I’ve always enjoyed hobbies. I’ve never been very artsy so my new attraction to painting birdhouses is quite the diversion for me.

When I initially thought about retiring, I wondered how I would spend my time. At first, I began teaching several classes at the local community college and sought out more classes to fill my time. I love traveling, so I created travel agendas for several trips we had in mind as we began traveling.

Suddenly my world was jolted as I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I spent a lot of time trying hard to stay off the internet and preparing all my finances as I assumed I was going to die pretty quickly — according to all the internet articles I tried so hard not to read. My time became consumed with doctor appointments, medical tests and helping prepare friends and family.

Now, three and a half years later when I still haven’t died, I needed an outlet to spend my time that helps me stay off Google searches and occupies my mind. All articles about cancer survival suggest that I should stay focused in the here and now.

How do you stay focused in the here and now? … Hobbies!

I love gardening, so my garden looks wonderful. Getting lost in the plants has been an excellent cognitive escape. My friends have kindly dropped off numerous coloring books, puzzles and paint-by-numbers activities. I’m not much of a coloring or sticker book enthusiast. Puzzles work well for me. My husband has joined in with that and the winter produced many puzzles. Thank God my son’s girlfriend loves to finish them for me! I tire of them sometimes halfway through. But they still grab my mind and transport me into the land of relaxed nothingness.

Books for book club, movies, shows and coffee with friends: the "old-faithfuls" of hobbies!

Hiking and looking for wild flowers and birds is emerging as another escape for me. Searching for bird sounds on YouTube and matching them with real birds is actually fun. My dog loves that I take her with me on my hikes and my friends and family enjoy joining me so we can be together. My husband and I have begun to devote an afternoon each week for an escape hike. My brother, who is preparing for longer runs and bike rides, has learned not to wear his flip-flops on my hikes. I don’t go far, but it can be an adventure.

I realized a bucket list event when I trained as a Storm Spotter with the National Weather service here in Wisconsin! It’s so exciting for me when the black clouds roll in. My son and I always dreamed about being spotters together. I made a checklist to carry in my wallet so I get the words right when I call in. Bursting with excitement, I even got to call in with pea-sized hail. That was quite the event! I walked around the house informing all who would listen that I got to call in a storm event. Quite amazing.

My latest hobby is buying pre-made birdhouses and painting them. My husband puts them on sticks and I’m filling up my garden with brightly painted birdhouses. This past week I woke up early feeling rather miserable. My greatest fear was that I had two birdhouses that weren’t going to be finished before I might have to go into the hospital. My God — what was I going to do?? No one had my vision for the birdhouses so they might remain undone. I knew I was rather hooked into birdhouses.

People frequently ask me what I think has kept me alive all this time when medical experts predict I should be dying. Truthfully I have no idea. I’d like it to be something I’ve done, something I could control. Maybe all those prayers that keep pouring in, all my activities related to synergy, my positive attitude, the fabulous caring social supports. Maybe it’s living in the here and now that has developed with all my hobbies.

Personally, right now I think I’m just too busy to die.

Kathleen Braier, Pancreatic Cancer Patient and "Together, We Are Strong" Blogger
About the Author

Is it possible to live a full and meaningful life with cancer? Kathleen thinks so. After she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2017, she spent a year on a chemo regimen that provided about 10 days of feeling well enough to live a fairly normal life between treatments. She joked about writing an imaginary blog for about a year before realizing... against all predictions of her imminent demise, she was still somehow alive. She decided she would write a real version of her blog to honor those diagnosed with any late-stage cancers. They might live longer than expected and she wanted to provide a bit of a guide that tells them what that might be like. Posts on the Together, We Are Strong cancer blog can also be read on her personal blog at https://livingmylifein10days.com/. Though not the experience she would have chosen, she does not believe living with an end-stage cancer should stop anyone from living their life with meaning.