Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 2012 - On My Mind . . . Exit Choices

You may or may not know I am an 11-year breast cancer survivor.  Although the cancer is gone from my body, it still is a part of who I am, my history – physical, spiritual and emotional.

Let’s set the scene, shall we?

For over a decade, you have been battling cancer.  While it is metastatic, you have had some periods of months where your health has been stable – not great and with discomforts and issues; however, overall the majority of your time has seen you very, very ill.

We’re not talking “ill” as in the flu, but violent systemic effects from treatment and the disease itself.  At one point you opted out of conventional treatment for the purely holistic approach.  Sadly, this has not worked, so you are now once again undergoing traditional treatment, albeit ultimately too late in the game.  The cancer and the treatment are manifesting in symptoms such as ascites, bowel obstructions, joint pain and swelling, vomiting, extreme swings in metabolic chemistries and all sorts of ugly unpleasantries – and the foreseeable future doesn’t look any better.

You will not be cured.  What you are now experiencing – these unpleasant symptoms, this tortuous existence – this is it.  Due to your physical condition, you cannot leave your home except to attend medical appointments.

Your savings and virtually every asset you had were invested in alternative treatments.  You are now on the brink of being a welfare candidate, leaving you and your spouse with no retirement savings, no savings period.  You are struggling financially, although you do have health insurance.

You are in your mid to late 50s in age.

What would you do?  Or, rather, what do you think you would do?  No one can say definitively their course of action, thoughts or feelings until one experiences it firsthand.

As a survivor, I have probably thought more about Death and issues such as this more than many people. 

The last couple of days, I seem to keep asking myself questions I might ponder if I were in such a situation. “Why keep on? Why not just try to find some peace and let go?  Why keep torturing myself and those around me who care for me?” 

I like to think that I would say, “Enough is enough.” and bow out as gracefully as possible, releasing myself and my loved ones from torment.  I don’t see that as “giving up” or letting the disease “win.”  I see it as making the most of the time I would have left, being able to glean some enjoyment of people and experiences and making my peace with people, Spirit and myself.

Of course, that is one decision for which there is no reversal.  When you turn out the lights, they’re out. 

At least in this world.

I have seen both attitudes – those who struggle to continue until the inevitable outcome and those who opt for packing their remaining time chock-full of what I call Life – loved ones, experiences (that last camping trip, for instance), getting their structural, financial and spiritual houses in order, and so on.

My Mom discontinued treatment and transitioned peacefully in her sleep.  Cousin Karen opted out and left this world literally with a smile on her face.

Again I mention that there is no cure, and what you are experiencing is the way it is going to be until the end.  It ain’t pretty and it ain’t gonna get better.

My personal belief is that the latter of the two paths embraces the pure spirit of the Warrior.  I like to think that is more of leaving on one’s own terms, not letting the disease “win” if you will, not letting it beat one down until there is literally nothing left.   

Of course, both paths are choices, neither one being right or wrong.

In case you’re wondering, this is conjecture – it is not me.  I’m fine as frog’s hair, actually.   In my early 50s,  I feel more like I’m in my 20s.  Better, actually.  Well, most days!

It’s just on my mind.

What do you like to think you would do?


  1. OMG, Betty, what a moving piece. What a horrible disease. My hat's off to you as a survivor.

    What do I think I would do in the above scenario? First I would fight the disease, but without medical insurance, I don't know how I could. Are there medical options for people with no insurance?

    If I had insurance, I would fight the disease any way possible. I would live life to the fullest--what was left of it--depending on how sick I was.

    Good, thoughtful blog.

    Best regards,

  2. I've no idea what I would do or think I would do. You've got me thinking about what my mum did. In her mid 30's having not gone early enough when she found a lump. 2 mastectomy's and 5 years later she died leaving 3 teenage daughters and her husband. As a daughter I hoped she spent as long with us as she could. if I was in that amount of pain? I might give up as soon as I could.

    It's always on my mind. She died 40 years ago. I'm 51.

    You sound fitter than me and much younger.. 20's eh? ;)

  3. Betty, thank you for sharing these perspectives. I agree, 'bowing out' can also be indicative of great strength. As for myself, I've always said that if my quality of life isn't what I want it to be, I'll have a dose of arsenic in my nightstand drawer. That said, my attitude is always really positive toward health issues and I have a strong mind-body connection so that an illness won't easily get the upper hand with me! :)

  4. Surrender and leave on my terms. Nice post, Betty.

  5. Great post, Betty. Yup. . .I KNOW that face-to-face meeting with my own mortality. It'll be 3 yrs as a survivor next month, but the "OMG, what if it comes back?" feelings don't seem to EVER really stop. I've just learned how to ignore those crazy little voices most of the time. But my cancer episode has forever changed my concept of "living" — and that also of "dying". My only brother died suddenly in January without any 'preparation', but my parents are living frugally 'just in case' they need extended nursing home or medical needs down the road. So, what's the happy balance of preparation & outliving your financial, emotional, & physical needs/wants? Fight like Hell until I can actually see & feel the end — then make my last choice to exit when I'm as ready as I can get. Most folks aren't really afraid of being dead, just of the process of getting there [please, no pain!]. So I always figured I'd hoard some sleeping or pain pills to OD on when my own & everyone else's emotional/physical/financial pain reached the breaking point. Sort of a 'bow out gracefully' sort of exit.

  6. What do I think I would do? Lawdy, that's tough. If I believed I could beat it, I'd go for it all. But when I'm told it is winning, I think I'd stop and put my energy into relationships, love, and comfort. However, ask me if I have to face it in real life. That's a whole different thing.

    The thing is, I've seen the result of many doctors who push cancer patients to a ridiculous stretch, way beyond what is reasonable. I hate seeing that quality of life (or lack of) for people whose bodies have been pounded to nothingness by "treatments," and they can't interact with loved ones even before the treatments stop. I never want that. I just hope I can find an honest doctor.


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