Saturday, August 30, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1011 - Why a Journey?

It's not about criticizing other people. But how often do you hear about the untimely death of a colleague or friend or family member, pick up the obituary notice and read, "XXX lost his/her battle with cancer"? If once, maybe dozens of times.

Cancer kills. There's no doubt about that. And for those of us diagnosed with cancer, there are definitely times when we feel in a fighting mood, when we choose to employ metaphors of battle and images of violence to depict the struggle in which we are engaged.

But I made my wife promise me recently that when I die I want the announcement to be different. I don't want my death to be announced as a loss in a battle to cancer. Instead, I'd like the announcement to read something like this...

"Don died yesterday after living a full life for xx years. He died at peace, with his family and friends close by, saying farewell and grateful for the journey he has completed. Cancer was part of that journey, but not nearly as important as sunshine and happy days, the wonderful years of love and growth with his wife and sons, work that he accomplished with pride, friendships that lasted a lifetime, and at peace with himself and those that mattered most to him. In this wild and wondrous universe, his journey is complete, like a pebble dropped into a pond and sinking to the bottom, but with waves rippling indefinitely and extending in all directions. And, it's all right."

When I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and decided to blog about my experiences, I had very little time to decide on the metaphor to carry me through and characterize what was happening. I choose the metaphor of a journey. That was partially because I wanted to maintain a sense of optimism, the hope that cancer was not necessarily an acute and immediately terminal diagnosis, but something that might be chronic, unwanted to be sure, but something that accompanied me as I moved forward with my life. And then I read something that struck a chord that resonated with me - “You will choose courage and hope. Though the journey was unwanted, you will choose the way you face the future and your inner spirit will prevail.” - from the preface by Cheryl Edwards to the book The Intelligent Patient Guide to Colorectal Cancer by Michael Pezim and David Owen. It worked.

This morning, as is our custom on Saturdays, we got up early, drove each of our sons to work, then headed over to Starbucks, then down to the Kitchener Market for veggies, fruit, chocolate and marble rye bread. As we traveled along our familiar path sipping coffee, nibbling on a raspberry scone or loaf, and listening to CBC Radio 2, we heard a tune and lyric which reinforced the metaphor I have chosen - the Traveling Wilburys 1989 classic End of the Line. I hope my own "end of the line" is still a long way off, but even if it is closer than anticipated, like the song says, "It's all right."


Anonymous said...

What comes after death is certainly not "alright" for those whose name is not in the book of life. What comes is darkness, thirst, and torment of soul awaiting the day of judgement. You may not believe that now but you will when you are there. You still have time to make a choice for life.

Don Spencer said...

Why not say your name? After all, if it is in the "book of life", then you're not truly anonymous.

In any case, you're entitled to your opinion.

In my view, there is no point in proclaiming certainties about an afterlife...unless it's to scare others into believing the same way that you do. You might even misguidedly call that "love" (proclaiming the threat of eternal damnation), but telling someone with stage IV metastatic cancer that their suffering now is only a prelude to eternal suffering...well, I call that cruel and unusual.


Anonymous said...

Hi - one fact was missed in the previous post's description of hell and that is that CBC radio is always playing in the background.

An apology from me, on behalf of all humans, that one would leave a message like that.

I was thinking about converting to an extreme Muslim religion and suicide-blowing up some infidels, but when I read the small print there was no guarantee the 72 waiting virgins were female.

And what's with the 'virgin' talk? I would infinitely prefer 72 sluts!

Anyhow, some people (even well-meaning people) think there's a guarantee in the afterlife........but we all just put down our bets and take our chances.

Eric said...

I guess it was only a matter of time before I read your obituary blog. Nice and respectful. I think the image of you and your wife with coffee and a scone listening to music driving home is the image you were looking for. Just one of those rippling waves.

Anita said...


I liked the song.

Cancer crystallizes the fact that ‘the end of the line’, which is approaching for all of us, does have a date and that date may very well be closer than we would have liked. What I heard you to be saying was that you had found your ‘peace’ in the midst of your personal (and yes, at least in part, unwanted) journey. As far as I am concerned, finding such peace is no small feat.

We spend a great portion of life trying to place complicated pieces of it's mystery together. Often I, like an impatient child, try to pound into place parts of that puzzle that refuse to fit – insisting that they somehow should. But when certain portions do come together correctly, we catch a glimpse of the whole and there is a tremendous sense of grasping the 'mystery' - at least in part.

It is often the smallest and simplest of events that catch us off guard and highlight where meaning truly lies. And when you understand that, I think you also realize that life doesn’t get much better than a cup of Starbucks in the company of one you love.

Here’s to lots more of those Saturday morning glimpses.

Don Spencer said...

Thanks to my "way west" friend and Anita for writing again.

CBC playing non-stop in hell, eh? Reminds me of the movie Volunteers with Tom Hanks and John Candy. Hanks hears the Peace Corp group singing Kumbaya, and says, "So this is hell."

Peace, like our personal concept of hell, is often as hard to grasp as jello. So, I don't even try anymore with the concept of hell. But with peace, I gladly accept it when it arrives on my doorstep. It's a gift. My only contribution to the process is to recognize it and accept it. Certainly having examples like my aunt makes it all a little easier.