spent way too many years lamenting about problems.)
"Most importantly I feel I’ve been blessed by cancer. "
I am grateful that my dad taught me the value of the outdoors and of puppies. Puppies show you the joy of even the smallest things, like accidentally tumbling over when it is walking. "The outdoors” are huge and loaded words, but so meaningful to me. I grew up hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking, and the love of all the trees and mountains and all things natural seeps into all aspects of life, even the products you buy.
And I’m grateful to my mother for teaching me the concept of duty, persistence, and love as an action. She never gives up, she always keeps her word, and she always puts her best foot forward and keeps marching. I grew up in the irony of a mountain man dad and a country club mom, but it was the best upbringing I can imagine. The best of both worlds.
And when I found my husband I knew he could fit in both environments. He looks great in a suit or a hunting vest. I’ve had an unusual life, not totally a city life (grew up in Phoenix) or a country life (spent months and years on a farm or large rural property). I’ve lived both worlds and I feel so grateful about that.
I’m mostly grateful that my husband has endured the rural life for me on 130 acres, at about 7500’ elevation in a bowl of a mountain overlooking the vast valley below. We have endured being snowed in, hiking miles in the snow to our house, bears breaking into our house, a cougar that ate my pony, and a bark beetle attack that took hundreds of trees.
Life has never had a dull moment. We’ve hosted an immersion Spanish camp, numerous family reunions, and lots of friends at our place. We call it Mijas Camp and it is my sanctuary.
The C Word:
Can you talk about the type of cancer you have (ALK), and where you are with it? What type of drug you’re on now and have been on? And how you feel on it and about it all?
I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in May of 2016. I was a 53-year-old, white, married female with 3 daughters aged 18, 20, and 22. In February of 2016, I went to the emergency room because I had chest pain on the left side and pain down my left arm.
They sent me home saying I was fine. It took me 3 more months to find out what I had, and by that time it didn’t look good. In May of 2016, I began taking hard narcotics for the pain, even to the point of taking morphine every day. I was on the couch, and I couldn’t work or drive anymore. I lost 40 lbs. I probably had about 6-8 months to live.
But then a miracle: a new gene therapy had just been released by the FDA for my specific ALK gene. I would just take a pill every day for the rest of my life (until it quit working because the body always creates mutations). I took Crizotinib for 13 months until my headaches (and MRI) indicated that the tumors had moved to my head.
I was then lucky to hear that the 2nd generation gene therapy had come out named Brigatinib. I took it for 18 months and then started having additional problems. I had SRS radiation on 5 tumors in my brain, then we tried to manage the drug by dosing, but around 2 years it was not viable for me anymore. So then I went on the 3rd and last generation (at this time) drug for ALK, called Lorlatinib.
Unfortunately, it lasted only 3 months until the side effects were unbearable. I’m currently working with some new doctors on finding combination therapies until a new gene therapy comes out. I’ve been so lucky to have the above miracle drugs that gave me the last 3 1/2 years of my life! We pray for the scientists all the time.
In the meantime, I was just told about 3 weeks ago that I have about 6-12 months to live. BUT WHO KNOWS, I WAS ALSO TOLD THAT 3 1/2 YEARS AGO, AND HERE I AM! YOU NEVER KNOW, SO LIVE EVERY DAY AS IF IT WERE YOUR LAST!!!!!
What's Mom Up to Today?
Since her diagnosis in 2016, she has been serious about living like she’s dying and making her moments here meaningful. She has made it a point to do the things she has always wanted to do but never had time or money to do. She feels that while raising kids that she and my dad never had time to travel, and because of that she has stuffed 20 years of travel into three.
I think if she were giving advice to anyone, she would tell you to take the vacation now, quit your job now, go home early for dinner to be with your family, and make more times for game nights filled with hot chocolate and rum.
I’ve seen my mom make a full 180 in her life. She has done things that would have seemed out of character 10 years ago and pulled the trigger on trips she should have pulled years ago. I am looking forward to June, where our family is planning a trip to Alaska.
In the last three years she has:
Hiked to 12,274 feet to see Ice Lakes, Silverton
Climbed Machu Picchu in Peru
Shared in her dream vacation to Belize
Seen her kids off to three different countries
Made it to her daughter’s wedding in Tulum
Seen five graduations
(college: Lindley/Rachel/Rasmus; HS: Adela and Master's: Lindley)
Explored Mexico (three times in the last year!)
"Live Like You Were Dying"
a country song by Tim McGraw has always been one of my mom's favorites. Ironically she sent that CD to tons of people back in 2004 when the song came out. Now she is living it!
I hope she inspires you as she inspires me. I love you, mom.
Edited in collaboration with my sister, Rachel.