The living and the dead

Someone once told me that the purpose of life was to live. Ironically, the person telling me this was someone who knew she was about to die. It was my mother.

I was in an angry and anxious mood, knowing that it was the beginning of the end for her, having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. As a pack-a-day smoker with a history of respiratory problems, she was resigned to it. I, having been master of the universe up to that point, was not. Even as a reporter I couldn’t keep up with modern medical advances, so surely something would ride to the rescue. It had to.

But the more one learns about the indestructibility of cancer, the more you hate it. Sure, there are courageous battles and a few beat it, but the majority of patients die a horrible death. Many get toxic, debilitating chemotherapy treatments and then still die.

In our case, an operation was out of the question and it was too late for chemo.

There is nothing so scary as to face the fact that someone you love will endure a painful and agonizingly slow death. You will seek medication to kill the pain for the patient, and yourself. You will talk to anyone, do anything, go anywhere, to seek a cure and avoid that desperate feeling.

For a few people that desperate search leads them to help (see “Forbidden Medicine”).

But for many cancer patients, it’s simply a matter of choosing a way to die. Since I was spending time visiting on weekends, taking care of the bills and putting her affairs in order, I volunteered to move to Phoenix to provide full-time care. She declined, simply telling me that instead I should get on with living my life.