I have been watching a heart-wrenching story unfold in the news over the past week. I have seen the different opinions and the publics reaction. As time has gone on the story has stayed on my mind. I guess you could say it struck a nerve. When most things strike a nerve with me I process it out by writing. I'm attempting now to do it again.
The story is of a 29 year old woman who was tragically diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. She's young, newly married and at, what should be, the prime of her life. That is, until she received a sudden diagnosis that changed all that.
Sadly, like many cancer patients before her, she was given a terminal diagnosis. Not years to live. Months to live. After receiving this news she and her family packed up their bags and moved to Oregon. The reason for the move is Oregon has something they refer to as "Death with Dignity". Meaning this young woman was given a pill, by a Doctor, she can take when she's ready for her life to end.
She has even chosen the date of her death. November 1st.
She has stated what a relief it is to know she will die "peacefully" and "on her own terms". I have watched as the media, and to a large degree the public, has called this woman "brave" and a "hero" for her decision to die on her own terms.
Now, this blog was never meant to be one that divides, but one that encourages. I hesitated on how to even write my thoughts on this subject (or if I should) because I didn't want to make political statements on the choice she has made.
And I won't.
In the end if someone wants to end their life, they will do so, regardless of what the law or personal opinion says.
What I hope to do is offer a slightly different point of view. A view from a family who has walked intimately, for many years, with the same disease she is encountering. I hope to offer a look into what we faced and how a news story like this has made us feel.
This young lady has made many statements I agree with.
No one should have to suffer with this horrible disease. Agreed. No one should have to die from this horrible disease. Agreed. She's correct that cancer is an evil beast. An awful way to die. It's terrible to have to spend the last remaining years of your life in hospitals, doctors offices, chemo wards and CT scans. None of it's fair and none of it's right.
But. And there's a big one on this subject. I believe, as a culture, we have to be very careful about who/what decisions we choose to applaud.
You see, I don't believe we can applaud two radically different paths. I don't believe we can applaud her for her choice to "die with dignity" while also applauding someone's choice to fight this disease with dignity.
They are two polar opposites.
Let me tell you about the choice I have seen many people make, to fight this disease with dignity.
Every 6 weeks of my life, for a full year, I spent a few days in a row at MD Anderson Cancer hospital in Houston. It is one of the largest cancer hospitals in the world. I met people who were fighting cancer for the second, third, and fourth time. I hugged people who were told they were terminal but were unwilling to give up. They were focused and willing to try a new clinical trial, a new cancer drug, anything that might buy them an incredible gift, the gift of more time. I have held hands with family members in chemo wards and we've cried together. In each of our eyes I saw the same concern. The helplessness you feel watching your loved one have to experience this cruel disease, yes. But also the fear of not knowing how much time you have left with them. You see the fight they're displaying. You know how bad they want to stay. But you also know the statistics as you watch them wasting away. Your head doesn't want to believe what your heart is telling you. The time may be short.
In each instance, what I've seen from cancer patients and family alike, is we were all fighting for the very same thing. For life. For the gift of it.
We all know from the moment we are born our days are numbered. And in the end none of us know how the end will be for us. It would be easy to take that into account when fighting cancer, and just give in to the notion that your life will end anyway, somehow, why not now? Why not easily? Why not painlessly?
What I will never be able to forget, and the biggest lesson I learned in walking this road, is how precious life is. What a gift it is. How family members pray for more of it. How cancer patients ache for more it. And the truth we all knew, is no matter how desperately you want it, ultimately, you may get less of it than you ever thought you would. It's a painful reality but it is the reality of cancer.
My husband fought cancer for 3 years. I will never feel as though it was enough time with him.
But the beautiful thing is what that time produced.
An incredible baby boy, during a brief time of remission. More years together as a family. Three trips together. Memories I'll never forget. Talks about life, hopes and dreams. More hugs and more kisses. Moments I will never take for granted and never, ever forget.
Yes, it was 3 incredibly hard years. It was also 3 years of the most poignant and beautiful years I will ever live. Each day was cherished beyond measure, because we never truly knew how much of it we had.
I would never have it any other way. We as a family would never have given up our fight. And it was a brutal one. Up to the final moment.
Now, there definitely comes a time in some cancer patients journey when all that can be done, has been done. When their body has fought as much as it can and can no longer take anymore. No one would would question their braveness if they chose to no longer put their body through more pain and agony, with drugs, medical treatments and the like. In such instances that can be when one of those most important parts of the journey begins. The part where you realize you are spending your last remaining moments on this earth together.
The time where you hold their hand and try to hold back your tears. The time where you can say every word you've ever wanted to say to them, and it's still not enough. It is a slow march to goodbye but one where every moment is savored and tucked away in your heart for safe keeping. Those moments are to be savored as well. It may not feel like it in the midst of it, but looking back they were a thing to be treasured.
I understand the fear that comes with cancer. I understand the unknown. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
To look that very fear in the face and refuse to run from it, that's bravery.
To live every moment, cherishing it for what it is, that's dying with dignity.
To that end, if I have to choose who I will applaud in this situation it's my husband. It's the patients I met at hospitals. It's the family members I met at chemo. It's the ones who never gave up. Who realized how special life is and fought, until their last breath, for more of it. Not only for themselves, but for the ones they loved and who loved them back.
They are the ones who our society should esteem. They are the ones who deserve our admiration. They are the ones who deserve our applause.
They are the true hero's.
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