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Owning Today: What Would You Do Differently If You Didn’t Have Long to Live?

Lissa Rankin's picture


I just found out that a doctor/healer I admire, Dr. Lee Lipsenthal, who coached me through a brief but difficult moment in my life, has metastatic cancer with a 10% chance of surviving. My heart broke when I heard this news. And yet- no surprise to me- Lee wrote about this experience on the Huffington Post in a characteristically uplifting fashion. He found himself, rather than depressed, free. With only a small chance to live, he no longer feels tied to obligations he didn’t really feel like doing in the first place. After a life of watching his weight, he can indulge in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And after raising his children to be people he deeply admires, he realizes that he must let them go, trusting that they will thrive, even if they have to do it without him.

Blessings, Prayers & Healing Juju to You, Lee

After I wiped away the tears, I thought about how we respond to bad news. The characteristic Kubler-Ross stages, as Lee reminds us, are not linear, but chaotic and circular. We jump from denial to acceptance to anger to bargaining and back to denial again. Ultimately- hopefully- we accept what is and release the rest, but even then, the old stages may pop up from time to time.

Owning Goodness

In my personal life, there has been so much good news lately. My dreams of Owning Pink are becoming real. Two of my books will be published in 2010. My private practice is growing. My family is thriving. My long-awaited art show is about to open in January. Life is good. It’s easy to fall into fear, wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. But I don’t see a reason to go there. Yes, bad news will come. But as Tama Kieves said in yesterday’s post, if goodness is a bubble about to burst, so is sadness. Why wait in dread for what might go wrong when life is peaceful, joyful, and full.

When bad news does strike, I can only hope I will face it with the inspiring courage of Dr. Lee Lipsenthal. I hope I will revel in life’s joys and face the bad news with grace. I hope will be able to realize that the rough times are fertile periods of transformation, not only for me, but for those who face the rough times with me- my family, my friends, even you Pinkies. I know that, should I be diagnosed with cancer or lose a family member or go bankrupt, you will walk beside me, just as we all walk beside each other in our Pink Posse community when rough times hit any one of us.


Hearing about Lee got me thinking about what hit me when I lost my beloved Dad almost four years ago. If I knew I was probably going to die, what would I do differently in life? Four years ago, when I asked myself this question, I was shocked at my answer. If I knew I was going to die, would I be doing what I was doing then? The answer was a resounding HELL NO! If I knew I had only one year to live, I would change almost everything about my life. But why must we wait for catastrophic news? Why do we spend so much time and energy living lives that don’t suit us? Life is simply too short.

If I Knew I Was Dying, I Would Keep On Keeping On

Which is why I quit my job, moved, launched Owning Pink, and began this path of exploration that has led- four years later- to the life I am living now. Now, I can honestly say that if I knew I was going to die in a year, I would do exactly what I’m doing now (only I might do it in Italy, just for the hell of it. But then again, on second thought- no. My tribe is here).

Did you see the movie Last Holiday? Queen Latifah is working a dead-end job and pining over a guy who doesn’t even know she’s in love with him, when she finds out she has a fatal disease. She decides to spend her life’s savings on a trip to the Czech Republic, where she stays in a suite, goes base jumping, and confesses her love to the guy who chases her halfway across the earth. In the process, she finds the joie de vivre she lost long ago. In the end, she discovers that her doctor made a mistake- that she was not going to die- and she had just spent her life’s savings. So did she do the right thing, or not?

Do You Consider Taking Risks Reckless?

You might argue that Queen Latifah was reckless. After all, what is she going to retire on, now that she blew it on a grand European adventure? Of course, in the movie, it all ends happily, and you know she’s going to be okay. But in real life, we ask ourselves these questions. We fear. We limit. We shrink. We skip the grand adventures in favor of safety. Then we wonder why we live lives of quiet desperation.

When I found out Dad was going to die, I decided to go for the adventure and take a Pleap (Pink leap of faith). I spent my life’s savings to buy my freedom, and I don’t regret a penny of what I no longer have in the bank. Instead, I have faith in the process. I have confidence that I will land butter-side-up. I believe that the Universe will meet my needs. And every day, I feel blessed to know that I would change nothing if I knew it would all end soon.

Wow. Things have changed. When I think back to four years ago, I have to smile. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

What about you Pinkies? If you knew you had a fatal diagnosis, what would you change about your life? It’s a very clarifying question. Maybe some of you have been there before and survived. Maybe you’ve lost something or someone dear to you and it had the same profound affect. Must we wait for tragedy to strike? Can’t we start now?

Living like I might die tomorrow,



Dr. Lee Lipsenthal


Dana Theus's picture

Christa We give to each other

Christa We give to each other today. Thank YOU for letting me know that it helped you.

I went to your site and saw that you gave this quote to others who are suffering Jim's loss and now I can hardly see to write this post for the tears in my eyes. As enlightened and balanced and open as I try to be, there is a part of me that will simply never understand how God can let someone who brought as much joy into the world as Jim did, feel so alone and so sad that his best escape feels like robbing those same people of his gifts. (Not a well written sentence, but I'm crying here.) I believe that in some cosmic sense, this karmic game of life will find a way for Jim to get another chance and to heal some of the wounds in himself and in his relationships from this act, but it simply doesn't assuage the pain in the Moment to know all that. It still just hurts.

Your post is heartfelt and warm and your opening to his network so genuine, I know that what you are doing is helping them and I honor you for that. What peace and comfort my good wishes and love give to you, let it soothe your pain as well.

Blessings. ~Dana

Lissa Rankin's picture

Pinkies, I'm on my way out

Pinkies, I'm on my way out the door to go to Big Sur and will be out of email contact for a couple days, but know that I am always with you in spirit, and my heart aches for those of you who have lost loved ones. I do believe they are with us still.

Let their love be a lesson to us all. We are here to LIVE. Let's do it DANCING! With love & loads of passion, Lissa

Christa's picture

Dana, thank you for your

Dana, thank you for your support and for the quote. I just added it to my comment at the post Another Man Down http://www.giggleon.com/another-man-down which plays tribute to my friend.

I will look to the night sky with joy and reflect back the joy in my heart for the loving memories and all the laughter we shared.

Your message is a real gift to me. THANK YOU!

Leslee Horner's picture

I lost my dear sweet best

I lost my dear sweet best friend on October 25, just two days after she gave birth to twin boys. Losing her made me realize I want to live like she lived. You see Amy was never afraid to ask for anything and if she wanted it she expected to get it. So she found and married her perfect prince. They traveled like crazy, especially by taking cruises. They dined in expensive restaurants and lived in a gorgeous home. She drove the Mercedes that she had always talked about when we were college roommates. And finally they went through three years worth of hoops to finally conceive their baby boys through IVF. In the end, she made her transition having achieved EVERYTHING she ever dreamed of.

She had done a few great deeds before passing. She had helped a friend's husband get a new job after he was laid off (a 6 figure job w/ company car she had boasted), she had paid another friend's electricity bill last winter so that her family would stay warm, she was trying to get legal help for another friend who was dealing with a worker's comp issue, and finally she donated 4 of her organ's and saved 4 people's lives.

I was lucky to have made the time to nurture our friendship this past year (I didn't always do that) and through that connection was reminded of how dear my friends are to me.

So I chose to live like Amy, by giving to others as well as myself. By being a wonderful friend. And by having big dreams and EXPECTING them to come true! Also, I might do a little traveling and have a few gourmet meals.

thanks for this beautiful post and the opportunity to talk once more about my sweet friend!


Dana Theus's picture

Christa I'm so sorry that


I'm so sorry that you've lost a friend to so much sadness. My heart aches when I hear these stories. Thank you for passing on that beautiful quote from the Dali Lama. He is so very wise. It brought to mind a passage that I always keep ready for these sad occasions and which makes me a little happier:

In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing when you look at the night sky. ~The Little Prince by Antoine de Sait-Exuperey

Whenever I miss the people whom I have lost, to tragedy and peaceful old age, I remember this and try to look extra hard into the night sky to be with their joy once more. I know they would like to see me looking up at them with joy on my face.

Teary again, ~Dana

Christa's picture

Perfect timing you should

Perfect timing you should refer to EKR's stages in a circular fashion - I was on the verge of mentioning this to some folks in light of recent events.

My thoughts go out to Dr. Lee. I comment his positive attitude.

If I were to die shortly I would stop worrying, that's for sure, and head out and grab some ice cream too, preferably something without lactose! *smile*

As I have come to learn, time and time again, life is precious. We only have NOW.

Death comes to all of us whether we like it or not.

In the hours after losing another friend to suicide last week I was comforted by this passage written by the Dalai Lama.

“Naturally, most of us would like to die a peaceful death, but it is also clear that we cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment or fear. So, if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.”

Living Well, Cultivating Peace & Giggling On…this is my message!

<<>> to you Lissa and Miss Joy. I love you both!

Lissa Rankin's picture

Dana, your words always ring

Dana, your words always ring so true with me. And yes, there is a peace in realizing that you can let go. I honor Lee's strength and trust that his life will continue to be an embodiment of the beautiful life he has been living.

Dana Theus's picture

Lissa Wonderful, moving


Wonderful, moving post. I'm in tears for Lee and appreciate once more your sharing of your own experience. I am happy to say that I, too, would change little about my life were that moment to come. I would definitely take one last trip to Italy, however. Like you, I wouldn't stay but would return home to the people I love most, who are all around me every day (virtually and otherwise!).

I loved Lee's post because it demonstrated the grand paradox of life - which the Zen masters throw up front to their acolytes as a challenge to enlightenment - which is that to live fully we must accept the reality of our death and live with its presence in our life with each breath we take. It seems hard to grasp and yet once grasped, this way of looking at things is freeing and leads to great happiness.

Thanks again for the tears. Joy and Sorrow are sisters of the most amazing kind.

Love and Light ~Dana

Lissa Rankin's picture

Sending up a little prayer

Sending up a little prayer for whatever change may await you..

Jenn's picture

I will meditate on this

I will meditate on this question today, or rather reflect and write about it. I feel on the verge of some big change, seeking to transform me and allow me the freedom to live My Life.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Pinkies. In

Thank you Pinkies. In realizing how lucky I feel to have not waited for a fatal diagnosis to start living the life I've always wanted to live, I knew I needed to share the journey with you. What does your heart tell you? What can you no longer wait to start doing or being? How can you shift things NOW, before your body forces you to realign because it KNOWS your not living your truth?

Jason's picture

"The characteristic

"The characteristic Kubler-Ross stages, as Lee reminds us, are not linear, but chaotic and circular. We jump from denial to acceptance to anger to bargaining and back to denial again."

I'm finding this to be oh so true.

Eileen Smith's picture

This was an amazing post.

This was an amazing post. Really. Lot's of blog entries out there in cyber-land, but this really is special in it's message. God bless this man, his family and all who he loved and cared for, including you.

Caroline D Bobart's picture

Lissa, this is wonderful!

Lissa, this is wonderful!

As I read it and pondered this scenario in my own life, it was a glorious moment to notice how my priorities automatically aligned themselves in front of me to make me more aware of where my bliss really lies.

Your question "If you knew you had a fatal diagnosis, what would you change about your life?" is like a magic wand that can instantly give a person insight and understanding if they feel unclear about what path they should take or where their attention should be!

Thank you so much for that dose of magic!

xx Caroline

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