Rebecca Hirschi: To the Finish Line
In 2012, amidst cancer treatments, Rebecca Hirschi achieved her goal of running the Boston Marathon. But on New Year's Eve 2020, Hirschi approached another finish line as she was nearing the end of her battle with cancer and was on hospice. That night, she was carried up the stairs by her family. Her daughter and husband got her ready for bed, but when it was time for her evening prayers, Rebecca insisted on kneeling. She said she owed everything to God. Three days later, Rebecca returned to that God who gave her life. In this episode, recorded just a few weeks before she passed, Rebecca shares what she learned about the gift of life and living each day to its fullest.
The eternal today is what really becomes the focus…each and every day—and the moments within each day—can be lived to its fullest.
The book by Sister Nelson that Rebecca mentioned: The Heavens Are Open, by Wendy Watson Nelson
"The Living Christ," that Rebecca and her son memorized: "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles"
Instagram account of previous All In guest, Marilee Killpack: @marileekillpack. (See the All In episode that features Marilee here).
Idaho Press Article about Rebecca: "Cancer Diagnosis for local runner, wife and mom spurs a moving movement"
See posts from Rebecca and her family about her journey with Metatastic Breast Cancer: Hirschi Strong Facebook Group
Last Facebook post before Rebecca passed: "Update from Emma"
For more about the home being as sacred as the temple, see Bible Dictionary definition of temple, here.
Scriptures and Quotes:
Helen Keller quote:
"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
Elder Neal A. Maxwell quote:
“As we confront our own … trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we ‘might not … shrink’—meaning to retreat or to recoil (D&C 19:18). Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus” ("Applying the Atoning Blood of Christ," Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1997).
President Russell M. Nelson quote from recent message:
"Skilled scientists and researchers are laboring diligently to develop and distribute a vaccine against the coronavirus. But there is no medication or operation that can fix the many spiritual woes and maladies that we face. There is, however, a remedy — one that may seem surprising — because it flies in the face of our natural intuitions. Nevertheless, its effects have been validated by scientists as well as men and women of faith. I am referring to the healing power of gratitude" (See full transcript here, and video here).
Doctrine & Covenants scripture:
"36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not fear, not" (D&C 6:36).
Rebecca's Cancer Scripture:
"28 Hast thou not known? has thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
"29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
"30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
"31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:28-31).
Quote from book, When Breath Becomes Air:
"There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment" (Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air).
Scripture in Exodus that Rebecca found while at the temple:
"13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.
"14 The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:13-14).
1:57- Receiving a Diagnosis
5:06- Consciously Breathing
7:03- Fighting Cancer with Faith
8:31- Choosing to Run the Race
16:25- The Healing Power of Gratitude
20:21- Centering in Christ and Calming the Storm
23:50- "Build and Connect"
26:09- The Individual Gift of the Temple
29:45- "Only the Home Can Compare with the Temple in Sacredness."
33:45- The Magnitude and Significance of Tiny Moments
36:50- "Mount Up With Wings as Eagles"
40:38- What Does It Mean To Be "All In" the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
When we recorded the episode you're about to hear on December 16, just before Christmas, Rebecca Hirschi was on hospice and had been given two to three months to live after a battle with breast cancer.
This past Sunday, January 3, I received the following message from her daughter, Emma: "Morgan, my mom passed away this morning. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for recording that episode with her. I just stumbled across her notes in prep for speaking with you, and I'm so excited to hear her voice and listen to the interview."
During our interview, I kept thinking about what a treasure this would be for the Hirschi family to not only hear Rebecca's voice, but to hear her testimony. I just had no idea she would pass before they would hear it for the first time. So, to the Hirschi family – thank you for sharing your wife and mother with us. And to all of you listening, I hope this episode impacts your life the way it did mine.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so honored to have Rebecca Hirschi on the line with me today. Rebecca, welcome.
Rebecca Hirschi 1:21
Hello, thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.
Morgan Jones 1:24
Well, I have to tell listeners that I received a message on Instagram from Rebecca's daughter, Emma, and she told me a little bit about you, Rebecca. And I was blown away by the life that you have led and the example that you've set, and I'm just so thrilled for listeners to have the chance to talk with you, and to learn from your story. So, thank you so much. And I'll just kind of – let's start, if it's okay with you, I'd like to start – you were living in Thailand, when you found out that you had been diagnosed with cancer. Can you tell us what took you to Thailand? And how you learned about that, that diagnosis?
Rebecca Hirschi 2:12
Yeah, I totally can. We had lived in Michigan for a long time and my husband's job – he was traveling a lot in Asia, and so they decided to move our family to Bangkok, which was a crazy, huge adventure. And so we moved there in 2010, with all five kids in tow, and Adam, our youngest, was nine months old. So it was this great big international adventure. And it was awesome.
So we moved over there with that and I was nursing Adam for quite a while and I had felt a little lump in one of my breasts, but I just was like, "Oh, it's probably related to nursing." I sort of ignored it, put it to the back shelf. But – this might be a little embarrassing – I didn't wean him until he was a little closer to two, so it was a little bit late in that. After I weaned him, the lump was still there and quite prominent and so I thought I better go get this checked out. So we went to a doctor there in Bangkok and they did a biopsy, and it came back that it was cancerous. So it was a kind of a crazy time, because in Bangkok at that time, there was a ton of flooding, that was like historic flooding, there was just a lot of chaos and people are trying to get out of the country, and so we were in the midst of flooding and we got this cancer diagnosis, and we were – our home in Michigan was being rented out and we just kind of were unsure. Where do we go? What do we do?
Morgan Jones 3:36
So what did end up happening at that point, Rebecca? Did you – how soon did you go back to the United States?
Rebecca Hirschi 3:44
Well we, we were kind of naive a little bit. We thought oh, we'll just get treatment here in Bangkok and go back home to the US. And we have a really good family friend who's a cardiothoracic surgeon and when we were in the midst of trying to figure out, “What do we do?” My husband, David called him and said, "What should we do?" And he at the time was working at University of Alabama, and he said, the US is where you want to come. He says, "Don't stay there, come to a national cancer treatment center, come to my home in Alabama and I will get you connected with the best surgeons and we'll get this all taken care of."
And so we just jumped. We thought, “Okay, we've got to go to Alabama” – which seems kind of crazy, and thankfully, my sister lived in Atlanta, just short, you know, a couple hours away from Alabama. So we flew to Atlanta, my sister took the kids and a week later we were in Alabama with our really good friend who literally like went from appointment to appointment with us and connected us with the best doctors, the best surgeons, so after a couple weeks where we had – you know, a couple weeks earlier we were in Bangkok, not knowing if we could get a surgery and how that would look – we were back in the US having a, just had a mastectomy done within a couple weeks. It was really was really miraculous . . . to me, so.
Morgan Jones 5:03
Rebecca Hirschi 5:05
Morgan Jones 5:05
And so at this point, Rebecca, you have been battling cancer for nearly a decade. Was there ever any point in that where you thought that the cancer was gone? Or has it remained pretty, pretty consistent and there – the entire time?
Rebecca Hirschi 5:24
Now, that's a good question. I really, you know, when we first got diagnosed, I just felt this incredible peace and strength and just, I didn't even think about . . . like that my life would be ending from breast cancer, it just didn't even enter into, like, my psyche. I just thought, “Oh, we're gonna do this and move forward.” And my cancer when it was found was a very small stage, like a 1A, 1B, it was on the edge of, you know, did they even want to do chemotherapy because it was so small.
And so they said, “Well, let's go ahead, we'll do a mastectomy.” We decided we're just gonna hit it hard. So we did chemotherapy, we did radiation, and then I was on tamoxifen for five years. And they said, you know, “You had such a small stage, the odds of it ever coming back are super small.” I have no family history, I have no, like, predisposition factors. I've always been active, healthy, there was nothing that would indicate that – yeah, this would come back and ultimately take my life.
So I didn't even really give it another thought, and the doctors never even really talked to me about the possibility that it could come back. So when it came back – loud and proud – in fall of 2017, or, you know, beginning of 2018, it was, it was quite a shock. Like a serious shock.
I was – we were just . . it kind of spun our world. We just didn't anticipate, and now it's definitely – I can feel myself even as I'm talking just the . . . it takes a lot of breath and air – that the cancer is taking my body. And so it wasn't – that's definitely not the trajectory I anticipated way back when.
Morgan Jones 7:02
Yeah. So I loved something that I read on your blog. And it was years ago, you wrote that your doctor observed that patients with faith tend to live longer than patients who don't. And I wondered, Rebecca, now – having been that patient for nearly 10 years – why do you think that that might be the case? Why do you think patients with faith would live longer than patients who don't?
Rebecca Hirschi 7:36
Oh it just – I just think faith has such power. There's just – it makes you live better. And it's interesting to me, that doctor who said that, he wasn't a member of our faith – but obviously a Christian man – who'd noticed that there was something different about those people who have faith. And I think – I don't know – just faith that . . . the thoughts that you have when you're full of faith, they just makes you stronger, and they make you live better.
I think they really have the power to change us, as we just, you know, put the course of our lives in God's hands. I don't know how to adequately explain it. But I just I noticed that too. And, you know, friends and other people who go through great trials, or even things that maybe we don't see great, but seem like massive trials, but when it's approached with faith, it just makes all the difference.
Morgan Jones 8:29
Yeah. One thing that struck me as I went through your blog and your Facebook group is that you, Rebecca, have lived your life to its fullest, and you have not missed out on opportunities, and you have enjoyed your time with your family. And specifically, one thing that blows my mind as someone who will never run a marathon, is the fact that you ran the Boston Marathon while going through radiation treatment. And I love – there's a picture of you with the, "Boston is all in" sign, and I was like, "I can appreciate that." But why was it so important to you Rebecca – you qualified for that race prior to knowing that you had cancer – and then, but then you decided I'm still going to run it. So why was it important to you to run that race? And also, how would you say that life can be compared to a race or a marathon?
Rebecca Hirschi 9:33
Mmm, that's such a good question. You know, I'm not sure why I felt so determined. It was like a switch clicked when the doctor told me I had breast cancer. Almost immediately one of my first thoughts was, "Can I run the race?" "Can I run the Boston Marathon?" and it just – somehow it just hit me that I needed to run that race.
And I'm not sure why I had that – such a determination, but I can think now looking back of a couple reasons why, but I think that determination to run that race impacted how I went through the treatment. It's not easy to train for a marathon and certainly not easy to train when you have a mastectomy and chemotherapy, and radiation on top of it. And Michigan winters that are brutal – we finally did get back to Michigan, but. So I just did the best I could to train in the snow and the ice and I know my friends thought I was crazy and doctors thought I was crazy, but it just – it was a drive that I couldn't, I couldn't put aside.
And looking back, I know 100% that it was not me. There's no way. I look back now and I think, "I don't even know how I did it," because the treatments I've gone through just with this second tier of cancer, it completely has wiped me out. And I don't even know how I how I ran or completed the race other than to attribute it all to Heavenly Father, that he somehow gave me the strength and the courage to run and I think really taught me that He was with me, and you know, hand in hand I can do anything within His, you know, will. That His strength is stronger than man's and just so many deep lessons that spiritually taught me that He's there, He's aware, and He can strengthen us beyond our own natural abilities.
And as far as the life and marathon training, there's so many parallels to running a marathon and life. And I think, probably, you know, the first thing is you have to train. You have to work at it, and I really think that in order for us to be spiritual and strong, we have to train and work at it. It's a daily, daily effort. And one of the mantras I love about marathon training or running is, "To finish is to win." And I really think that's a life lesson too, that it's not whether we're the first or the last but that we finished the race. And we finished it strong and with Heavenly Father, we can.
I just love that about marathon training and running. I think one other thing is just the concept of: a race is run just by putting one foot in front of the other. You know, it's just that one step at a time. And to me, that's a real-life lesson too, that – you know – just one little footstep, and eventually we'll get there. Just as long as you don't quit.
Morgan Jones 12:27
That's beautiful. I think you're spot on. Rebecca, you wrote of that experience running the Boston Marathon, you said, "Finally, we were called to the start and I crowded in with everyone else. It was hotter than hot, due to abnormally high temperatures. 88 degrees Fahrenheit," – which is crazy – "and I was sweating before I even started running. The race officials had posted heat warning signs all over and advised all runners to take it slow. They even offered a deferment option to those who wanted to opt out and run in next year's race. I figured that I was already there, so I might as well go for it. And so I did."
And for some reason, Rebecca reading that makes me emotional. And I think it's because, to me, that statement is so powerful, and also symbolic for our journey here in life. Like, we could have waited and come later. But we were supposed to come now. We were already here, and so we might as well go for it. And so, what have you learned about accepting the good and the bad that life brings us and just going for it?
Rebecca Hirschi 13:38
Oh, so many things, right? Life is full of such ups and downs and good days and bad days, and the sweet and the bitter all in one. I just – I often think about that – I think that saying from Helen Keller, that "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." And I just, I don't know, I just have this kind of, let's just embrace it, and go for it, and that – I guess that was one of those moments it's just like, you know what? I'm not holding back. I don't want to.
And I think I've tried to live my life that way, in a large sense, that there's so much beautiful, and the hard things actually I think make it more beautiful. Because without them, I don't think we could see the beautiful and the good for what they are. Interestingly enough on that hot day that actually the top runner dropped out of the race, because it was so hot – which I think is kind of interesting, but the other thing that is funny and an aside, my husband and daughter were there and there's a hill called Heartbreak Hill as part of the race, and it's a tough one, kind of towards the end. And my husband was standing on the side with his BYU hat or BYU t-shirt. And some man who was a runner in the race ran up to him, just like, "I need help. I need help," and said, "You're a member of the Church, can you give me a blessing?" and he – my husband – just right there on the side of the race was able to pull the man back into the tent and give him a blessing, and he was able to continue on the race. And I just, I don't know why that experience kind of sticks out to me as you know, we can help each other along the race.
Morgan Jones 15:13
I love that. I also loved Rebecca, reading about how, at the very end of the race, you took your hat off, so that other people could see that you had shaved your head. And I think that's a powerful thing as well, to show that you were not going to let cancer stop you from that. Why was that important to you, to do?
Rebecca Hirschi 15:38
I think it was just a really emotional moment, I think because I – you know it's a little awkward to be bald, at least for me, it was a little awkward to be bald, some people maybe not so much, but I think I just it was maybe . . . yeah, I think like you said, symbolic of just this is, you know, I've done this with Heavenly Father and that last mile to run just really, it was so profound, to run and have people cheering and thinking, "I'm doing this and this is Heavenly Father that's helped me to do this." And you know, bald or not – not necessarily the way I thought I would ever run the Boston Marathon, but it was with Heavenly Father, I was running it and that was a pretty sacred moment for me.
Morgan Jones 16:23
Yeah, absolutely. You quoted in one of your posts, you quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell who's one of my favorites, who also had cancer himself, and he said, "As we confront our own trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we might not shrink. Not shrinking is so much more important than surviving. Moreover, partaking of the bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus."
And then you wrote, "Focusing on the present and the joys of each moment has been critical in helping me to overcome any bitter feelings that try to creep into my soul. I am so richly blessed. I have lived 26 beautiful years with David," –your husband– "and we have so many cherished memories together, I have five incredible children whom I love and adore being with, I have so many friends that have loved and mentored me and have been so forgiving of my many foibles, I've tried to live my life to its fullest, and I've had glorious experiences all over the world. Best of all, I have sweet knowledge that God has an eternal plan. And this life is not the end. When I think about his grace and mercy in my life, I am filled with joy that swallows up every smidgen of anything bitter."
I was so struck by reading that post, Rebecca, especially thinking about President Nelson and his recent words about the healing power of gratitude. And it made me think and wonder, how have you seen that healing, even when your cancer has not been healed? Why do you think that gratitude carries with it a healing power?
Rebecca Hirschi 18:12
Oh, that gratitude . . . when President Nelson shared the gratitude challenge, it just hit my heart so deeply that, that gratitude is the way for our family to navigate forward successfully. I don't know – there's something about gratitude that is just magical. I don't, it seems like whenever, sometimes it's – especially now at the point I'm at where going up the stairs, I get completely and totally out of breath. There's a lot of things I can't do normally, that I used to be able to do. And it is very tempting sometimes to think, "Oh, I can't do this," or, "I can't do that." But I find that as soon as I turn my thoughts to, like how grateful I am that somebody developed these oxygen cannulas so I can have oxygen 24/7, or that maybe my legs – I can't run, but I can walk and I can see and I can hear, and it just is this peaceful balm that I don't know how to describe it, but it just, as soon as we turn our hearts, at least for me, as soon as I turn my heart to gratitude, it does. It just heals, it makes everything seem better.
And I am so grateful for that. And it's a real thing. I mean, it's beyond the Pollyanna – but there is something to Pollyanna, at the same time, but – there's just gratitude, it really is a healing power. And I think the other thing I read just recently, and I loved reading Sister Nelson's book about the windows of heaven are open, and she talked about how "healing," you know – our perspective is physical healing. We often think of it as, you know, we have to be healed physically, but yet sometimes passing on to the other side of the veil is complete and total healing. And I'm really grateful for her thoughts on that because healing, there's a difference in perspective you know when we're aligned with Heavenly Father that complete healing is sometimes allowing people to pass.
Morgan Jones 20:13
That's a powerful thought. I appreciate you sharing that. This is kind of along those same lines. But another thing that I love that you wrote, you said, "My fears have brought me to tears at times. And yet, when I center my heart and mind back on thoughts of Christ and His redeeming power and grace, my inner storm calms, and I feel peace."
What have you found to be effective? – Rebecca, I am one of those people where whatever happens, like somebody could not be answering the phone, and my mind goes to worst case scenario and so I wonder, what have you found to be effective in centering your mind and your heart on thoughts of Christ and finding peace in that centering?
Rebecca Hirschi 21:00
That's a, it's a challenge. I think it takes a lot of work. It's not easy. I think that's something I've really learned this past year, and I'm still learning, is how to really center my thoughts, my focus, so that I'm not dragged down by the fears and the worries because, they're real. I mean, the thoughts of leaving my family and being away from children are real, because I love them deeply.
But I found it may be even longer than the past year, but one thing that's been really helpful to me is sort of have a little mental library, if you will, of some things that I have memorized. And my son and I started, I started myself by memorizing “The Living Christ,” probably two years ago. And so my son and I were working at it as I would drive him to school every day, we'd practice memorizing it. And so we worked for a whole year, by the end of that year, we had that memorized.
And there was such power in when I was having scans or doctor's appointments or feeling afraid, or overwhelmed, being able to turn my mind to those words of Christ. And it just, there was such calm, and it helped me to really focus on Him. So kind of having that, that and scriptures. I really appreciated Doctrine and Covenants, Section 6, I think it's verse 36? Where it's, "Look unto to me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." And it's hard. It's not always easy to do, but it's the same thing as like the gratitude.
As soon as I turn my thoughts to Christ, and to Him and what He's like and what He's done for me, and how He's there, then really, and truly – the fears flee. I think one other thing as well is music, for some reason, Handel's Messiah has really like, just lodged in my heart the past couple years. And so I've just loved – even when it's not Christmas, listening to it again, and again, and that kind of music just really – things that are of Christ just really helps me to look to Him and to center my heart on Him.
Morgan Jones 23:11
Yeah, thank you for sharing. Those are great suggestions. And the interesting thing is, I've actually noticed that. Marilee Killpack was a previous guest on this podcast, and throughout a whole – the whole journey of her son being in the hospital and awaiting a bone marrow transplant, I followed her on Instagram. And it was so interesting, because she was always posting quotes. And it was like what you kind of said, you know, like creating this collection of stuff to draw from when you're going through something hard, and so I think that that is a powerful suggestion. Rebecca, you told a newspaper, you said, "I keep thinking about my 10-year-old." How long ago was that newspaper article? Do you know?
Rebecca Hirschi 23:59
That was last year, he's 11 now, so.
Morgan Jones 24:01
Okay. So you said, "I keep thinking about him," and you said, "If I'm gone, how do I prepare him to live the rest of his life? I don't know how people get through any challenging thing without God. So I decided to build and connect." And I love that phrase, "build and connect." How do you feel like you've been able to do that with your children throughout this time?
Rebecca Hirschi 24:26
It's been challenging for me, particularly for my youngest, Adam, because he prays, every single day, "Please bless mom that she'll be cured of the cancer." That's kind of been his prayer, and I've wanted him to know that even if my life is taken, that he can trust, and trust in God and have mighty faith.
And so that's been a challenge for me, how do I help him to see that God is answering his prayers? Maybe not in the way that he wants them to be answered, and, and probably for my other children as well, I think it's been a mighty challenge because we love each other. And we are – we have good relationships, and I think . . . what I've come to, is that our relationships are eternal. And I really talked to my husband a lot about this and my children that our desire to build Heavenly Father's Kingdom and do His work is what's going to keep our relationship strong, connected. As we focus on Christ, and staying close to Him, and being the best disciples we can be, then when we reunite, however long it is that there will be so much joy and sweetness that really if we center and focus on doing what our Prophet has asked us to do and living the best Christ-like life we can live, that those connections will be so strong and mighty, even if we're apart for a time.
Morgan Jones 26:06
Absolutely. You have served in the temple for the past few years. And so what you just said ties perfectly into the next question that I wanted to ask you, which is: how has that service in the temple, given you a greater eternal perspective?
Rebecca Hirschi 26:25
Oh, my goodness, the temple is like – such an incredible gift. It has been such a blessing to be able to serve in the temple these past couple years. And even though we're not able to go as often now, because of the Coronavirus, the power of the temple is still very, very real.
I think that the ordinances and the covenants and the – everything that's available in the temple – it's really individual. I think that's the thing that's really struck me, is God's work is about "The one." And the temple to me is about “The one.” About each person in their own journey to come back to Heavenly Father and how much he loves us and cares about us and wants us to be with him eternally. And that has been such a sweet revelation and power and understanding in my life to see the temple unfold in a different aspect and, and just so many miracles in the temple.
I'll share when I first found out about this metastatic diagnosis, my husband David was in Melbourne, Australia on business. And I called him just like, "Oh my gosh, they think this is cancer” and I was quite, quite upset. And he obviously couldn't get home in time to, you know, he had a few days before he was coming back, but. . . So the next morning, I went to the temple and he went to the Melbourne temple – I don't know that the timing actually aligned, but we both went to the temple. And when I was in the temple, I was sitting in a quiet spot and opened my scriptures, and they opened to Exodus, chapter 14, verse 13 – hopefully I'm saying those verses right – it just was the story of how the children of Israel were terrified. They were looking at the Red Sea, the Egyptians were coming up, and they just didn't know how in the world they were going to.
There was no way that they could see that they would get through it. And Moses, you know, the Lord tells them through Moses, "Fear ye not, stand ye still, and you shall see the salvation of the Lord, and I will fight for you." And those words have just carried me through these past few years and I've reflected on them multiple times, as you know, the temple just got [closed]. It's a place of Revelation where God can really speak directly to us.
And I was really grateful for Heavenly Father for showing me those words and those verses that have given me such strength. And my husband at the same time in Australia, he was in the temple, just feeling distraught. And he noticed a man who was bald who looked like he was going through some chemotherapy, and they reached out and connected to each other. And it was a huge comfort to my husband, to talk with another couple who was going through kind of a similar experience, we were going to be going through, and it just gave him a lot of strength. So to me, those kind of experiences speak to the individual-ness of the temple and how it really is about each of us and how much Heavenly Father loves us.
Morgan Jones 29:39
That is so beautifully said, and I appreciate you sharing those experiences. Rebecca, you are currently on hospice, and I have to tell you, I have written a handful of stories over the years and we had one podcast episode with a guest who has since passed away, and yet, this is a new experience for me. And I want to thank you for sharing your time – which I know is more valuable now than perhaps ever – with us.
You said years ago, "I've really had to take a hard look at how I want to die, which sounds morbid. But I've decided that I don't want to die hooked up to oxygen in a hospital. I want to die peacefully at home, surrounded by my family and in a setting I love." And then recently you wrote, "I want to be home. I want to use the time I have left to cherish and build relationships with my loved ones. We all feel like this is the most peaceful, natural path forward." And so that is what you're doing, you are at home with your family, and I just wondered if you could share what this time is like for you and your husband and your children.
Rebecca Hirschi 30:58
It's a, it was a really excruciating decision to try to determine, do we stop treatment? And we all felt – like you said, and what I wrote – peaceful about this decision, and it, it is really a sacred time just to be together as a family. I think, you know kind of – the home really is in sacredness like the temple. And I just, it's such a sweet thing for me to be home and be able to hear my children and they're, they're laughing, and they're engaged in different things, and to not be away from them, you know, pursuing other treatments. I just really, I savor . . . I don't know what it is about home, but I just love home. I just savor the ability to, to look at them and interact with them.
And it's been a very intimate time in a lot of ways too, because I'm sure they can see the decline. It's, it's reality. I think I've really come to realize that the breath and the strength and everything that I've ever, you know, maybe attributed to myself throughout my life is really not from me, but from Heavenly Father. And it's really him who gives us the strength and the ability to breathe, and as that sort of ebbs, and I can feel that in my body changing, my children see that it's created some opportunities for some real intimate experiences where we, we can weep together and cry together, and they can see that pain is real and that death is part of, part of our mortal experience. And I hope and pray that it can be sacred for them as it is for me that through it, we can draw closer to Heavenly Father and have it bring us together as a family.
Morgan Jones 32:44
Yeah. I have to tell you, so a few years ago, my grandmother passed away, and we actually had the opportunity to have her in our home in the last days of her life, and I spent the last few days with her. And my mom, I think, put it best when a few days after my grandmother had passed, my mom said, "I feel like we got the chance to escort her to heaven, and it just wasn't our time to go in." And I think that experience really is – I look back on that as one of the most sacred experiences of my life because the veil just felt so thin, and forever and eternity, these things that we talk about that just feel like words most of the time – became a reality. And I hope that your family feels that same experience, I imagine that you will.
Rebecca, you wrote, "The emotional challenges of terminal illness are many. But in some ways these challenges are true for everyone on earth. Not one single person really knows how much longer they have to live. We will all die, and so the real questions become, how do you live? What things become most important? How do you spend each day? I am truly grateful for this cancer because it has caused me to take a long, hard look at myself and savor moments and days like I never have before. That is a great blessing. My views of eternity and the life beyond has become so clear and I know – really know – that there is life after death, that knowledge shapes everything."
Rebecca, I wondered, and I think that this, this episode will air in the new year, and I think it's an appropriate time to think about how are we living our lives and how do we want to be different. I think it's a time for renewal. And for you as you approach the end of one season of your eternity and approach a new season, how does this experience change the way that you are living and what do you wish each of us better understood about the gift of life and mortality?
Rebecca Hirschi 35:09
Life is so, so short. It just, I think it has really brought so much into focus. Having this these past couple years, I just see so much more clearly, the tiny, tiny moments are really what matters. The little tiny interactions, the chance to just look in somebody's eyes and just see them. I think mindfulness is kind of the catchphrase that a lot of people use nowadays, but truly, I think that's been one of the greatest blessings of this cancer diagnosis to just really be able to savor and take a look at – how do I spend my time, and where is it most critical?
And I find that as I do that, I often do things differently than I maybe naturally would have before. And I really appreciated that shift in me personally, that taking the time to really listen to my children or my husband. And you know, instead of worrying about the dishes in the sink, I'll throw a football with my son in the backyard, or let's go get ice cream, you know? Or whatever it is, some of these things that you can't get back, and I feel incredibly grateful that I've had this time and this perspective because so many times there's accidents where people are taken quickly and that is gone. And so I just think that today, eternal today is what really becomes the focus . . . that each and every day, and the moments within each day – can be lived to its fullest. And that to me has been a great gift.
Morgan Jones 36:47
That's so well said. One thing that struck me before we get to our last question. Emma, when she sent me some information about you and some things that she thought would be helpful in prepping, she said that your cancer scripture is the scripture found in Isaiah that says, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator, the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint."
Rebecca, why is that scripture significant for you? And how has it carried you through your journey with cancer? I love – by the way – that you have a cancer scripture. I think that's so cool.
Rebecca Hirschi 37:52
I love that scripture. That is one of my all time. It really has been true. I, you know, time and time again, I've come to my knees and I'm sure time and time again I will, as you know, maybe the pain is too much, or the emotional struggle is too much, and I cry out and somehow, somehow the Lord, He really does, He just comes in and just lifts me in a very real way and, and it is like being on the wings of eagles. That doesn't necessarily mean that physical healing happens, but that spiritually and emotionally I am lifted beyond anything I can – I can . . . it's really difficult to describe, but I absolutely 100% know that whenever we turn on our – even the smallest amount of our hearts to Him, He's there to lift us and give us strength and to help us in whatever the challenge, whatever it is. Even, you know, small things where I want to be able to be more loving, or I want to, you know, I don't want to be without the Spirit in a situation or whatever it is, that if I lend my mind and my heart to the Lord, that He gives me strength beyond. And I really feel that, particularly now that He gives power to the faint. He increases strength. I really felt that as my physical strength is waning, that the Lord gives me the ability to keep moving forward and I just pray for the ability to not shrink and move forward with bravery and courage.
Morgan Jones 39:34
Thank you so much. Rebecca, I was struck by something that you said earlier in our interview – almost in passing – you mentioned that you could feel your efforts for breath and that you could feel the need for more air and it reminded me of the book – I don't know if you've read it, but it was When Breath Becomes Air. It's so good, it's one of the best books I've ever read. And I just think there are so many wonderful things that he says in that book. But one of the things that I feel like applies to what you've shared with us today is he said, "There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment." And so, I want to thank you for sharing this moment with us and for your example of faithfulness and goodness and enduring to the end. And I just have one last question for you, and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Rebecca Hirschi 40:47
I love that question. It's, um . . . I think for me, it's – I need my Savior, each and every day. He is the center, I need him every single second of every day. I can't, I really can't do life without Him. I really found that and it's, it's hard to describe, but Christ is the center and for me to be all in, He needs to be the center of my life. And I found that with Him, I can do so much more than without. I'm truly grateful that He allows me to just have Him be the center and helps me in so many ways. And that to me is really living, is to live with Him fully, 100% each and every day. And I'm not perfect at it. But I'm so grateful that He lets me try.
Morgan Jones 41:39
Thank you so much, Rebecca, this has been an honor. And I just appreciate you so much. Thank you.
Rebecca Hirschi 41:46
Thank you, Morgan.
Morgan Jones 41:50
We are so grateful to Rebecca Hirschi for sharing her example of what it truly means to endure to the end. As we begin this new year, may we live life to its fullest, appreciating every day, going all in.
Thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this – and every – episode of this podcast, and thank you for joining us. We'll be with you again next week.