Elizabeth Lyons is on her “farewell tour.”
The Bowling Green woman isn’t part of a band or a stand-up comedian. Doctors have told her that she will die of endometrial cancer before the end of year. When she got the news, she didn’t cry or feel afraid. Instead, she decided to take a “farewell tour” by fostering old friendships, making new friends, traveling and experiencing life to the fullest extent.
“I told the doctor, ‘What you’re telling me is that I’m going home to be with the Lord?’ ” she said. “I’ve been in this battle for six years. Knowing what’s waiting for me is what I’m focused on now.”
Lyons’ world changed when she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2007. Although she resolved to fight it, there have been highs and lows in her journey. She has endured chemotherapy and operations – including the loss of two ribs – in the past six years. She has been sent to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Cancer Treatment Centers of America only to see the disease metastasize to other parts of her body. She has been in pain, but that hasn’t stopped her from doing the things she wants to do.
“I would sleep an hour, then go to work all day,” she said. One round of chemotherapy in 2011 temporally paralyzed her.
“I laid there and prayed,” she said.
By October of last year, Lyons had had enough.
Her doctor said, “Your cancer is still active, so we need to go back in.”
Lyons said, “ ‘No you don’t.’ I’ve had chemo just about every year.”
She will be healed – just not in this world, said Lyons, 59.
(God) “said ‘Yes, I’m going to take care of you. Yes, I’m going to heal you. Yes, I’m going to take you home.’ ”
Lyons is ready for healing and for that homecoming with her maker. She has shared her story about grace in dying with hundreds of people.
Death doesn’t scare her. Instead, she embraces each day as a new gift.
Bobby “Chap” Ward, chaplain at Hospice of Southern Kentucky, works with dying individuals and their families.
“I’m always learning. Each one is different. People don’t usually fear death. They fear pain in dying,” he said. “I’m amazed sometimes how they handle their pain. We try to keep them comfortable. I usually address spiritual matters. We take them where they are and go from there. Life is meant to be enjoyed.”
Lyons has been “loving on” her family and friends and taking trips, her most recent to Boston. Her faith, friends, family – both biological and at Living Hope Baptist Church and Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, where she is a Ready to Work coordinator – have been the support system to carry her during her journey.
“The whole college has been supportive. The whole staff has walked with me through this,” she said.
She credits her late father with helping her keep her faith, even through racial events in her younger years that shaped her previous views.
“My father said I don’t have to worship the white image of Jesus, but I have to worship Jesus,” said Lyons, who is black.
Race isn’t a major thing for Lyons. She worships at a predominately white church and has friends of all colors who help her. But a recent incident when she went to a Scottsville Road restaurant reminded her that for all the strides that have been made in racial relations, prejudice is still a part of society today. She and a white male friend were having lunch and laughing. A white man in a T-shirt featuring the American flag scowled at them throughout the meal. A white, female server at the restaurant asked them why they were there together.
Instead of becoming angry, Lyons used it as a teaching moment for the woman asking the question.
“I asked, ‘Have you ever seen the body of Christ interact with one another?’ ” she said. The woman didn’t respond. Lyons declined to name the restaurant on the record because she doesn’t want to see anyone lose a job.
“God has allowed me to cross the paths of so many people, to teach some, to learn from some and to know we are all His body,” Lyons said.
Death is not going to sting her.
“Where I’m going there will be no sting. I’m going to Glory. Why would I want to be in this sickness?” she said. “It’s amazing. You find out how little things don’t matter – nothing but heaven.”