There's a pretty cheesy song by Tim McGraw, who you'll only know if you like a bit of ol' country music, called 'Live Like You Were Dying.' I remember hearing it when I was about 18 and it struck a chord with me, in an embarrassing way, a bit like when a One Direction song makes you feel teary-eyed or when you get choked up watching an advert about a lonely kitten (anyone else?!) I just thought there was something powerful in that thought - that if you knew your time was limited, you'd make better use of it.
I get that feeling occasionally, when something's happened to me- like when you recover from one of those flus that feel like they might never end, or when you think you've found a lump only to realise your boyfriend has them too and they're called mosquito bites. Those days when the sun seems a little brighter and you go downstairs barefoot and drink a glass of orange juice and really taste it, and you smile at everyone you pass on the way to work, even the man who bashes you with his briefcase and doesn't say sorry. And you think of your life spread out ahead of you like a road map, filled with potential lovers and babies and holidays to far flung locations and promotions and achievements and hopes and dreams, and just the thought of it gives you bubbles of excitement in your stomach, and you can't imagine how you ever cried over a two pound gain on the scales or got cross because your Domino's delivery showed up late and they forgot your garlic bread. That feeling, for me at least, doesn't last. It probably doesn't last for you either.
But it should.
Recently, I came across a Facebookpost relating to a girl I went to university with. Emmy is beautiful and it is clear from the support on her posts that she has lots of friends and family and a gorgeous fiance. Just last year, she ran the London Marathon. Which is amazing. Especially when you consider that she had undiagnosed thyroid cancer.
When diagnosed, she’d just reunited with her childhood sweetheart. Just after getting engaged, they were told her cancer had spread so far that it was now considered incurable. In that moment, I think I know how I would react. I think I know how everyone would react, to be honest. But what about the next moment? I’m not so sure.
I think I might lock myself in a dark room, wrap myself in cotton wool. Rile against the cruelty of the world, cry about how unfair it was, yell at people who’d done nothing wrong, scream in empty fields, eat pizza and watch daytime TV listlessly in my pyjamas. Emmy has done none of those things. Instead she has raised over £50,000 for the RoyalMarsden hospital, where she is being treated, by deciding to tandem her way across Europe with her new fiancé in order to raise awareness for thyroid cancer and it's rarer symptoms. She updates regularly, brightly, posts full of humour and light, she talks about her illness honestly but without self pity; she is gracious and she is optimistic but never naïve. I read her posts spellbound because every single one delivers a message and the message is that you can’t choose how you die, but you can choose how you live.
Her Just Giving page is here - I won't tell her story. I don't know her (although I wish I did) and she does it plenty of justice on her own. But what I will say is that when I read it, I was overwhelmed by the extraordinary strength in it and the intense desire I felt to be the sort of person who would react in exactly that way the moment after I received that sort of news. And all I kept thinking was, maybe I need to start being that person now. Maybe we all do.
Because we are all dying, or as Chuck puts it in Fight Club, ‘on a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.’ We don't know how fast, we don't know when or why, but the end will come, overtaking and unstoppable like sleep as you lie in bed at night. Every day that you wake up bleary-eyed to the buzzing alarm on your iPhone, you're rolling a dice and you never know when your number could come up. One of the strangest things about being a human is that we're all going to die but we all live as though we think the end will never come. Maybe your chance of dying today is infinitely small, but it's there, ever present, and rather than pushing that knowledge under the carpet you should remember it and live like you know every single day could be your last.
Read Emmy's story and see if at the end you still want to moan about how you're turning 30 this year or wish you were 2 stone lighter or had a different job or were a famous blogger or whatever. Change it, embrace it, take every opportunity, every chance you get. Swim in cold oceans, climb hills, kiss the boy and dye your hair pink, go to the party, get on the plane and paint the walls and buy the shoes. Life is not always wonderful but it is always all you've got. It is the most precious resource you will ever own. Remember that, be inspired by it, hold onto it, and even though it’s a cliché – live like you were dying.
You can donate to Emmy’s amazing cause here. Thank you Emmy for changing my mindset – I wish you all the luck and love in the world.