Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1196 - Yet Another Starting Point


"Living better through chemistry".

It might be the slogan for any number of pharmaceutical companies these days. But, as anyone who has undergone chemotherapy can vouch, no matter how effective certain chemical cocktails might be at targeting cancer cells, the treatment itself is about consuming the right amounts of poison at the right time. The hope is that doing so will kill some cells, leaving enough of the body's self-healing resources to return the body to a healthy equilibrium afterwards.

Similarly with surgery and radiation and other current forms of treatment. The cancer is attacked brutally and with the most potent weapons currently available, leaving the healing to occur naturally.

Current cancer treatment modalities do not heal, they injure precisely and powerfully. At some point, the patient may decide that his or her quality of life has suffered too drastically, that it would be better to let the disease run its course while alleviating pain and other symptoms as best one can.

That was my decision when my chemotherapy became harder to bear than the alternative. The alternative was the prospect of my body succumbing to metastatic colorectal cancer as liver lesions grew and multiplied in other parts of the body. Presumably, the liver will become incapable of functioning, leading to death within a few days.

The decision was a gamble. Or, to be more precise, it was a matter of educated guesswork. Never having died before, I don't know exactly how much pain is involved or even whether it will be the liver that delivers the final blow. It might well be a pulmonary embolism or heart attack with an even faster end game.

So, left with few certainties except that of death (even my chemotherapy left almost no hope of "cure"), most people will drift towards hope for the miraculous. I certainly do. There isn't a day goes by in which I don't imagine the cancer disappearing mysteriously and magically. These thoughts are, ironically, most likely to occur on those days when I'm feeling my best, when the sun is shining in through the patio doors, my wife and sons and I have eaten a wonderful meal and are watching a favourite television show together, and are engaged in stimulating conversations.

When there is pain or mysterious rashes or depression, I am still reminded that I have nonetheless better quality of life than if I had continued chemotherapy. On such days, I know that I'm going to die, but I don't think about magical cures. I just hope that in dying, I am courageous, that I maintain my values in the face of pain and lost faculties, and that my wife and children will recover and prosper in my absence. Those challenges are easier to address than hope dressed up in magical cures.

Yesterday, I suggested that there are still some "first efforts" to challenge me these days.That's right! Each day that I survive is like another starting point where I can decide to do something, anything, to proclaim that I am alive and kicking. This month of February I've alluded occasionally to the healing power of community and my naive suggestion that somehow writing blogs and being part of a virtual community is a healing endeavour. The purpose of this community appears to be to collaborate with one another on issues surrounding life, death, terminal cancer, care giving, and the enjoyment of life.

It occurred to me today, in answering blog posts and other correspondence, that one worthwhile "first effort" might be to study community itself and the possible mechanisms and processes whereby community offers healing to its members. That theme offers an interesting counterpoint to themes of individual transformation I've addressed along the way in my unwanted journey.

So I'm going to do some preliminary research. In the meantime, I would suggest readers consider checking out my niece's website - - to see some ideas in action about building community that benefit all but focus on the contributions of women, young women in particular.

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