It is impossible to tell how you would react to a diagnosis of a terminal illness until you actually receive one. In the cancer care adverts people fall apart and collapse in corridors or they disappear into their own shells in misery and despair. But, does it have to be that way? Death is one of the absolutes of life. It is unavoidable and happens to all of us at some time or other but modern medicine has led us to believe that whatever ails us can be cured and that all we need to do is ‘fight it’. It is not true and in some circumstances could give false hope that might blight a life instead of saving it.
I can feel people thinking that I would only say this if I had not been in that position but I am in exactly that position. I have an illness for which there is no treatment and no cure except for debilitating drugs that could possibly slow its progressive grip but without relieving any of its symptoms. As I wish to live whatever time I have left to the full I decided not to take anything that might make me feel worse just for the sake of a few more weeks of suffering. Instead I started planning. First I made sure that there was a DNR notice on my records so that my wishes concerning my future health care were well known and then I set about arranging trips and visits that I knew would give me pleasure.
I have had a remarkable life. It has not been an easy life but it has been blessed by whatever deity governs the ups and down that make us what we are. However, when you are told that the life you have is coming to an end it is hard initially to come to terms with it. I was absolutely numb. I did not cry or wail and I was open about it as there was no point in making it a secret. That has its consequences and some friends avoided me as they did not know what to say and there were others that I wanted to punch in the face for saying what they thought were comforting lines such as ‘fight it’ but with no acknowledgement that not everything is fightable. Worse, were those who burst into tears when they saw me and those who said they knew a friend who was given two years to live but was still here after twenty. For those that cried I wanted to ask exactly who they were crying for and for those who had long lived friends I wanted to ask what that had to do with me. I was not really angry with them individually, with fate or with myself; I simply got angry with their lack of understanding. But why would they understand? There were no reasons why they should understand at all. It was selfish of me to expect them to.
This messed up my mind for a while and I needed to get away from everything to try and get my thinking straight again. I needed to lose the anger and concentrate on my remaining life to ensure that I died with dignity and grace. To achieve this I researched various sanctuaries where I could isolate myself for a few days but none of them offered what I needed. Many were religiously based and had prayer services each day. Others were based on meditation and had a pre-requirement of a completed meditation course. What I ended up with was a metaphorical life saviour. I spent three days of self-imposed solitude at Canterbury Cathedral. My selection of a cathedral for solace was not in character as I am not a Christian but priests made themselves available and offered advice on easing my passage out of this world without any promises of moving into another one. What lies beyond this life is a mystery to all of us but we have differing hopes and expectations. I was not looking for an afterlife I was simply looking for a graceful and dignified way a leaving this one. What that required was peace of mind. In those three days I found it.
At the present time I am not sure what form that leaving may take. It could be at my own hand, in a foreign clinic or fate stepping in to shorten the suffering. Only time will tell; limited though it may be.