Post by Roland Francis
DEATH AND DENIAL
Personally, I would have it no other way than be
told to me as soon as it is known. It is my life,
not someone else's and I should have the right to
tell anybody else in the manner and timing
that I decide upon, keeping in mind that I need to
arrange my affairs within the constraints that time
This post reminded me of my own personal experience.
Take it for whatever it's worth.
Though I was never declared terminal, I was given a
50/50 chance of surviving for five years if my largely
experimental treatments didn't work.
I had always joked that the only good thing about
cancer is that it gives you the time to get your act
together, organize your affairs, and perhaps do some
things that you were previously unable or unwilling to
make the time for, before checking out.
Agonizing, as some do, as to why you were chosen to
bear this micro-cross is ludicrous, because there is
no real answer, it is a moot issue, and all that is
happening is that your cycle of life may be coming to
an end, as it was inevitably going to anyway.
The minute we are born, we begin to die. The only
question is how and when. I imagined St. Peter
perusing a computer printout every morning of "new
guests" for the day. If your name isn't on it, he
will not let you in, no matter what. If it is, it's
"Hasta la vista, baby!" - no matter what.
Since I had already lived way beyond my warranty
period, had escaped death in actual and possible
accidents at least 5 times previously, and had seen
younger friends and relatives die "prematurely", I
figured I had little to complain about. From them I
had learned how to face death, accept it as
inevitable, yet fight it with every fiber of my being
right down into the ground, and do so with as much
grace and dignity as I could muster. Thankfully, all
these concepts and philosophies are now shelved, to be
dusted off and used at the next oportunity, if there
is one with a similar time frame.
Contingency plans were made, in my own mind, as to
what to do in sequence if it came to that, who to go
visit, what sights to go see if there was time and
energy, whether to be buried or cremated, do I want to
be buried with my ancestors in the old world or with
my descendants in the new world, what should my
obituary say, what should my headstone say, stuff we
never have the opportunity to think of normally. One
has hours and hours to think such thoughts while
strapped to an IV tube during chemotherapy, comforted
only by those around you who somehow always seemed to
me to be worse off than I was.
In disclosing my situation to others I experienced
some of the ethos Roland speaks of albeit from a very
few older family members. I chose to tell those
closest to me by a carefully planned process, starting
with the parents and then going down the levels of
relatives by rank, i.e. Uncles and Aunts, siblings,
first cousins, etc. ending with close friends. Each
level was informed in sequence and at the same time so
that no one could complain about when they knew, and
everyone knew that the level above them had been told
before them. It was very important to me that
everyone be informed by me alone, in my own words,
whether it was face-to-face, or by phone or by email.
It was very important to me to tell the aging parents,
half way around the world, face-to-face, which
created logistical and timing issues as well.
Everyone else had to wait their turn.
The responses and their timing were fascinating. Some
relatives whom I had always thought cared little about
me were the first to call and commiserate. A few
relatives and close friends, whom I was very close to,
were not heard from until we met much later, and then
made sheepish excuses. I began to realize that it was
not that they cared for me any less, but that each one
was acting on deep psychological feelings about their
own mortality, which I had rudely reminded them of and
forced to confront. Not everyone is comfortable with
coming face to face with the mortality of someone
close to them, or their own.
One big change in my own psyche was that I used to be
uncomfortable facing those close to me who were very
ill or who I knew were dying. Now, I reach out to
them and spend time with them, if that is what they
If there is anyone in this forum who prefers to
contact me privately and confidentially on this issue,
please feel free to email me with any questions or