A few weeks ago, I received word from a very good friend, whom I have known for nearly 30 years that she was dying of cancer. The doctors believed it started in her ovaries and then spread to other parts of her body. She wanted to let her close friends know and that she had made the decision to not to seek curative treatments but would seek hospice and palliative care eventually. After I allowed myself to get over the initial shock of this news, I found myself wanting to conduct research and to suggest ways for her to beat her cancer. I had discussions with other friends who were kind and supportive and suggested many sites and treatment regimens that I could pass along. However, after a time, I began to think about her personal journey. You see, she’s a nurse who has been involved in the long term care industry for many years, so she is certainly not shy on healthcare expertise. Also, she cared for her husband for four years while he battled cancer himself and witnessed first hand the toll it took on him.
After a bit of introspection, I began to realize that my desire to “fix it” ignored my dear friend’s wish to spend the remainder of her life in peace and comfort. I felt a bit of guilt and anger towards myself for my selfish and insensitive thinking. I had hesitated calling her for fear of talking about her prognosis, her impending death and her decision to forgo curative treatment. Perhaps it wasn’t any epiphany, but I soon recognized the best thing that I could do as her friend was to fully support her choice.
I picked up the phone, dialed her number and was surprised to hear her familiar voice. It had been a number of years since we talked-our communication had been primarily been through Christmas cards and occasional e-mails. However, we had a fantastic conversation; it was as if all those years apart never existed. We were able to talk frankly about her decision to accept her impending death and all the preparations that she was making so that her children could better cope with her absence. I had to laugh (and also admire) the extent of her detailed preparation-it mirrored her approach to her professional life. I expressed to her my initial selfish desire to see her attempt to extend her life. But, I then related how my thinking morphed into an understanding of her decision and my staunch support of it. She expressed her frustration that she still had several friends that would not accept her choice and were still foisting their remedies upon her. I hope they will all come around soon.
When I hung up the phone after nearly two hours of long distance conversation, I strangely felt great comfort and satisfaction. I think of her every day and I must admit, there is a bit of sadness with the knowledge that one day, I will not be able to hear her voice or read her cards.
As a young man starting out in health care over 30 years ago, I never fully grasped how death and dying might impact me. Every young person thinks they’re immortal and I was no different. But now, as I have reached middle age, my life has been touched several times with close friends who have died. How we face death is as much a part of life as how we choose to live. I would like to encourage all of you who read this blog to watch a very special presentation produced by PBS and their “Frontline” series entitled “Facing Death”. It will be aired on November 23rd-please check your listings for the time in your area.
While her choice may not be for everyone, I applaud my friend’s desire to seek hospice and palliative care. It was a courageous decision and informed one too. I am happy for her that she is at peace with it and I really hope that all of her friends and family can find it in their hearts to be at peace with it also. I have chosen to spend our remaining days together supporting her choice and enjoying our friendship.
I posted the above blog about my friend who was battling cancer and her courageous choice to seek hospice and palliative care. Not long after I posted this, I received word that she had passed away. It’s not easy hearing the news that I knew would be coming, no matter how much you prepare. I went out for a walk, said a little prayer and felt great sadness for the loss of my friend.