This post is going to be part book report, part podcast report, and part opinion with some life lessons. It’s a bit out of the box for me, and it came about in a way that I wasn't really expecting. It originated when I was recommended to a podcast by a colleague. The podcast was supposed to be an entertainment thing, not a law firm thing, but the two often intersect and that's exactly what they did here. Sometimes the lawyer in me has to work hard to make that intersection happen, but this time it happened naturally.
I’m going to talk about a book and the podcast but let me start with the book. The book is a memoir written by a young lady named Molly Kochan. Molly decided to write a memoir when she received a diagnosis of stage four terminal cancer. She was 44 when she received the diagnosis and I’ll save you the suspense - she sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 45.
Once Molly knew that she had a terminal diagnosis and that there was no way for her to get better, she decided to take action in her life. Now, the book takes a deeper dive into Molly's childhood and its effect on decisions she made later in her life. But first, let's talk about 44-year-old Molly and her memoir. The title of the book is called Screw Cancer: Becoming Whole.
Molly had cancer once before and she beat it, or, at least, she thought she had beaten it. She went through treatments and even had a double mastectomy. She went through chemotherapy and radiation just after her 40th birthday. After going through rounds and rounds of treatment, she was in remission and she had beaten breast cancer. Let me stop there and say that I don't like to use the word “beaten” when talking about a disease like cancer. People can fight like hell for their lives, and to think that they lost their battle because they passed away is disingenuous and disrespectful to the journey and effort that they gave. That said, she had beaten cancer and went on with her life.
It was several years later when she found a lump under her armpit. She was told by her doctors that it was nothing, but as time went by and she started to exhibit some additional symptoms, Molly underwent further testing and received her diagnosis of stage four terminal cancer. She was only 44 when she got this diagnosis, and she was expected not to have much time left to live. There were some treatment options that she could go through, but those treatments were to buy her time and they were never going to cure her cancer.
When Molly knew she was dying, she decided to make some changes in her life. She left a marriage that she had been in for 15 years. Although she still had a love for her husband, her marriage had become more of a friendship than romantic or physical love, so she decided to end the marriage and go live on her own. She also decided that she was going to live a life of purpose. She was not going to be shy about taking risks. She decided that she was going to do the complete opposite. Her opinion was that, because she was dying anyway, she could certainly take as many risks as possible without fear of the outcome. Her thought was, "What am I going to do? Die? I'm dying anyway."
Now that you know the basic premise of the memoir, let’s leave Molly's memoir for a minute and talk about her podcast. As I said, the podcast is how I was first introduced to Molly's story and it was introduced to me as entertainment and as a way to witness someone living a purpose-filled life. A life where she realized she wasn't owed anything by anyone and didn't owe anything to anybody else. She decided to live her life her way, make her choices, live free, and take risks.
The podcast was called “Dying for Sex”. This is the point where I will add a disclaimer. The podcast talks in great detail about Molly's sex life. You see, part of her decision to live a free and purpose-filled life was to take this journey of sexual exploration, which was something she had denied herself in the past. She had gotten married fairly young. She did not have a good sex life with her husband, and she decided that she was going to use her remaining time to have new sexual experiences that she had been too scared to have before. To paraphrase her words, was not afraid of meeting someone that ended up being a serial killer. She felt that because she was dying anyway, what was the harm?
The disclaimer here is that the descriptions that Molly gives about her sexual adventures are graphic. Molly does the podcast with her best friend, Nikki Boyer, and they discuss her sexual escapades in great detail. The podcast is very explicit and not something that you would want to listen to around your children. In fact, if you are offended or shocked at explicit sexual language, I do not recommend that you listen to the first three episodes of the podcast. But after episode three, that's where the podcast takes a turn.
The first three episodes talk about Molly's dating life and the men that she met on various dating apps. Molly would meet these men and then in her podcast, she would describe in great detail every single thing that happened. I respected the fact that she decided to make the most out of her remaining time and that she chose to live a purposeful life. Her time was her own, and she chose to spend it in this way.
The first three podcasts were entertainment with some graphic details of a sexual nature. It was something I thought might be fun to listen to, the same way that the “Fifty Shades” books were all the rage a few years back. The podcast was even more graphic than Fifty Shades so that should tell you something right there.
But after the third episode of the podcast, things started to change. Instead of talking solely about Molly's sexual escapades, she was also talking about her health and the fact that she was getting sicker. Very often, her dates had to be postponed or canceled because she was sick because she was throwing up, because she was in pain, or because she was in the hospital getting treatments. Molly was starting to spend more time in the hospital and was starting to feel the effects of the disease on her body and was suffering from a loss of energy. She felt that her body was starting to deteriorate.
As Molly's sickness became worse, she began to contemplate her own mortality. Episodes four, five, and six deal with Molly's acceptance of her coming death, what she learned, and what she hoped to teach before leaving this world. She realized that, yes, she had fulfilled some of her desires to have sexual adventures, but she realized that those adventures didn't hold much emotional meaning for her. Instead, she was talking about connecting with people and a hope that maybe she could turn something into a longer-lasting relationship as opposed to these short one-nighters she was having. She did form friendships with many of the men that she dated but she knew that because of her limited time left on earth, it was unlikely that she was going to fall in love.
The cancer had already taken away Molly’s ability to have children, so she knew that a “white house with a picket fence and two and a half kids” was not in the cards for her. She also thought it unlikely that she was going to have enough time to fall in love with someone and, at the same time, she was guilty about someone potentially falling in love with her only to have her die shortly after. As the podcast went on in the final three episodes, Molly talked more about her disease, about her desire to have meaningful connections with people, and about her hope that there was something beyond this world after her passing.
This is another disclaimer: the other topic she talks about next is a very sensitive topic. Molly started to talk about her childhood and the fact that she was molested by her mother's boyfriend when she was seven years old. She gets into more detail about the molestation in her memoir, but she contemplates the idea that this molestation affected her sexual identity for her entire lifetime. She never felt good enough. She never felt confident or powerful. She always felt like a victim who needed someone to protect her, which is part of the reason why she described staying in her marriage for so long. Again, the podcast and even the memoir have some graphic details. It's not appropriate for children but learning a little bit about Molly's background helps you to see why she made the decisions that she was making.
As the last few episodes of the podcast went on, things got harder for Molly, as her disease took over. The last two episodes of the podcast were recorded in her hospital room and it was clear that this hospital visit was going to end with her passing. She knew that when she entered the hospital this time, she wasn't going to be leaving.
Listening to the podcast, especially towards the end, you can hear that Molly's breathing is labored and that she struggles to find her voice much of the time. From the beginning of the podcast where she was quick-witted, outspoken, and funny, you could tell that she was now struggling to get the words out. It was evident that her mind was still sharp, but that connection between her mind and her body was causing her to breathe slower and talk slower. It's heartbreaking to listen to.
It was in this part of the podcast when I started to see the overlap between Molly's life and my own. Let’s be clear – I’m not sick and had a recent physical that gave me a clean bill of health (but I’m supposed to lose 10 pounds). Dealing with elder law and senior citizens like I do every day has often caused me to contemplate my own mortality. I've had to think about the deaths of others and that, in turn, has caused me to think about my own death, my own choices, and about the way that I would like to go out - maybe with a little bit of pride and dignity still clinging to me. It's also given me a greater appreciation for time.
We lost over 20 clients to COVID-19. Some of those clients were at end-of-life already, but others were not, and we expected them to have a little more time and that time was cut short. Seeing these things has caused me to think about my own passing and the choices that I would make if I were in the position of some of these folks. That's the position Molly was in.
In the podcast, she talks to her best friend Nikki, about her medical choices, because Nikki was Molly's health care proxy. While there were other family members and friends coming in and out of Molly's room and visiting, including Molly's mom, it was Nikki who had to pay close attention to the doctors, to what they were saying, and to what Molly wanted. It was Nikki's job to make sure Molly's preferences were followed and no one else's; not her mom's, not her other friends, but her own. Molly knew she was dying. She didn't have any control over when and how the cancer was going to end her life, but she had Nikki make health care decisions and overrule anyone else who might want something different than what Molly wanted.
Now, that's something I see every day in my practice. Setting up health care proxy documents for people, especially people suffering from health issues, is extremely important. In some cases, a health care proxy can be even more important than someone's Last Will because the proxy document puts someone in charge to make sure that the sick person's wishes are carried out.
After talking about her health care proxy, Molly starts to talk about what she refers to as the “kill pill”. Past readers of my blog may have seen a recent post about what in Massachusetts is called the Death with Dignity Act. The name of the actual legislation has changed several times, but it is a proposed law that is currently in the Massachusetts legislature. The goal of that law is to give individuals the choice of physician-aided dying if they have a terminal diagnosis. You can read my blog about that and see my opinion, but it was something that Molly contemplated.
Molly knew that she was destined to live her last days in extreme pain. Because she lived in California where physician-aided dying is legal, she did have to contemplate whether or not that was something she wanted. I respect anyone's choice in that matter, but I am very much in favor of individuals having that choice. In the end, Molly decided not to take the “kill pill” because she was feverishly trying to finish her memoir before she died. She typed most of her memoirs from the hospital room where she spent the last days of her life. As she got sicker, there were days when she could write and there were days when she couldn't. There were days when she was coherent and could draft several pages, and then there were days where she was so physically and mentally exhausted that she couldn't put any coherent words on the page.
Molly decided that her one goal before passing was finishing her memoir. She, therefore, made the choice not to go through the physician-aided dying process because she wanted to finish her memoir, even if it meant her last days would be filled with pain. She was willing to endure that pain if it meant that she could finish. In the end, she did finish her memoir and her book is available on Amazon.
Much like the podcast is more labored at the end as far as Molly's voice, it can be seen in her writing as well. The last pages of the memoir are more disjointed. The paragraphs are more fragmented in that one can easily see that they were written in short bursts as opposed to one long writing session. I'm guessing that's because Molly only had the energy to write for short bits at a time.
When Molly died in her hospital bed at the age of 45, it was her friend, Nikki, who handled Molly's ashes and made sure that they were dispersed in the way that Molly wanted. Nikki even joked that while she was sprinkling some of the ashes on the beach, she felt like Molly's spirit was close to her. She also said that Molly got the last laugh, and if you want to hear why, you have to listen to the last episode of the podcast.
What I learned from Molly
I learned a few things from Molly's book and podcast. Molly’s story reminded me of a song from a few years back called Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw. The subject of the song is in a similar position to Molly - he has a terminal diagnosis and goes on to live the rest of his life without regret and without fear of taking risks. He talks about going skydiving, rocky mountain climbing, and riding a bull. He decided to live a purpose-filled life without fear of death because he knew that his life was ending soon, and he intended to soak every last bit out of it that he could.
Here are four of the lessons that I learned from Molly:
First, she reminded me and reinforced the fact that I am in favor of the death with dignity legislation. I would like to see that law enacted in Massachusetts and I intend to support legislative efforts to make that a reality in 2021. Read my blog to learn more about that here. But Molly's situation reinforced that I don't want anyone else telling me that I have to live the last days of my life in extreme pain. I would like to have the choice to end my life peacefully and with my loved ones.
The next thing Molly taught me was NOT to waste time. Even after she had made a decision that she was going to live a purpose-based life and wasn't going to have fears of taking risks, she still started to contemplate things halfway through the podcast when she realized her time was even shorter than she initially expected.
Time is our only real currency. Don't waste it. Don't squander it. Don't give up opportunities to forgive or to mend fences. We had so many clients die who had been holding onto grudges but had complete intention to work those grudges out. In the end, they didn't get the chance. So, mend fences and grant forgiveness even if those you're forgiving didn't ask for it.
The next thing I learned from Molly is to give your family the gift of planning ahead. Because Molly knew that she was dying, she had put a health care proxy in place and other parts of her planning were completed so that when she passed away, no one was left with a mess. No one was going to have to argue about her choices, her property, or what was to be done with her body after she passed. Giving that information ahead of time to her family is an amazing gift. She took away the responsibility for anyone else to have to guess at her wishes and made her wishes clear to everyone. That way, Nikki, as her health care proxy and the other individuals that Molly named, could be secure in the fact that they were doing what Molly wanted.
The final thing that I learned from Molly is to live a life of purpose. Molly decided when she got her terminal diagnosis that she was going to live a life of no regrets and live the way she wanted to live. She decided to live her best life. But why did it take a terminal diagnosis for her to do so? Shouldn’t we all be living a purpose-based life? It shouldn't take a cancer diagnosis for us to realize that we need to live the way we want. We only get one life, and we need to enjoy every moment of it. We need to live it with our family and friends and loved ones. We need to live purposefully and take risks. We need to believe in ourselves.
As my friend and colleague, Ben Glass says, "We need to live life big." No one owes us anything. The world doesn't owe us anything. Our family and friends don't owe us anything. We owe ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to live a purpose-based life and make the most of this one life that we get. Ben has written a book called “Live Life Big: A User's Guide”. It's a short and quick read and it's filled with life lessons and other important tips that Ben learned over a lifetime of being a parent and being a business owner. I've read it several times. I've also ordered copies for my team to read and I ordered copies for my kids. There's great information there about living life big and how to never sell yourself short. Reach for your goals and live a life of purpose.
My children, right now ages 16 and 15, probably think I'm a bit silly for giving them a book about life lessons, but I felt it was important. In fact, I wrote a note to each of them inside the front cover telling them some specific pages I wanted each of them to look at because I felt they were especially applicable to them. Even though my kids look alike and sometimes they act alike, they are very different, and I wanted each of them to focus on different parts of the book that I thought each would find useful.
I learned a lot from Molly's story. I've learned a lot from friends and colleagues like Ben Glass and his CMO, Charley Mann. I've learned from my mom and from my grandparents. I've learned from my wife and I've learned from my children. Above all, I've learned not to waste time. In fact, after reading Molly's story and contemplating it, and discussing it with my team, we made the decision that the time had come to hire another attorney for my firm. We had been talking about it for a while and it always seemed to be something we were going to do in the future. Instead, we decided we need to do it now because now is the best time to do everything. There are always a hundred reasons not to do something. It's better to take that leap even if you're not completely ready yet.
Lastly, remember that all of our lives on earth will have a beginning and an end. Sometimes the end comes sooner than we hope. So, we have to live life big. What does that mean to me? I made a decision long ago that whenever my family had a chance to travel somewhere, we would go. My hope was to show my children the world, share that with my wife, and know that if I don’t wake up tomorrow, I did everything I could with and for the people I love. I have done that and will continue to do that, with no regret.
If you want to read Molly's book, you can order her memoir on Amazon. If you want to listen to her podcast, look up Dying for Sex on your favorite podcast platform. Remember, I warned you, don't listen to it with the kids in the car. It is graphic.
If you or a family member has received a terminal diagnosis, remember that there are resources to help you. If I could be of any use there, both with planning and discussion, please reach out to me by calling my office at 978-657-7437.