If you haven’t stumbled upon it by now, check out the British Medical Journal’s blog piece by Dr. Richard Smith asserting that death by cancer is the way to go. I am astonished, and I’m not alone. Smith contrasts sudden death, death by dementia, death by organ failure and death by cancer and comes out in favor of the latter. (He conveniently excludes assisted suicide, which is the only situation in which death is in the hands of the patient.) Perhaps, as other bloggers have suggested, more time with end stage cancer patients, seeing first hand what living with cancer looks like (never mind dying from it), would likely provide Smith with some much-needed perspective.
To each his own, I guess. However, I take profound issue with his statement that we should stop funding cancer research! Cancer is not about dying, an issue Dr. Smith has overlooked entirely. Cancer is about living, living with fear, pain, scanxity, treatment side effects, emotional turmoil, challenging relationships, and so much more than you rarely see from the outside. Then, often, it is dying in pain and delirium while those who love you most are powerless to do much more than watch. To think that anyone with an ounce of humanity – never mind a physician who has taken an oath to heal – could promote death by cancer in unconscionable. Shame on Smith for leveraging his position to judge the choice of others to fund and pursue research, and implying that the lives saved and improved – and those to be saved and improved – are not worthy of our attention.
That said, I think Smith alludes to some important issues. In an odd way, I have appreciated the time that my cancer diagnosis has afforded me to take stock in my life. It serves as a constant reminder to me to embrace those who love me and hold them close. Did I need this reminder? Probably not – but I pay closer attention that I did before. It has empowered me to make choices about how I live, and prompted me to think about how I hope to die.
I’ve learned along the way that I believe in death. There is no denying it’s inevitability, of course, but I have found an inner fortitude to approach death as part of the journey of life. It’s disturbing to many around me, for which I feel badly, but I find myself, more than anything, curious about death. I think I used to harbor fear, but for now (and that could change!), I really don’t. I wonder about meeting others who have died before me. I wonder about catching up on my sleep. I wonder about the consistency of near-death stories of moving toward a light, and whether Defending Your Life has it right and I better get over fear while I can. I’m having some issues with the Divine of late, so I could give or take that part of the mythology around death. But the idea that I can watch over those who will survive me is quite appealing.
I appreciate that many will take issue with my views, but they are mine and I don’t expect anyone else to share them, or even understand them. However I continue to believe in embracing the broadest possible spectrum of ideas, so I’m looking forward to hearing yours!!