Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Death in the Back of Your Mind

I've been blogging about JoAn Dillinger at patrickmead.blogspot.com but wanted to move the discussion over here since this is a family and mental health blog. JoAn's surgery began with anesthesia around 5:30AM and ended with suturing at 7:15PM. At 2PM the doctors came out and told the family that there was more cancer in JoAn than they had thought. It looked bad. They admitted that they would normally just sew a person up in her condition but they were taking into account her relatively young age, good health, and the fact that so many were praying for her... and decided to continue the surgery. After the surgery, the doctors told the family that they were amazed that they were able to get all the cancer. Aggressive chemo will need to be done and they warn that JoAn will probably only have two or three years with us... but they aren't certain on that last point. As one of the doctors said (and I heard this third hand so this isn't a quote) "I'm not sure I believed in prayer until today. Now, I think I do."

Before her surgery JoAn wrote the doctor a letter informing him that hundreds of people were praying for him and for her. She then made a point of telling him that personally. It seemed to have made a real impression on him.

I wrote recently about Tim and Nancy Milligan; especially concerning Tim's faithfulness and love for Nancy. She was taken to hospital on Sunday and told she has a new brain tumor and the family is having a hard time with that news, but they remain optimistic that God will intervene once again and give her more time with her family.

As I approach my 50th birthday this month I wrote a new will, made a new Living Will, and Power of Attorney. Morbid? I don't think so. I believe those things need to be done a long time before you think you might need them. You never know. I believe that it is good to keep death in the back of your mind. It makes the days we have that much more special. We understand that holding hands with your wife is special because there will be a last time. Even traffic jams would take on a new glow if we knew that we would never drive that way again. Every day is a celebration when we keep in mind that life is not forever.

Kami and I have talked about life and death issues since we were married 28 years ago. She knows that if I were to come down with certain cancers or diseases I would refuse treatment. I have seen too many people fight for miserable, pain filled years and then die. There are many cancers that I would fight because the chances of a good life are there, but that isn't always the case when other cancers strike.

So here is the question: knowing that we are headed toward heaven and that all of us must make that journey, how hard should we fight mortal illnesses? That is an intensely private and individual decision, to be sure. It can be affected by the desire to see grandchildren, or to see a child married, or a hundred other things.

But would you fight if the illness had a zero or near zero long-term healing rate? Why or why not? Keep your answers brief and do NOT criticize or critique the answers of others.

As for me: I have been traveling all my life. I am looking forward to being home in heaven. That is a highly attractive thought -- so much so that I have made my pledge that, should certain specific situations arise -- I would not go through miserable treatments for a few more months of life. Yet... if the same disease occured to my children when they were young or to my yet-to-be-born grandchildren I know my mind would change and I would make a different decision.

We all make the journey. How hard would you fight to delay it?


At 12/06/2006 12:31:00 AM , Blogger Stoogelover said...

The older I get and having seen so many people do just what you said, fight and suffer only to die and no quality of life during the fight. As a funeral director, I deal with death on a weekly basis (I only work part time but am licensed in CA). There are many things worse than death and if we belive what we say, death is not leaving this life ... it's simply going home. I think I would refuse treatment other than pain relief.

At 12/06/2006 08:10:00 AM , Blogger That Girl said...

I hate to start the day crying! It's just not good! However, I do think about this often since I work at the hospital and see so many families hurting.

I don't know how much I could fight. I mean, it's nice enough here, but Heaven is more than I can imagine. I can't WAIT to get there. I don't want to hurt and be sick and yucky. I just want to go.

I've prayed for God to take family members because they were ready to go and I begged him not to take my daddy from me yet. God just knows best.

At 12/06/2006 09:14:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday I learned of a friend of a friend that was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and throat. He has no insurance so they docs at the hospital told him yes you have cancer, but no we cannot treat you because you have no insurance. The emergency room is available to you if you need their services.
For him the choice is easy. He cannot fight his illness, but he can still live life until the very end.
I know for myself, the less options I have the better off I am. Too many options make life too complicated and it's easy to lose focus on what is important and be lead astray.
The lack of choices always makes it easier to make a decision.

At 12/06/2006 09:35:00 AM , Blogger reJoyce said...

We faced just such a decision when one of our young sons had cancer. After trying for a couple of years to get him cured, we ended up eventually saying "enough is enough". Not an easy decision to make for one so young - he was six when he died.

I tend to think you should try treatments, but not try too hard - but it's not a decision I've had to make for my own life yet.

At 12/06/2006 09:37:00 AM , Anonymous Danny Gill said...

Hard question. I haven't picked out specific illnesses, but I know that I would resist extensive treatment for something that was almost surely fatal. I lost a friend a couple of months ago to brain cancer, and the illness changed him from a driven lifestyle to one of reflection, joy, and peace. May I leave such a legacy

At 12/06/2006 11:34:00 AM , Blogger Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Thank you for a thoughtful post. Interestingly I made a post along a similar theme yesterday. I invite you to have a look. It is a meditation on Psalm 88 called "Dark Night of the Soul."

Bobby Valentine

At 12/06/2006 12:24:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis already know how I feel about these things because I write about them fairly often. I'm in agreement with you, Patrick, and you, Greg, and you, Terri. There are worse things than death and dying a painful and hurtful death is one of them. I don't seek that nor would I want that for me or any of the rest of my family.

Tom and I recently did our wills, living wills (health care directives) and powers of attorney and we have also talked with each of our children about what we want and how we want things to be for us in the event that time should come in our lives when we would have such decisions to make.

I would refuse certain treatments, as well, in certain situations where it was just a matter of prolonging a painful life. I hope I die as my dad died, peacefully and in joy in his sleep even though he had liver cancer from a bad blood transfusion years earlier when he'd had heart bypasses. He was clear headed and happy and at peace. He asked for me to pray for him that the Lord come quickly to take him home and I prayed such for him and my mom. I went to be with them before he died and told my dad I had come to be there so my mom wouldn't be alone and so that he could let go if and when he was ready.

He died unexpectedly medically some three days later, but he was ready and wanted to go and God blessed us all in his passing from this life to eternity. I hope to die the same way. It was a blessing.

At 12/06/2006 05:42:00 PM , Blogger Brie said...

Hard question, but a serious one, and one that deserves a lot of thought. I definitely think that having seen someone close to you go through a fight for life affects this.

My Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer (really curable, by the way, unless it's stage III or IV) in July of 2001. He and my mom had brought my little brother home from Ukraine in Christmas of 2000. Dad went through several rounds of chemo, a stroke, and three surgeries because he wanted to live long enough for Sam to remember him. Most people who get hit with Stage IV don't make it more than a year at best, but Dad held on until October 2004. Doing all of his care over the last few days was the hardest thing I've ever had to do- but he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

Sam remembers him.

Would I fight some cancer? Yep. Especially now that we're about to have a little one around. But endless rounds of chemo, just to get a few more months? Not so much. Hospice is great at controlling pain while keeping you clear-headed, and days filled with nausea and neuropathy and all the other things that go with most cancer treatments are just not for me.

I do think that having been close to death makes us so much more aware of how much of a blessing each moment of life can be. Now if we could jsut remember that all the time...

At 12/06/2006 06:56:00 PM , Blogger Stoogelover said...

When my mother was dying, she did so with great anticipation of the "other side" with Jesus. She's my role model in that respect.

Years ago when my father was dying of cancer, I went to talk with a friend who was a very well respected radiologist. He took a lot of time for me, though I had no appointment and just showed up at his office with a request to see him. He told me something that has stuck with me over the years. "Greg, most of the treatment we do for people with cancer is for the survivors, not the patient. We do what we do so the family can have a peace about knowing they did all they could do." He has since died, but his words are a gift.

At 12/06/2006 09:52:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

Wow. I was just thinking about such things. Being torn between going home to heaven and wanting to stay here on earth to be used by God in ways to help my family heal from all the things that are there or however He has planned. There has been such healing because of Our God and Savior.

I have decided long ago, that if the illness was serious and chances of curing the illness were slim or if I was in an accident and chances were I would live the rest of my life on machines, that I would rather not fight to live physically. Let me live spiritually with My Father in Heaven. Watching my mom suffer with lung cancer reinforced my desire to not linger on and on and on. I told a friend once that I wasn't afraid of death, it meant going home. I am only fearful of the how and then how I would react. My mom was so dignified with dealing with all her pain and agony.

At 12/09/2006 01:13:00 AM , Anonymous cassie said...

When my grandma died, she had a stroke, which led to her organs shutting down. She was always adamant that she was not to be hooked up to machines, but when the time came, my aunt (who had already lost my mom, and was therefore alone) couldn't let go that easily. So grandma was hooked up for two days. They said she felt no physical pain, but the one time i had the guts to go in an see her, her eyes filled with tears and she cried. She couldn't speak because of the tubes, but i knew she hated every moment of it. When they finally pulled all the plugs, yeah it was hard, but i'd have rather let her go when she was supposed to. I, too, feel that when it's time, it's time.

At this moment, there are things that i still hope to experience in this lifetime, and im not sure i want Christ to come just yet, but i know if something should happen, i'm ready.

At 12/13/2006 01:08:00 AM , Blogger pegasap said...

I hope to be as positive about death as my best friend was - my mother. When she was diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia on my birthday in 1998, doctors said chemo must start that very day; otherwise, the prognosis was maybe six weeks. Mom decided to be treated, but she told them: "I'm not afraid of dying, but I do fear what's between here and death." It took 18 months of nausea, sore & bleeding gums, near-deaths with sepsis, major weight loss, platelet counts falling down to almost nothing, etc., etc., but finally and amazingly, prayers were answered: she was in remission! In March 2004, colonoscopy revealed "carcinoid carcinoma" (I know - sounds like I'm being redundant, but that was the diagnosis), which is a rare, incurable but somewhat controllable cancer, as to quality of life. Life expectancy was thought to be 6 yrs. Chemo began; all ok until tumor developed in groin area, cutting off circulation of blood to right leg. Had to start radiation, and this caused the leukemia to come back in Sept. '05. Dad had died the previous year of a massive heart attack so I knew Mom might not fight death this go-round. One chemo round did nothing; she had 3 options: (1) more chemo which, as the doctor said,"probably would not work, she would get very sick again, and she'd die; (2) stay in hospital and receive platelets and live maybe a month; or (3) go home and live maybe two weeks. She chose to die at home where she would be happiest and have family all around her every last day of her life. Never, ever did she stop smiling, nor did she complain. She was our "Shining Star" with no fear of death or what was to come. She lived 6 weeks instead of 2, dying November 20, 2005, at a young 70. I want to die as beautiful a death as she did, smiling all the way to the end because she knew where she was going, and she wanted to make her departure easier for us, too.

Peg Heredos

At 12/13/2006 09:03:00 AM , Blogger Marie said...

After a friends mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I had the opportunity to think about this long and hard. I have 3 children 4 and under, and as I look at them right now, I hate to think of leaving them. If I knew there was a chance at being able to go into remission, or for a cure, yes- I would fight for my life. To be able to watch my children grow. If there were a very slim chance, I would still try the treatments, but if they did not work, I would stop. I want to live my life to the fullest, and spend what remaining time I have with my husband and kids. I know there would be hard days, but spedning time with them, making the memories that will last with them for a lifetime, would make me happier.

Heaven is going to be a beautiful place to spend eternity with my God. I can't wait to get there and I know that in his time God will allow me to enter in,having lived a wonderful life, hopefully exactly the way he planned it for me!


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