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How a skydiving granny gave him a new perspective on terminal illness

In 2014 I was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cirrhosis. I had no symptoms, felt pretty good for a 71 year old guy and I was optimistic about the future. I didn't drink, I'd never had hepatitis C. I was one of the growing number of Americans with NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The reasons for it are not fully understood, but there is no cure, short of a liver transplant.

My dad, who died a decade ago, had liver disease, so I knew that this is one nasty way to go. For the first time in my life, I fell into the ugly beast of depression.

A few months after my diagnosis, when my spirits had reached rock bottom, my 91-year-old mother asked me and my sister to go with her to see an oncologist.  She had been coughing a little and a scan showed a suspicious mass in her lung which had been biopsied.

The doctor was calm and supportive as he explained stage 4 non-small cell carcinoma.  Sadly no, not operable. How long would she have? Hard to say. Probably not too long.  Chemo is really hard on older people, he told us.  Think about the quality of life.

The experience was a heavy weight as we drove home.  Finally, my sister asked our mother what was on her bucket list.

The answer came without hesitation.

"I want to go skydiving," she declared.

We were dumbfounded.  As far as we knew, she'd never wanted to do anything like that. Why now?

Life was for living, she told us,  and there was nothing to be gained by moping around.

Besides, she had always wanted to know what it was like to fly like a bird.

It's been two years (and one more skydive, this time with her daughter and granddaughter), and my mother is still with us.

Every now and then, I watch the video of her first skydive. I know of no more magical tonic to help me remember her lesson in why being positive in life is its own reward, regardless of what the days bring.

Wayne Eskridge, an electrical engineering graduate who lives in Boise, Idaho,  spent a career in a wide variety of technical and management positions and operated retail ecommerce websites.  As a result of his experience with liver disease he has formed the Fatty Liver Foundation, a non-profit with the mission of helping NAFLD and NASH patients deal with their disease and to highlight the tragedy of the 100 million obese Americans who unknowingly invite liver disease. 

This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 900,000 patients and caregivers.

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