When Mikey was diagnosed with cancer back in January 2015, it was a punch in the gut to me. He was as healthy looking as he’d always looked. But I guess it wasn’t that way on the inside.
His doctor immediately got an oncologist involved and they made a plan to do surgery, then six months of chemotherapy. That time has elapsed and he finished up his chemo in the first week of August. He’s still got some check-ups to do, the last (for this year at least) being in December. If all is well, they will remove the “port” (which is the plug in his chest through which the chemicals were directly pumped) and he’ll only have to go for check-ups every year. I’m so happy and relieved that the cancer was detected when it was and that the chemotherapy worked as hoped.
As a byproduct of his experience, I began watching documentaries on eating for health and aging and death. It’s proved to be very educational but also extremely depressing and scary. I started thinking about the “what if” scenarios such as Mikey not responding to chemotherapy and succumbing to the disease. I was thinking about what his wife and child would do without him and how my role would change in their lives. I thought about what would happen if my sister suddenly got sick and how that would change my role to her and my relationship with my parents. You see, my sister has always been my tether to them. She and my mother are close. Of my two parents, I feel closer to my mother than to my father. I’ve already confessed my relationship with my father in an earlier writing. Then my thoughts wandered to my own aging parents. I can already see their bodies breaking down before my eyes, in their movements, posture, skin and teeth. As of this writing, my mother is five months away from her 75th birthday. My father just turned 74 in September.
A few months ago I watched a FRONTLINE documentary featuring an American surgeon, Dr. Atul Gawande (http://atulgawande.com) who is shedding light on existing hospital procedure and how it deals with how we think about terminal illness, life while dying and eventual death. I was moved by this documentary enough to seek its companion book: Being Mortal (2014). It had some very interesting insights that are not only extremely sad (I broke down into tears on multiple occasions during the reading of this book) but also comforting as well.
In his research and experience, Dr. Gawande tries to tell a story of the different procedures hospitals employ across the nation, the different philosophies of “bedside manner” that individual doctors adopt and, with all these approaches in mind, tries to bring awareness of what he sees as a partially broken system. But he also understands that the system was born of American societal views and the way to fix it also involves changing what people think quality of life means at those end stages.
So while taking in all that’s happened to Mike, watching miscellaneous documentaries and reading the book on aging and end-of-life healthcare, naturally I gave some thought to my own mortality. I’m 50 years old. I’ve got more life behind me than I have in front of me, but what I have left could potentially be another 25 years of decent living. All I need is a healthier lifestyle and a little luck. But aside from the physical aspect of growing old, I also began to think about what my position is on God. And here is where I find a lot of gray area for myself. My mind wrestles with my gut about where I stand on this subject. As with a great number of people, I have some very strong and critical views on God. But I’m more critical with regard to religion and especially those who are fanatical followers of religion.
But I’ll save that subject for another post.