Thirty nine years. To me, an eighteen year old University of Kentucky freshman, thirty nine years was an eternity. But to some, it is an hour. On my eighteenth birthday, I learned the most valuable lesson one could ever learn. I was taught on that day to cherish what time I have. Do what you want to do before it is too late. Why? Thirty nine years.
My cousin, Jamie Renee Toles, was born on September 24, 1968. She was blessed with doting parents, Tubby and Donna, and a loving big sister, Tina. Throughout childhood, Jamie was loved by all who knew her. Her quick smile and kind word made all those in her presence feel at ease. In her last years at high school, Jamie met Tim Wiard and they fell deeply in love. In August of 1989, Tim and Jamie got married. That fall, Jamie began working as a medical receptionist for Lexington Clinic. A few years later, Jamie and Tim welcomed a son who they named Ryan Thomas. When Ryan was three, Austin Patrick was born. Throughout the next years, Jamie was a loving wife and adoring mother. Ryan and Austin were active in baseball, and Jamie was a second mom to all the boys on their teams. Her family and her job was Jamie’s world. She had enough love for her family, her friends, and her patients.
Then the unthinkable happened. In May 2007, Jamie went to her doctor concerned about recent weight gain. The doctors ran many tests and all but one came back as normal. A blood test for cortisol, the hormone produced by the adrenal glands, came back abnormally high. A scan showed a tumor on her adrenal glands. Jamie’s doctors referred her to the national expert on adrenal cancer. The ‘expert’ doctor on adrenal cancer had only seen two cases of this cancer before. Jamie and her family traveled to Michigan for a surgery to remove the tumor. The doctors prepared the family by letting them know that the surgery would last from eight to nine hours. Less than an hour letter, the doctors returned and delivered the grim news. The scans had not shown everything and the cancer had spread. When the doctors opened Jamie for the surgery, they discovered how widespread it was and they closed her up. There was nothing they could do for her. Her oldest son, Ryan, asked how long she had to live. The doctors predicted a year or less.
Jamie came home, and began an unending round of chemotherapy and special pills. The pills and chemo would never kill the cancer, but they would stop it from growing which was supposed to lengthen her life. Christmas was difficult time for our family, because we knew it would be the last with Jamie. Jamie continued fighting, and lived longer than the doctors predicted. On a Friday, my dad told me that Hospice had informed the family that Jamie would not make it through the weekend and would have to be transported to a hospital. Once there Jamie’s immediate family wanted to be with alone with her. The next day my father called to tell me that Jamie had quietly passed away around 6:00 PM, Saturday, March 29, 2008.
The next day, we gathered at Jamie’s house. It was strange being there, and not seeing her sitting in her favorite chair. I kept thinking that any moment she would walk in the door. As the afternoon passed, it became warmer and warmer in the house. Tim went to turn the air but something was wrong, because it would not work. Tim laughed and quietly said that it had to be Jamie because she never let him turn on the air conditioning until mid-April.
Before the funeral began, a picture slideshow played on the screens above the casket. The pictures were of Jamie as child, in high school, her wedding, her sons, and other family members. One picture had been taken in summer 2007, when Jamie’s vibrant beauty was starting to fade. Some people sitting behind me commented on what a wonderful picture it was. Everything in me wanted to turn around in scream that it was a horrible picture. I did not know the woman in that picture. It was not Jamie. It was not my Jamie. The large church was full of people whose lives Jamie had touched. Jamie’s pastor and a doctor that she had worked for spoke at the funeral. It was very emotional for all present, because we all knew what a special person she was.
Even though Jamie was not there in person, I know she was there in spirit. Jamie’s funeral was held on April 2, 2008 – my eighteen birthday. And on that day, I learned the most valuable lesson one could ever learn. I learned three valuable morals that day – how to live, laugh, and learn.
Live. Jamie had dreams and goals, some of which she never achieved. In November 2007, her family took one last vacation to Florida. While there, Jamie saw a dream come true – she swam with dolphins. I have always had big dreams and plans, but now I have the courage and the willpower to go after them. Thanks to Jamie, I will always chase my dreams and fly as high as they will take me.
Laugh. I have tendencies to be clumsy and say things the wrong way. Usually, I would get very embarrassed and avoid the people who had seen me mess up. Now when I am walking down a flat sidewalk and trip myself – I laugh. I cannot worry about what tomorrow brings, I can only handle what today has brought. Thanks to Jamie, I can always find the ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds, and laugh about how long it takes me to find it.
Learn. Christmas 2007 was the last time I saw Jamie. It was always easy to make excuses to not go and see her. She was in too much pain for visitors. School is too hectic right now. I have to work. I regret not seeing Jamie one last time, but I learned to never make that mistake again. I will go see my loved ones while I am able, and will express my love in multiple ways. I cannot get my time back with Jamie, but I can make the time I have with everyone else a little sweeter. Thanks to Jamie, I can let ‘important’ things go, if it means that five extra minutes with someone I love.
As time flies by, I am constantly reminded of how hard life can be. But through them all, I have learned and matured. I have let go of regrets, and forgiven mistakes. I have spent time with the people that love me and I have let them know how much I care for them. I will live for dreams, laugh when I fall, and learn how to get back up. This I believe – time is precious. Why? Thirty nine years.