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Age 80? Or 90? Terminal Illness? It’s not the End of Joy

By Debbie Hensleigh February 21, 2023 Mindset

Every once in a while, I think I’d like to go on a trip. An adventure.

Where Would I Go?

Maybe a return to the southern coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to a small beach town called San Agustinillo. And it would be really cool to visit the wildlife refuge near there at La Ventanilla where we patrolled the beach after midnight with the local conservationists.

I wonder if we would be so lucky as to see a mama turtle laying her eggs as we did the one time we visited. I’m sure we could eat the wonderful coconut tortillas and fresh fish.

Or, maybe I could return to the fabulous wine country in northern Baja California. Guadalupe Valley not only has good wine, but also has a pretty nifty hotel right on the Pacific coast and food to die for. Our dinner at one of the wineries is still memorable.

As something of a self-proclaimed connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I had the best in my life there. The chef let me in on her secret of adding a bit of truffle oil, and I have adopted that, but hers are still better, hands down.

I made some memorable relationships with local Habitat for Humanity staff in Szarvas, Hungary, Gdansk, Poland, and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It would be fascinating to revisit some of those people and places. I’d love to ride the train from Hungary to Poland again. Waking in the early morning to watch the fertile countryside slide by from our sleeper is a memory that stays pretty clear and special in my mind.

Maybe not as exotic as central Asia, an Italian Riverboat cruise is tempting. Or even an airplane ride to Phoenix to see grandkids (and their parents). Closer to home, I’ve often thought the Bourbon Trail in northern Kentucky would be fun.

Shoot, I’d settle for attending an evening basketball game that one of our more local grandkids is in.

Travel Is No Longer an Option

But, alas. I just don’t have the stamina to go on a trip that is further than the 2.5 hours to the doctor in Chicago and bedtime needs to start at 7:30pm or so. Even when I go into town for a short trip for business or lunch, I need to plan on a day or two of recovery.

There is no trip in store for me, adventurous or tame.

While I am only 71, I am unable to travel because I have terminal cancer and it is sapping my strength and limiting my activities. It makes me think of how my mother must have felt when she realized she could no longer travel the 1000 miles to visit our family. She lived to be 94 but stopped feeling comfortable to travel after about age 85.

Accepting Our Limitations

Mother would comment on how she wished she could be at her granddaughter’s graduation from nursing school or at one of the grandsons’ basketball games, but she accepted her limitations. She had albums and albums of her exploits with her sister after they were both widowed. I understand now how much she enjoyed looking through her photos.

A friend of mine and I were chatting last week about her time with her 93-year-old mother. Even though my friend lives 2 ½ hours from her mom, she tries to visit with her and stay with her often. She is acutely aware that there will come a day when that won’t be possible. “Is it taxing?” I wondered? “Not at all,” she told me.

Frankly, the last few years of my mother’s life were mostly difficult since she tended to be critical and blaming as she aged. My friend’s days with her mother, though, tend to be remembering positive relationships and telling childhood stories.

While her mom might be a bit forgetful at times and repeat herself, she has a remarkably positive attitude that her daughter finds inspiring. She doesn’t complain or seem to remember hardships (which she had plenty of). Visits are cherished by both mom and daughter.

Having Terminal Cancer Sucks, But My Life Doesn’t

Even though a long trip is not possible, I traveled a lot when I was younger (in my 50s and 60s). I have lovely memories of work trips to Central America and those destinations mentioned above. I have had some great adventures in Mexico with my husband, Copper Canyon Guy, that I savor from my living room. I’ve had good trips with and to visit my kids and grandkids.

Thinking about dying when I am just celebrating my 71st birthday is not what I expected. My website,, is all about my intentions to make the years of 60-90 my very best. Though I most likely will not have all of my thirdthird to make great, I can certainly keep a positive attitude, have good relationships, and eat great food.

I can read books I’ve always wanted time for. I can watch movies I’ve missed or want to see again. I can find podcasts that stimulate my thinking. I can write with an intention of encouraging others to live their lives on purpose. I can carry on pleasant conversations.

I Have a Choice

Just like my mother in her 90s and my friend’s mother at 93, I am physically limited in what is possible. And I can see the end of my life approaching. But, just like them, I have a choice each day with what my attitude will be. Admittedly, there are annoyances that get to me. Not being able to do what I want tempts me to feel sorry for myself. But I can choose to be positive.

I want to be remembered fondly. I want to be full of grace and truth until my end. I want to be inspiring so that people look forward to time with me.

Fortunately, being pleasant doesn’t take much energy. I can do that for as long as I am here.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you choose what your attitude will be each day? Do you think you can control your attitude? What choices have you made recently that you are pleased with? What could you do better to change your outlook on life?

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Thank you for an inspiring and honest insight into your choice to do what you can to enjoy each moment of this precious life. I applaud you. I think the poignant part is, most of us don’t know how long we have here, but long or short, if we choose to live each day with purpose and intent, we’re living our best lives .


Thanks for this Debbie. Everything you say is accurate. Not succumbing to the negative is sometimes a challenge. Thank you for your message.
Blessings to you and yours.

Sher Colquitt

Beautifully said and enlightening.
Thank you for sharing.


Thank you for the beautiful sentiments that you have expressed here.

Letitia Suk

Thanks, Debbie, you continue to inspire me.

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The Author

Debbie Hensleigh is a serial entrepreneur and business coach who is intent on living life on purpose. She is a speaker, writer and leads workshops on intentionally designing your best ThirdThird, from ages 60 to 90. Building on the FirstThird (learning years) and the SecondThird (earning years), the ThirdThird can be the best Third. Please visit Debbie’s website here

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