Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Death of a Brain Cancer Patient

I saw with great sadness that Brittany Maynard took her life today. She died at age 29. Brittany was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma brain cancer and the doctors gave her less than 6 months to live. That is an utterly horrible thing to hear from doctors. The emotional impact of hearing such news from doctors is hard to take, and it is gut-wrenching.

 I know this from two things. First, my older brother, Gary, died of stage 4 astrocytoma brain cancer at age 29. From diagnosis to death was 4 months. The end was ugly. Watching my very accomplished brother die, and leave a widow and two children under 2 years old was nothing less than an obscenity. Gary had everything to live for. He was an extremely popular person and was president of almost any organization he chose to be president of. He was a new father to a son and a daughter; but cancer, brain cancer struck him down. Every time I think of those times, my eyes water with tears.

Secondly, I know what an emotional hammer it is to be told that one is dying because I was told I would be dead within 5 years---in 2003. I point this out so people will know that I have been in her shoes. I had a very nasty aggreessive form of cancer. The tumor was spreading into my gut and had metastasized. When the doctor told me I was going to be his first patient to die in a long time, I remember thinking, 'I don't want to hear this!" Statistically I had less than a 20% chance of making 5 years; and less than a 1% chance of making 10 years, yet here I am at 11 years. I was seriously depressed for two months, wondering what the use was of anything I did. Then I realized that I was ruining whatever time I had left. I decided that I was going to live my life until I couldn't do it any longer. I wasn't going to be one of those who whined about dying because as the Bible says, "it is appointed unto men once to die." Heb. 9:27. Why should I whine about what comes to us all. I am not special; I am not exempt from this awful curse. But I will face my day, as best as I can, as my brother did. I hope I live up to the standard he set. I know it will be hard.

Brittany took her life long before things got bad for her. She could not possibly know what was in store for her. Sometimes cancers cure automatically; sometimes, like with mine, they go slower than the doctor thinks. For her to decide to take her life means that she placed her faith in the knowledge of the doctors rather than God. If I had done that, I would never have seen any of my 7 grandchildren. I would never have lived in China, gone to Tibet, gone to Antarctica, built a couple of successful businesses.

I have found that my cancer is a gift. It has forced me to think about my legacy; about my children and grandchildren. I never miss an opportunity to spend time with them. I never miss a chance to tell them how proud I am of them. Rather than take a quick exit, I want to spend my time shoring up my relationships because in reality that is what is truly important in life.

Giving up and taking one's life is hailed as heroic today. Unfortunately, it destroys the potential God has ahead of us. It is the easy way out and I for one don't find it heroic.

Gary, my brother was heroic. He fought everyday to spend time with those he loved, his wife, Anita, his two children, Allison and Van. He knew the odds were not good, but he wanted time with his children. Not much time was granted and they do not remember him. So, was it worth it? Yes. Gary is my hero. He fought the good fight and didn't surrender until totally defeated. I hope I can live up to my brother's example when my time comes. He was my hero.