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July 10 2004 DAY #256
This is a different update, because something has been on my mind for a while that I want to discuss. I want to explore my feelings and thoughts about attitude, death, and dying. Perhaps my thoughts will help others to cope in a similar situation. I still have some unresolved issues about it too. Menchie approved this, but if you don't feel comfortable with this topic, please stop reading now.
When I was diagnosed, I didn't really know that much about Leukemia. I just knew that the doctor said I had about a 30% chance of a cure. What I didn't know was that the other option was death. It didn't take long to find that out though. I think perhaps the doctors were a little optimistic about my chances too, when they talked to me. So how did I deal with this? How should others?
First, the easy answer. An excellent way to help deal with the prospect of death is through spiritual or religious means. Contact your pastor, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader. This can be very comforting and helpful. The thoughts and prayers of friends and family are very uplifting and helpful.
For me, there were other considerations. I have not exactly led a quiet, risk free life. I have had dangerous jobs, and dangerous hobbies. I have lived with death as a companion for a long time. I think this helped me face the prospect. It is mostly a decision to face it head on. I can't offer any great wisdom on how to do this, other than to compare it to getting on an airplane, or getting into a car. You just do it, trusting the pilot, or yourself and other drivers to some extent. I also looked at this as a new experience, a challenge, a puzzle, and a learning opportunity, all of which I enjoy. I guess this comes under having a positive attitude. Sure, getting Leukemia is bad, but you can do fun things while you are dealing with it too! In Naval Aviation, we have a saying: "If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right". Now not every minute was fun, of course, but overall, it was a pretty interesting experience, to say the least, and I did a lot of new things, and learned a lot!
Another consideration of dying was the impact it would have on dependents. I did what I could to ensure that my financial affairs were in order. While this does not exactly allay the feelings you have about dying, it certainly helps to give a certain amount of peace. Not much, but some. I don't feel that this was being negative. I was just getting prepared for the eventuality so I didn't have to worry about it any more. Then I could concentrate on staying alive. The same was true with things like these updates. Menchie didn't like it, but I made an update in case I didn't make it. I didn't like what I wrote, so eventually I deleted it. I don't need it now anyway. In other areas I can't go into, I also prepared for the worst. Again, in all these ways, it was a way of putting the negative behind me so I didn't have to worry about it any more.
I think what really helped me was having a very positive attitude toward my chances. I didn't see my 30% chance of survival as a negative, but as a positive. It was certainly better than 10%, or 0%. It was a challenge. I needed to work to get that number up. I kept asking my doctors as I went through the treatments what my odds were that day. If the odds went up, I celebrated!
The proverbial life passing before one's eyes is something that happened to me in a way. It really helped me to look back on my life. Looking back on what I have done, achieved, experienced, etc., helped me find a degree of serenity about my life and my death. I have few regrets, and have been pretty successful in most important areas of my life. The areas where I have not been successful, I can let go. There are not too many more experiences I need to collect. Sure, there are mountains to climb, airplanes to master, oceans to delve into, and other fun things to do, but I find that I have done enough. Of course, now, many of those old experiences are experienced again as new! One of the benefits of staring death in the face and surviving.
The greatest help in dealing with this was Menchie, of course. She stood by my side, and was strong. She really understood most of my emotional needs without me needing to communicate them to her. The caregivers are the most important part of surviving, in my opinion. I don't think I would have been able to maintain my spirits and my attitude as well as I did without her. So if you have the opportunity to "volunteer" to fight the fight against cancer as a caregiver, please stick with your patient. Your job will be one of the hardest ones you have ever done, but the rewards will be great.
I think the only thing I really have trouble dealing with is the death of others. Especially the children and the young adults who have not lived a full life yet. I keep thinking of the unrealized potential and the pain of the parents. I guess this is a good thing. I hope I never learn how to deal with this. I need to stay focused on keeping these kids alive. I need to help them survive. This is the defining force in my life right now. To be a cancer survivor is good, but to help others survive is living.
I wrote last time about Alexis. She remains in very serious condition. She is battling CMV, pneumonia and a partial collapsed lung. She continues to fight heroicly.
Thank you for letting me share this with you! I am doing great, by the way!
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