Unanswered questions

In my situation I’m always drawn to other people’s stories and how cancer panned out for them versus my own situation, so I was moved this morning to read about Riana van Niekerk, a top marathon athlete (e.g. three times gold medal Comrades winner), who passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 39 over the weekend. She completed 6 months of chemo which was unsuccessful and she was bound to start another course of chemo. She was diagnosed in May last year, I was diagnosed in June.  According to her husband, she suffered terribly these past months, up to the point where he says he’s glad her suffering is over (Netwerk24 article).  She must have eaten right because she’s an athlete and was MUCH fitter than me and she’s much younger. She had terminal cancer, so do I. Her husband says she had long term goals that she wanted to achieve – so do I.  I’m fortunate that my life continues as normal and that I feel fine but yet I battle to understand why?

Dealing with death

Of family members I lost an uncle (not blood related) to lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker all his life and as far as I know smoked less but up to the end. He received chemotherapy but it didn’t agree with him and the sessions were ended.

My aunt (father’s sister) in Holland died during the same time from lung cancer. She never smoked but her father and husband did. I remember having conversations with her over the phone and her being unable to answer or only speak in mono-syllables because of the lack of air. As she was of advanced age, she opted to shy away from any treatment.

I lost an ex-brother-in-law and mother-in-law to cancer.  My ex-husband, the father of my daughters, now have to deal with me being in the same position. My ex-brother-in-law had the exact same condition as me and passed away in 2014. I heard he had chemo but that it didn’t agree with him and he opted out. I also heard that he smoked up to the end and that he was quite dependent on oxygen.

The whole experience just brings death much closer to ones door. After all, we are talking of a terminal illness. The “cancer survivors” do exist, make no mistake, but you have to consider both sides of the coin.

Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford

Suddenly having cancer just makes ones ears perk up at the word. One starts watching the press more closely.  I remember glancing over the Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford case out of interest but then I took a different interest in the article. Here was this man, knowing he had 2 weeks left to live from prostrate cancer, asking the court to allow him to be spared an undignified death.  In other words, an assisted death.

Huh? You’re serious? You’re that scared? I would not take the risk of changing the natural process. I believe your learning is not finished until you’ve left the earth. And that you have to leave in the way set out for you, whether by drowning, illness or stabbing. Dying is a natural process and the gateway to another world. Don’t mess with the opportunity you’ve been given, you may learn something from your own death. Recalling ones own death during past life regression is very common.  With this very assertive paragraph I want to add that I by no means critisise the advocate as each person has his or her belief system that must be respected. We are all in the same boat where we need to make life changing decisions.  We try to take the best decisions within our power.

Advocate SF died peacefully at home during the night and the court order was granted the following day. Both photos below are of him.

Clive Rice

I was shocked and horrified to find out his plight after I got diagnosed. I followed his progress closely, maybe there was something to learn. I watched the special programme on Carte Blanche (I think) where there was great hype and expectation around the treatment Mr Rice went to receive in India. It was described as “ground breaking therapy”.

We discussed it at home but decided that we were unfortunately not in the same league and that we had to find out solutions here in South Africa…

The therapy seemed to be working because the family was crying with joy on the TV. However, in July, he passed away from septicemia. I was shocked. How the hell? What’s septicemia?

I asked my doctor, he said “yes, unfortunately cancer patients are very susceptible to bacteria, that’s why we give you a long and strong prescription of antibiotics if you come back to hospital for a second time.”

I quickly learnt that I had to review and step up my own hygiene – bodily, kitchen and bathroom, as well as public places. I now use hand sanitiser often, especially when visiting hospitals. Just general precautions and how one treats one’s food. And I no longer second guess, if something is vaguely spoiled, it ain’t going through my mouth!

Below are two photos of Clive, the one shows his radiation mask firmly affixed. Mine is lime green!

Elsje Neethling

I was just as shocked to learn of her plight, having been given 6 months to live from a brain tumour when she was 13, she has been battling cancer ever since and is now wheelchair bound. Saw an interview with her on TV, she appears to be positive and happy with the beautiful Neethling smile!

Randall Wicomb

Has been on the Afrikaans scene forever. A legend. He was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2013 but his condition worsened at the end of 2015. At that time he lost an eye and seemed confused in a last interview. He acknowledged the end was near.  Towards the end the regretted having shunned modern interventions like chemo.

Suffering

One can’t help but take note of other’s suffering. But what my research has taught me is that no two people are the same. How you progress through your illness is going to differ from the next person. Likewise potential suffering during the end process is different for every one. I have heard cries in hospital from those who could not wait for their next dose of morphine and then there are those who pass peacefully. One cannot predict these things.

On the upside

Who else has this wonderful opportunity for a conscious life review and to close the door on unfinished business; to make right; to connect for a last time; to get affairs in order?  I would pick this anytime above a sudden death!