Is Dying Of Cancer Really The Best Way To Die?
An article written by Richard Smith which appeared yesterday in the BMJ blog has sparked some controversy. The provocative title of the blog: Dying of cancer is the best death was enough to raise dissent among many commentators.
Smith outlines the reason why he believes cancer is the best way to die:
You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.
Hmmh! This statement reminds me very much of the controversy stirred up this time last year by the Guardian writer Emma Keller’s comments on Lisa Adams’ openness about her metastatic breast cancer. I went back to re-read Keller’s husband’s defence of his wife and his laudatory words about his father-in-law who died “without any fuss” of cancer “….allowed to slip peacefully from life…His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”
Smith would no doubt agree with Bill Keller; both men deplore the prolonging of life. Smith acknowledges that his view is an idealised one – but it’s one he clings to:
This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.
Not everyone who dies of cancer has this peaceful idealised death. My own mother’s death from brain cancer was far removed from romantic. Both men write of a dignified and peaceful death, along the lines of our work here is done on earth – but what of the young mother with metastatic cancer who desperately wants to be there for her children growing up? Is love, morphine and whisky enough to ease her pain?
For wonderfully eloquent ripostes, read:
My reaction to dying of cancer is the best death
Dying The Best Death – It’s Not Cancer
Cancer: Bad Luck Or The Best Way To Die?
In response to Richard Smith’s BMJ blog “Dying of cancer is the best death”
Once more, with feeling: Is cancer the best way to die?
“Dying from Cancer is the Best Death” WHAT??? REALLY???
Why Yes, We Should Treat Cancer
where to i even start? death with dignity and choices in death are critical but Dr Smith’s misguided, Russian novel romanticism of death by cancer is alarming out of touch. As a Dr who actually takes care of patients, may of who have or had cancer and as a cancer survivor myself i am so offend by his blog that i almost (but clearly not completely) rendered speechless. Great art and the age old existentialist questions are one thing. “Let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer”? Suggesting an end to research funding and recommending death by a horrific and slow choking off of life is just plain offensive, mean spirited and appears to bely some sort of willful ignorance. Ultimately coming form a man of Dr. Smith’s stature it is irresponsible and stupid
I disagree wholeheartedly with these views, but each person is entitled to his or her opinion.
Chemo has kept me alive with good quality of life long enough to see two sons married, and I am still among the living, hopeful and whole. I appreciate each day, but do not agree that cancer is a great way to die. If I had not woken up from my brain seizure last Sept., that would have been a good way to die, pain-free and oblivious.
Thanks for sharing these alternative views. Cancer is definitely not without controversy. That’s why many of us like to blog and stir up the pot. It makes life interesting. As for me, I will chose my trusty oncologists and clinical trials any day over giving up the fight and letting nature take its course. xox
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Jan, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. Your reality is shared by many I know and it’s so important to hear it, Wishing you better health and a wonderful new year.
As a young mom, I laughed darkly at his article. Clearly he had the joy of living a long, full life. Those of us hoping to see 40, hoping to see our kids start kindergarten do not see our cancer as “the best death.” Thank you for writing this post.
There is a story, true or not, about prisoners in Auschwitz who were given the choice, dig a grave or be executed. Most chose to did the grave, even though eventually they ended up in one. The moral of the story being… we chose life. I think for many, especially those who are younger with children, they try everything to prolong life.
Personally my Dad died from Motor Neurone Disease. It was a horrible death. He died at home and I remember two nights before he died I sat up with him, and I was sorely tempted to overdose him. It was awful, just waiting for him to die and he was not comfortable.
Then last year we brought home young Daniel. He was 13 and had leukemia. He was on massive amounts of medication, so much pain relief we had to have it sanctioned by an anesthetist. He lasted two days at home and it was truly a beautiful goodbye. Painfully sad, but for Dan it was as good as it could be. He was so comfortable, happy and relaxed. I think that is the difference between dying of cancer and something else. There seems to be a more organised etiquette for final moments in cancer.
I think it is like many things in life, there is no one way suits all. Who knows what I would chose if it were me.
Tric, thank you for sharing both your personal experiences and the story of prisoners in Auschwitz – they add much to the discussion.
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I am living with Advanced Breast Cancer and I am certainly not waiting to die from it.. That said, I am also very aware as an optimistic realist that while treatment is helpful and still allowing a reasonable quality of life then I choose life.. The alternative is not one I wish to embrace to early and without reason.. and until my last breath I will hold peace, hope and love in my heart… I understand and indeed am thankful that for now, I have time to plan, experience life, make memories for those around me and hope to continue to do so for a long time yet… Many do not get that chance as their time comes swiftly and without warning.
Cancer treatment is NEVER fun or EASY and it is an educated guess if each treatment will help or hinder your overall health or indeed not impact on your cancer at all.. and just because we may look good on the outside it rarely matches the inside. I just work on as many good days as possible and work through the not so good ones..
Advancements in treatments have given us on average more time than in the past but it is still a difficult, trying and exhausting path that the best we can do is be happy if we gain a good test or report, hear the words stable or “no evidence of disease” and in the meantime live life every single day, keep smiling, deal with each treatment side effect or progression as it happens and just keep on putting one foot in front of the other.
The article shows such a simplistic ideal of time before dying because you have cancer.. The ‘best’ death ???… I have watched too many friends pass from this disease and it is not ‘best’ in any way. I wish is was just that simple. Sort yourself out, then off for an easy and peaceful passing. Oh, and that would be while not needing a major drug factory constantly being injected to keep you “comfortable”. Life is just not that simple, and when the time comes to embrace death, it is still not simple..
To the author, your opinion is your right, but it by no means encompasses everyone as a whole.. There is a different story and experience for each and everyone..
Sharon, your input to this discussion is so valuable. Much gratitude to you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.
I just wrote a post on Smith’s ignorant, dismissive post. I was also angered by his inexcusable argument.
By the way, bravo for your post. Totally spot-on.
Written yesterday on Facebook:Well I don’t know how to respond to that BMJ blog post. Discussions are good but “let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer” and ” is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky.” are hard to get my head around.
Having had more time to ponder what was written in the blog post I think the goal of discussing death and dying is good . I’ve taken part in a few #EOL chats about the topic and recommend that more people participate.
I am a stage 3 OC survivor and I was there both when my aunt passed ( she was 102) and when my sister passed( breast cancer at 47). IMO my sisters death from cancer was not a good one even with morphine and love.
There is a song with a phrase “Live like you were dying” . Maybe if our lives were lived in that way, we wouldn’t have others like the BMJ post author telling us the best way to die.
This is just another put-down of those of us trying to live with cancer. Rather reminded me of the Kellers last January.
Cancer is not a chance to fulfill dreams or mend relationships. It robs us of them both. Most of what I want out of life has to do with relationships – especially family. I do not know how long I have, how many treatments before I run out of them, but I am pretty sure I won’t see my grandkids grow up. Two of my kids are still single. If they ever marry and have families, will I even be here to see those grandchildren?
When I read the article, I noticed he thought going suddenly was bad. As someone who has been at several family deathbeds, I strongly differ. The “best death” in my family, if there even is such a thing, was my mother who passed unexpectedly in her sleep in her eighties. Her life was such that she left no loose ends in relationships with family, friends, or God. But, that would have been true of her had it been years earlier or later as well. As Dee said above, “Maybe if our lives were lived in that way…..”
Had I not sought cancer treatment, I would never have even seen my first grandchild, as my cancer was highly aggressive (IBC). I do think there may be a time when a person is right to say enough to treatments and seek pain and palliative care instead. But this heartless attitude of don’t treat cancer, and even scarier, do not seek future cures through research, that was put forth in that article, was absolutely horrific!
Perhaps “Dr.” Smith had too much whiskey when he wrote it.
Beth, Dee and Elizabeth I am really grateful you took the time time to comment here. You’ve certainly added much to the conversation. Thank you!
I don’t think of dying as romantic. A candle light dinner is romantic. A patio ate kiss from your husband is romantic. Death is a life’s end and a souls journey to eternal bliss. As a three time cancer survivor and currently a fighter I do want to live. I am only 44 and too young to die. However I was just thinking about this the other day- yes chemo makes it possible for us to fight but should we or should we not put more harmful medicines into our body that will slowly kill us anyway and give us long term problems. I had radiation to kill hodsgkins lymphoma now I have breast cancer from the radiation that killed my hodsgkins 20 years ago. I had 2 little ones to live for back then. I have a lot to live for now. It’s amazing the abuse and stress my body can take. I will continue to fight until my body tells me it’s had enough. I used to b scared if death but I’m not anymore. Someone said to me today god will only give you what he thinks you can handle. Well he must think I’m one bad ass bitch.
Danielle what a wonderful comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to share you story. I love the last line!
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Thank you for listing my post among the others. I am eager to read what the others have to say.
thanks for sharing your thoughts
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