Knocking on Heaven’s Door: An Unwelcome Truth

Mark Niemela's short struggle with terminal gastric cancer

Mark and Cynder Niemela: Life was good.

We had high expectations for 2018 and it started off so well. Or so I thought.  In 2014, we bought our dream house in the Oakland Hills. We were close to family and friends and were settling into our favorite activities. Mark was playing golf a couple times a week, had a close relationship with his brother, and we had a new puppy that kept him in smiles.

A Sudden Change In Interests and Attitude

By mid-January, I noticed something was off. Suddenly, Mark was not enjoying the activities that brought him joy most of his life. For example, he lost interest in golf and going out with family. He also came down frequently with colds and general feelings of malaise. 

At the same time, I was immersed in new creative endeavors and actively engaged with clients. By June, as I became more engaged in outside activities, Mark was becoming less energetic and enthusiastic about life. 

Mark and I were married for 22 years and over that time, we’ve given each other space and support we needed. However, this time it felt very different. Mark always had the time and energy for living life to the fullest. Now, he seemed to give up; he seemed resigned to being old and distant. He lost his appetite for life and adventure.

Slowly and Then Suddenly

By our 22nd anniversary in mid-June, Mark wasn’t eating and he had lost nearly twenty pounds. I was worried. He went to the doctor in early June but their treatment was not having a positive impact. Then in early July, I took Mark to the emergency room. As we sat in the ER, we made plans to take the trips we had put off for a couple of years. For the first time, we were scared.

That day, the doctor told us Mark had stage 4 gastric cancer. We couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, we were faced with the inevitable truth, Mark’s end date was too close.

If you knew your end date, what would you do differently?

Would you continue to do what you do until the end date? Or, would you drop people or activities from your life and focus on what’s really important?

Over the next 2.5 months, my primary concern was taking care of Mark. We went for additional tests and second opinions, but the prognosis was the same; 3-6 months. We spent our remaining time together neither dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future. Rather, the first couple of weeks we often sat in silence, letting the unwelcome truth settle into our reality. 

Mark passed away on September 15th. I am grateful to my children, our family, and friends for their support during Mark’s illness and afterward. I’ve learned a lot during this time and I want to share it with others who may be experiencing a similar situation.

I asked Lion Goodman, whom I interviewed in Episode 2, to help me tell part of my story. I will share how my husband and I coped with the unwelcome news of his cancer diagnosis and his untimely death.


You can listen to Episode 19 here

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Cynder Niemela hosts the inspired wisdom podcast on itunesCynder Niemela hosts the inspired wisdom podcast on Google PlayInspired Wisdom Podcast is available to download on Podbean


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