“Three Months to Live,” Ensign, Dec. 1995, 22
Three Months to Live
After the surgeon told me what I faced, I began to learn how trials strengthened my faith.
It wasn’t until we had our third child that Bill and I decided it was time to straighten out our priorities. We had been happy during the first dozen or so years of our marriage, but as our family grew we realized that we needed the guiding influence of the Spirit.
We started attending church, paying our tithing, and preparing ourselves to go to the temple. By December 1974 we were ready, and we took our children—Cory, age ten; April, age seven; and Erica, age nine months—with us to be sealed as an eternal family. I had no way of knowing then how important the promises associated with that ceremony would soon become for us.
The following spring my left hand went numb. I blamed the numbness on my job, and when I complained to my doctor two weeks later that the numbness had spread to my left arm, he also attributed the problem to my work.
The problem persisted, and I returned to the doctor at summer’s end. Routine tests revealed nothing, but the numbness soon spread to the entire left side of my body. My doctor arranged for me to see a specialist who, following a series of neurological tests, told me to check in at the hospital as soon as possible. Within days the left side of my face had begun to droop, and I could no longer walk or feed myself. More tests followed, but physicians remained stumped. We did not know how serious my condition was until Bill, who had read about a case similar to mine, demanded that I receive a brain scan.
When the technician came out of his office following the scan, he was hesitant to tell me the results. The scan revealed a brain tumor the size of an orange. Neurosurgeons immediately scheduled a biopsy. I prepared myself for the trauma of having a shaved head and for what I knew could be a serious diagnosis. The day before the biopsy, I found comfort in a hospital visit from our bishop, LaVar Moffitt, who told me that ward members were fasting and praying for me.
I remember sad faces looking down at me after I had been wheeled from the operating room and awakened from the anesthesia. When I reached to feel my scalp I realized I still had all my hair. “Go to sleep,” Bill told me later when I questioned him about the biopsy results. “I’ll talk with you in the morning.”
The next morning, a Sunday, my surgeon told me that as he reviewed the results of my brain scan in preparation for the biopsy, he realized the threat the tumor posed because of its location. Had he proceeded with the biopsy surgery, he said, I could have been easily paralyzed or suffered a stroke. There was no reason to run that risk. Because the tumor was growing rapidly, I had only three months to live.
I had never known the role trials play in evoking our faith. Nor had I known the strength that can be derived from faith. It seemed that my faith had not been seriously tested until the surgeon spoke to me that morning. After he left I looked across my room to the window. I could not get out of my bed, but I could see the day’s bright dawn. It was going to be a beautiful morning. Though I knew that Heavenly Father’s will would be done, I also knew that I could count on the power of the priesthood and on the faith and prayers of dozens of people.
Later that day when Bill arrived with the bishopric, I learned how powerful those ingredients can be. “As we were kneeling in prayer, we were told to give you a healing blessing,” counselor Walt Bills told me of the bishopric’s prayer on my behalf the night before. They placed their hands on my head and pronounced a beautiful blessing. The words gave all of us hope and strength. I knew at that moment that somehow I would be fine.
That afternoon, however, I did not feel fine; I felt exhausted. My newlywed sister, Anna, and her husband, Kent Lamb, came to visit and help me eat my dinner. Like Bill and me during the early years of our marriage, Anna and Kent had little desire to become active in the Church. While we were visiting I suddenly closed my eyes and felt as though my spirit was leaving my body. When I told Anna and Kent that I was going, she grasped my hand tightly, exclaiming, “No, don’t leave!”
I remember crying out at that moment, “Oh, dear Lord, please don’t make me go—I’m not ready! I have three small children who need me. Bill needs me. Please let me stay with my family.” I heard Bill calling me back. When I opened my eyes, I found him at my side. I quickly grabbed hold of him, grateful that the Lord had confirmed to me the feelings I had following my priesthood blessing.
A few minutes later I put my legs over the side of the bed, stood up, and walked to the window—something I’d had no strength to do since checking in at the hospital several days before. It was a beautiful fall night, and the city view from my third-story window was wonderful. I was still exhausted, but I knew that my time to depart this life had not yet come.
I no longer feared dying, but I could not deny the growing intensity of the pain I was suffering. On Monday morning doctors decided that radiation treatments might reduce the growing tumor and ease my pain over the next few months while I was “dying.” As the radiologists were preparing me for my first treatment, it was revealed to my mind that Heavenly Father had another child to send us. I quickly asked the radiologists whether the radiation could cause problems that might affect a future pregnancy. They looked at each other and at me as if I had lost my mind. “That really isn’t something you need to worry about right now,” one replied.
In addition to the radiation, I began a regimen of injections for pain, receiving more than 150 shots during my hospital stay. My doctor prescribed a number of pills, including steroids. The pain continued as did my discomfort when my body ballooned under the effects of the steroids. But the knowledge that I would live through these trials strengthened my resolve to weather the suffering. I followed a friend’s advice and made a sign saying, “This too shall pass.” I hung the sign on my bedroom wall, where it served as a daily reminder.
I received a lot of letters, as well as cards, flowers, dinners, and gifts. My neighbors were wonderful. Two nearby Relief Society sisters, Darla Nielsen and Sherrie Thomas, brought dinner for a month. And Sherrie, a nurse, administered injections for pain. I couldn’t help but feel that the Lord had sent these two angels to watch over me. I also felt an irony, however, in the fact that many who showed affection did so for what they believed was a dying person. I realized that as important as affection is for those on their deathbed, words and expressions of love are no less important each day of our lives. Life’s challenges are difficult, and sometimes just a friendly smile can make a significant difference in someone’s day. I was reminded that we are here on earth to strengthen, support, and love each other. I made up my mind that I would not wait to share my affection, praise, and sincere feelings for others.
I began starting my days by singing:
Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
(Hymns, 1985, no. 223)
Radiation treatments lasted six weeks, and I ended up losing my hair after all. By February, to the astonishment of physicians, the brain tumor was gone. Subsequent scans also found nothing. The tumor, however, had taken its toll. The left side of my body remained numb, and I suffered from loss of equilibrium.
Bill’s confidence in my long-term recovery wavered, but his love, support, and patience were unfailing. How thankful I am for the love that has kept us together in this life and that will reunite us in the life to come.
Despite persistent pain, my health returned, as did my strength. I was not surprised to find out, at year’s end, that I was pregnant. I was ecstatic, but many, including my doctor, were concerned how the pregnancy would progress given my radiation treatments and the medication I continued to take. I did not share their concern. I knew that Heavenly Father had granted me further time on earth, and I knew that he had another child to send us.
Kathryn Diane Jones was born 24 August 1977. She was strong and healthy and close to our Father in Heaven. During a family home evening sometime after “Katy” turned six, Bill and I recounted to the children for the first time our trip to the temple as a family. As Cory and April shared what they remembered, Katy suddenly interrupted. “I remember the trip too, Mom,” she said. Katy described everything from baby Erica’s crying to the clothes we wore to what was said and done. Just as I had been granted a glimpse of the next life, so Katy had been granted a glimpse of this life and those with whom she would share it.
My three months to live have turned into twenty years. Physical trials related to my illness have continued, and I have had to undergo several surgeries. Not all has been perfect. But I have lived to see three of my children marry in the temple and my youngest working toward that goal. I have seen Anna and Kent return to the Church and be sealed in the temple. And I have tried to remember that it is not the number of days God gives us that counts, but how we use those days in serving and loving others while we are here. Twenty years later, I still ask myself: Have I done any good in the world today?