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Holding on -- and letting go

WEST JORDAN -- The question would keep Debbie Meier awake every night if she let it. What should she say to each of her children on the audio tapes she plans to leave as a remembrance, when she is too tired to go on with the fight?

It would be a tough decision for any mother to face, but face it Debbie must, as the breast cancer that invaded her body seven years ago slowly takes hold of her liver and bones. Debbie, 46, doesn't want to know how much time she has left, but lately, things haven't looked good. So she recently bought four blank cassettes to leave personal messages for each of her kids: Sally, 15; Laura, 13; Matthew, 11; and Mark, 8.For the same reason she doesn't write about her cancer in her journal, Debbie hasn't unwrapped the cassettes. If she were to record a tape or take a pen to paper, "it's like the cancer becomes real," she says. "Yet if I put it in the back of my mind, it's like it never happened. I guess it's easier that way."

Now that the day may be approaching to record those special messages, Debbie wanted to share her thoughts over a Free Lunch of chicken sandwiches and vanilla milkshakes -- about the only thing she has an appetite for after an endless round of cancer treatments.

Sitting at her kitchen table near a bright bouquet of tulips picked by her youngest son and a plaque that reads, "This house protected by guardian angels," Debbie speaks softly about her love for life and how grateful she is for the unexpected gift of seven years.

"After I found the lump in my breast, I was told the cancer had gone too far to have hope of living long at all," she says. "But I don't know that I ever really prepared to die. It's a much better plan to be prepared to live. I just told myself, 'OK, there are people who have worse things to deal with than this.' "

Debbie chose to ignore her doctor's grim prognosis, and it has paid off. She's had seven more years to watch her kids grow. Seven more years to help them with their homework, encourage them at the piano and share jokes around the dinner table.

"I hope I leave my children a legacy of doing good to others," says Debbie, who made afghans for her nurses and continues to work year-round on homemade Christmas gifts for friends and relatives. "I haven't done a lot of planning for my funeral, but I do know that I want somebody to sing 'I Walk by Faith.' Even to the very end, I want my children to know that I walked by faith."

It is a lesson that her kids and husband, Darrell, no doubt learned long ago, as Debbie has courageously chosen to take what life has dealt her with a smile instead of complaining or asking, "Why?"

On some days, it might seem easier to stay in bed, she concedes. On some days, it might seem easier to give up the fight. "But I can't have that attitude," she says. "I want to be here as long as I can for my children. Even a single day can make a difference."

Silent for a moment, she looks out the window at the flower beds and vegetables planted recently by her kids. No words are needed to know that Debbie hopes to help them harvest another crop of tomatoes and squash this summer. One more year. One more time.

"If there's one thing I could share with people it's to make memories," Debbie says quietly. "No matter who you are, make memories. Live life and enjoy it. You never know when that gift will be taken away."

Have a story? You do the talking, I'll buy the lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 466-2851. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.