Heaven Can Wait – Death by Cancer

IMG_2497If 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!!

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kelly Lange
    Jan 06, 2015 @ 09:21:44

    I have spent time with many people who are dying of cancer. It is horrible. Most recently a close friend was in extreme pain for an entire month. His excellent palliative care team could do nothing. He was in so much pain his wife couldn’t hold his hand. He was fully aware of his situation, and nothing could be done to comfort him. My father had a massive heart attack and was dead before he hit the floor. Dr. Smith is wrong; very, very wrong.


  2. NotDownOrOut
    Jan 06, 2015 @ 14:41:58

    How nice it must be to view cancer intellectually rather than as a patient. For my part, I am with you, Lori. The grass sometimes look greener from the other side. That doesn’t mean I want to eat it.


  3. phxross
    Jan 06, 2015 @ 19:08:28

    I had some profound, spiritual and loving conversations with my cousin Arthur before he passed from ALS at 55 nearly 5 yr ago. It taught me to think much as you do and gave me a perspective on living that has gotten me through all my spine & other orthopedic surgeries.


  4. Sandy Marx
    Jan 07, 2015 @ 16:21:22

    I had a brief journey with a patient who spoke to me and said, “I’m just waiting, dear, I’m just waiting.” Her voyage with breast cancer and oncologists had run out. But who would dare to take away her right to treatment, or her emotional fortitude to do battle with her disease? She died quietly, bravely and satisfied that she grabbed all the time she could.


    • Lori
      Jan 09, 2015 @ 09:43:00

      Good for her! I hope I can do the same…

      I can’t help but think of all the wonderful people I would have never met if our cancers were never treated. I’m still stunned by Smith’s article.


  5. Trackback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer
  6. bethgainer
    Jan 13, 2015 @ 07:27:37

    Lori, this is an excellent post, and you are right: cancer is not just about dying; it’s about living, too. Smith was completely off base, and his logic is full of holes.


  7. thesmallc
    Feb 19, 2015 @ 13:01:40

    Lori, In my case, I find survivorship challenging because I am in between two worlds and can’t seem to find a way to stay in one longer than the other. I choose to stay in between two worlds because it’s currently my comfort zone. I have my good days but I often feel like I’m waiting for something to happen so I can’t get too excited. But I also can’t feel too down either because then I would had given up on some level of excitement. I too have curiosity about death. I believe that once we accept mortality, then the survivorship part of this “journey” becomes a bit less challenging. But for now, I am happy to be alive.

    About the article, I do not believe cancer is the way to go. I saw two of my family members die from it, including my dear mama (grandmother), and it was painful for me to watch. Can’t imagine how they felt.

    I’m a big believer of mental health. I wonder if Dr. Smith suffers from anything related to this?

    This here, “But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.” is horrible. I hope he never has to experience “cancer death” in his bedroom without any drugs. I hope if he is ever allowed the opportunity to beat cancer through treatments, that he takes it.

    I believe in “dying with dignity.” I want to be allowed to choose how I want to end my pain. I don’t think people should experience pain with death.


    • Lori
      Feb 19, 2015 @ 13:10:57

      So very well said! I do wish people would stop speaking out of turn and simply hold space for those going through the experience – and that pertains to MANY areas of life, not just cancer!


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