Friday, May 21, 2010

Fight to stay alive or fight to live?

I have been fighting for my life for almost a year. But am I fighting simply to stay alive? This thought has been crossing my increasingly murky mind since I learned about the recent death of a wonderful friend. "Bobsey" held a special place in almost all of the chapters of my life that bring me joy. For virtually every backpacking trip, every outdoor movie night, every holiday or birthday gathering, every Flashdance, every Cache Creek rafting trip, every ultimate game....every "thing", Bobsey was there. But he was always more than just "there". Every space he occupied was illuminated by his sharp wit, his warm smile, and his dizzying recollection. He was faster than Google, and able to answer all trivia with a single line. He was an incredibly caring person who was always willing to help those in need. He was the first to arrive at every party so he could help set up, and the last to leave to help clean up. He moved several people several times, always with a smile and a wonderful attitude.

A couple of weeks ago Bobsey took his own life. It seemed as though all of the joy he spread to the lives of those around him was not enough to convince him to keep pushing forward. My initial emotional reactions were anger and confusion. Bobsey, I am doing all I can to stay alive because of the joy people like you bring me, and you did all you could to end your life? Why would you do such a thing? I was already coping with making sense of my own nonsense. Why did cancer choose me? Now I have the added confusion of a dear friend choosing death.

With time, and several long conversations with others who love him, I've begun to accept the fact that we will never fully understand the choice that he made, but that it was his choice. It made me examine my own personal choices more carefully as well. I've often wondered if I'm the "typical" cancer patient, or if there even is one. I think most people, including the medical community, assume that the primary goal of a patient is to stay alive. I realized, after thinking about Bobsey's choice, that in the back of my somewhat Swiss cheesed mind I never thought of that as my main purpose. My main purpose was more than just living, it was to regain a worthwhile life, whatever that might mean. It explains the early arguments I had with my medical team when they would wonder how I could be so thrown by some seemingly small detail they forgot to mention (some item that would merely effect the quality of my life). After all, in the big picture, I'm still alive!

I am by no means trying to validate Bobsey's choice. Some of us have thought that he made this choice because he didn't want to be a burden on the lives of others. If so, his action could not have produced a more contradictory result. I can only hope that all who love him and are loved by others realize the agony they can inflict by taking their lives. I guess I'm just wondering where we draw the borderline between wanting to stay, and being ready to go. This question has become more and more acceptable for those facing severe physical and medical problems, thus giving rise to hospice care. A perfect example was Alicia, a wonderful, energetic young woman who recently passed away.

Yet, a physically healthy person choosing death still provokes anger and even religious punishment. Unfortunately, too often seeking help for mental trauma is also frowned upon by society. While I had the option, nay the requirement, to address the physical distress I was experiencing, Bobsey might have felt trapped, thinking he had no other options for a cure. Unfortunately for the rest of us, here in San Francisco this was an illusion. He did have options, and there was a path. Another lesson we all need to recognize.

As for my battle to "live", I currently count myself among the lucky. I am lucky to have a wonderful community of friends and family around me, and I am lucky to recognize and appreciate them. Last week I had an MRI. Leading up to it I noticed for the first time in awhile some trepidation. As many people know, a positive attitude is our best weapon to fight cancer. Well, that and chemo. But my attitude had been taking quite a beating since my last MRI, due to several challenges dropped in my path, and I wasn't sure where it would lead me. The results were better than expected. One of the "white spots" looked about the same as before, and two of them seemed to disappear. Conservatively the changes are all in the noise, and basically nothing is clearly growing. This is good news. Optimistically, things may actually be improving. This is great news.

And yet, as I think about my next step towards a joyful life, my first backpacking trip since the diagnosis, I realize it will be without Bobsey. This brings tremendous sorrow, more than I've felt even regarding my own condition. And so, while I'm still predominately fighting for a "worthwhile life", permit me to redraw the borderline slightly towards "simply living". Because I can't imagine causing this much pain to the people I love.

Rest peacefully Bobsey....


  1. Wonderful post Eric! Fingers crossed on the "great" interpretation. What do you mean by "nay the requirement"?

    And also, count me amongst the "glad you're fighting" crowd!

    I love you,

  2. By "the requirement" I was referring (only somewhat jokingly) to the "requests" made by my freighbor and "H-Lo" that I go see a doctor and go to the ER, respectively....

  3. Thanks for posting....I love not having to bug you with questions. Disappearing white spots - Good. Post your newest MRI and I will get out my magic crayon and make the last one go away.