7 Life Lessons from a Dying Young Woman

Life is short - stop spending too much time focusing on the little things.

Holly Butcher and her boyfriend

Holly Butcher was like many twenty-somethings. At 26, she dreamed of creating a fulfilling life with her partner, having kids, and growing old. Her dreams were shattered in October of 2016 when she found out she had stage 4 cancer.

She had advanced Ewings sarcoma, a rare cancer that affects bones and soft tissue. It was a shock because Holly was a dietitian who always ate healthy, exercised, and didn’t drink a lot of alcohol. The most shocking part was finding out she didn’t have long to live.

Holly was a truly beautiful soul. Before she left this world, she wrote down the insights she discovered during the complex and heart-wrenching process of dying. Then she shared this priceless insight on a Facebook post so she could help people across the world live better lives.

I’ve listed what I believe were her most powerful quotes in the beginning of each of the following sections.

#1: Each Day of Life is a Gift - Not a Right.

“The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming. Until the unexpected happens. That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right. I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy. I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.”

I’m very guilty of this. I always assume the days (and years) will keep coming.

Many of us spend a lot of time procrastinating and putting off doing the big things that will make the biggest changes in our lives because we always think we have more time.

Holly is so right. Each day is definitely a gift. It’s an opportunity to connect with people, do meaningful things, help others, and just enjoy the beauty in the world.

We are statistically likely to live a certain number of years, but I’ve seen a lot of people die prematurely. And in ways they never would’ve imagined.

COVID-19 has cut millions of peoples’ lives short. It’s changed the statistics of life. 1 in 500 Americans have died from COVID-19. This tragic statistic is a great example of how fragile and precious life really is.

#2: Don’t Worry About the Small Things in Life.

“I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate….you might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small.

Let all that shit go… you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.”

I’ve spent weeks and months worrying about the most trivial things. I’ve worried about finding a parking space, what people will think about me, impressing people, my hair (or lack of hair), my toenails, a $15 TV bill, the weather, what my friends are doing, what I’m missing out on, and what I’m going to eat for dinner. I’ve worried about worrying about things that will never happen.

What small things do you worry about?

Imagine you found out you had one year left to live. All of those meaningless worries would disappear in one second. You’d wonder why you wasted so much precious time worrying about things that never even mattered.

When reality really started to sink in, you’d think about more important things. How did I live my life? Did I accomplish what I set out to do in life? How will people remember me? How many more fulfilling moments can I get out of life before everything is gone?

#3: Be Grateful for Your Life.

“Those times you are whining about ridiculous things, just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively affect other people’s days. I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise - Be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things - until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them.”

About 7 years ago, I was doing another boring workout at my local gym when I noticed a man in his early 20s who was working out in a wheelchair. He was pushing himself hard - harder than a lot of able-bodied gym members.

I thought about this guy on those days I didn’t feel like working out, when I was complaining about the rain or the heat, or when I wanted to leave early instead of trying something new. Just thinking about how many physically disabled people in this world have adapted successfully to very challenging circumstances motivated me to be grateful that I had a fully-functional body.

Being grateful for my good health makes me fully appreciate how good my life really is.

#4: Be Kind Instead of Buying More Things.

It is a weird thing having money to spend at the end.. when you’re dying. It’s not a time you go out and buy material things that you usually would, like a new dress. Buy your friend something kind instead of another dress, beauty product or jewelry for that next wedding. Take them out for a meal, or better yet, cook them a meal. Shout their coffee. Give/buy them a plant, a massage, or a candle and tell them you love them when you give it to them.

We spend a lot of time buying things for ourselves and then buying things for our friends only on their birthdays or during holidays. Buying our friends things more often is a novel and generous way to make them happier and make ourselves feel good too.

#5: Set your Boundaries.

“Say no to the Things You Don’t Want to Do.”

This one is short, powerful, and self-explanatory.

How many times have you said “yes” to something and then regretted it? We only have a finite amount of time in this world. Set your boundaries.
When you say “no” to things you don’t want to do, you’re freeing up more time to say “yes” to the things in your life that really matter.

#6: Talk to Your Friends More.

“Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing okay?”

It’s so easy to get up caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forget about the people who are most important to you.

It’s easy to get distracted with the myriad things in our smart phones.

Our friends are among the most important people in our lives. They help us understand the world better. They help us better understand ourselves. True friends are there for us during the good, bad, and catastrophic times in our lives.

Talk to them more. Make sure they’re ok.

#7: Make the Critical Changes in Your Life.

Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it - in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. You don’t know how much time you’ve got on this Earth so don’t waste it being miserable. I know that is said all the time but it couldn’t be more true.

A lot of people would rather stay in a bad situation instead of doing something better. Many of them are afraid to do something new or think they don’t have what it takes to change.

It’s better take risks and confront your fears.

The worst thing isn’t failure.

The worst thing is living with the regret that you didn’t even try.

Final Thoughts

Death is a powerful force that really helps bring life into perspective.

I think the biggest thing Holly wanted us to do was stop spending so much time focusing on small, meaningless things, and make time for the things in life that really matter. Despite being a life and business coach, I still find myself spending too much time stressing on small, trivial things.

Another repeating theme in Holly’s post is the power of helping other people and giving them things. She suggested giving people clothes, food, massages, and even giving blood by donating it. She talked about how we gain more happiness by doing things for other people than we do by doing things for ourselves. Think about the times you gave someone something and how good you felt while doing it.

Many of the things Holly mentioned are things we’ve heard before. But hearing these things again from a young, dying woman makes these critical life lessons resonate in a more powerful way.

The things I’ve emphasized here are just my opinion on what I think were her most important takeaways. You can read everything she said in her viral Facebook post here.

Thank you, Holly, for sharing so much of your wisdom and yourself with so many people.

The world became a better place by your brief, but powerful presence.