Cancer and Understanding Death
Q. In spring of this year I was diagnosed with advanced Ovarian Cancer. Immediately after surgery, I started aggressive chemotherapy and will be completing the last cycle of chemo next month. I have had many menacing side effects and of course, hair loss as well. Emotionally, I have had some self-destructive behaviours. For example, even though I am close with my parents and sisters, I refuse to socialize with anyone outside of my immediate family and hardly take any phone calls. I am close to a couple of friends and see them once in a blue moon. Besides this, I’m conscious of my hair loss and spend most of my time taking walks and practising yoga. My oncologist says I will most probably have a recurrence in 18 to 24 months. Survival is maximum three years. Upon recurrence of the cancer, I do not wish to take any more chemotherapy. I am at peace with myself. I’ve also come to peace with my family and friends and am not afraid of death. When I voice my opinion, both doctors and people who have previously attended support groups ask me if I am depressed. Am I actually depressed? Or am I just being realistic about my situation and feel comfortable with embracing death rather than running after a lesser quality of life and torturing myself with more chemotherapy?
A. Almost everyone is in extreme denial of death. Intellectually they know the meaning, they can repeat the dictionary definition but that is where knowledge ends and denial begins. I won’t argue the case because it is so very obviously true. Simplistically, those who argue against my position are the most in denial. You deal with an amazingly complex issue, an issue that has long occupied the minds of the greatest philosophers and religious thinkers.
“I am at peace with myself.” No one could ever ask more of you or hope more for you than that you are “at peace with yourself.” Talking about your death reminds those around you, loved ones, physicians included, of their own horrible inadequacies. What advice can they give? What do they know of a “proper” way to die? Perhaps Buddha, or Jesus Christ could help you find the way but they are no longer in this physical world. It is now a spiritual world for them and perhaps it is so for all of us even if we deny it. You are forced to face that which others choose to deny. With every breath we come closer to death, each and every person, all those who read these words. Is death an end or a transition? For both Buddha and Jesus, they stated emphatically that it was just a transition.
If I can help you, I am here to at the least try. Peace be with you, K.R.
Randle, K. (2006). Cancer and Understanding Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 1, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/09/25/cancer-and-understanding-death/