Cancer: Should we fear it quite so much?
I should begin by saying that I have never been diagnosed, or had cause to suspect I might have a cancer. My direct experience of how it affects people comes from three people I know, all of whom died of the disease. Two of them were very close to me, the other a more casual friend. Both death and cancer have been in my thoughts lately after a friend died of cancer in early January.
The first to die was my father, who died many years ago. Strangely, this was not the death that affected me most deeply. The second was a friend, a young man who died only in the last few years and the third a lady friend a few years older than I am. She died just over a month ago, as I write this in February 2015.
My father died in hospital, suffering with prostate cancer. It was the secondaries that actually killed him. Mum was with Dad to and at the end; She died 3 years ago aged 90. I visited Dad a few times while he was in hospital but I was not there at his death. With hindsight it was easy to see that I had made a mistake and should have visited Dad more, even if I couldn’t be there at the time he died. Dad was a pragmatist, who accepted what he saw as the inevitable and just continued living as best he could after his diagnosis for as long as his body held out.
My young friend died in his 30s, from a brain tumour. He had at least two operations that I know of, to try and remove the tumour and might have had more before I knew him. Certainly he had had other treatments, some quite aggressive in nature I think. He was to die in a hospice.
It was my third friend, the lady in her 70s, whose death that affected me the most deeply, which I find strange as she was the least well known to me. Although she knew she was going to die, albeit that the time estimated by doctors was much longer than she actually survived, she had an amazingly brave and wise attitude to her condition. After telling me of her condition, she also said to me: “We believe in a life after this life so you must not be sad. I going home and it is good” (if the wording seems a little unusual, it is because her first language is Dutch).
Both the young man and the older lady friend believed in the Christian concept of God, and as regular readers of this blog will know I am a Christian. What I have noticed it that people with a faith are much less scared of death than those without. In saying this, I do not limit faith to the Christian faith.
Shortly after her death, I was reading a book she had sent me for Christmas. The book is The Four Insights, by Alberto Villoldo, an exploration of spiritual aspects of ancient teachings, and how they might be applied today. At one point in the book, where the author discusses someone he knew with cancer, he says “We allow ourselves to embrace the unknown, along with its unlimited possibilities“. Not so hard to interpret in a similar way to my friend’s statement.
It seems to me from my admittedly limited experience of knowing people with cancer, that the ones who best cope with it, are least afraid of it, are the ones that see death not as the end of everything but as the start of a new adventure and new possibilities.
I also think that is often the friends and family who find it harder to cope with the illness of someone they know who has it, than the sufferer(s) themselves.
“We believe in a life after this life so you must
not be sad. I going home and it is good”