I wrote this bit some years back but in the light of kbota’s post Our retirement plans
I thought I might share it with you all. Here goes:
Eric, a good old friend of mine used to shock people by saying that he wanted his ashes scattered under a beautiful jacaranda tree on the golf course where he was Club Secretary. “But,” he would caution, “Make sure you know which way the wind is blowing. I’ve never been out of bounds on that hole.”
I know that many are also uneasy when my darling wife Anthea and I talk about
death and dying. Our ideal death would be to have an excellent meal in one of those sidewalk cafes in Rome – near the Trevi Fountain perhaps – and to keel over as we sipped the last of the wine and for the restaurateur to find that we didn’t have enough to pay for the meal, having spent every last razoo on living.
So, with that background, perhaps I am not typical in my outlook. I guess it would be somewhat of a surprise if I was, but I do believe that it is healthy to contemplate our end, and to discuss what fears we might have. Death and dying is very rarely even mentioned as far as prostate cancer is concerned except as a dire warning of the awful death that awaits those who do not take immediate action to deal with their diagnosis. Yet it is the our contemplation of our death that drives our decision making process. It is indeed THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
– which is what I called the piece I wrote for my website
Some prostate cancer deaths can indeed be awful and I don’t want to make light of that, especially for people who have experienced the pain of losing a loved one – father, husband, partner or son. Old timers like Rob Parsons may recall some years back the harrowing blow by blow descript
ion of the last days of a man in Ireland, described by his loving wife Jan. That was on a List, long gone unfortunately so the account cannot be read in Archives. There are other well told tales of death and dying - one of the most visited individual pages on my Yana site is that of ALAN BACON
, written by his widow; Robert Young also vividly told of the five years that passed from his diagnosis to his death in his CANCER JOURNAL
while Ric Masten detailed his long battle – ten years in all in a fascinating account that has apparently been removed from the Web
These men battled the pain of the disease that had metastasised to the bone, but this is not the only route which the disease takes, in fact it occurs in a minority of cases, according Jan, the lady I mentioned above and Dr Charles Myers. In those cases where it does occur, Dr Michael Glode has this to say on his blog HOW DOES PROSTATE CANCER ACTUALLY KILL YOU? It is highly unusual to have a patient in whom pain cannot be well controlled with radiation, opiates, NSAIDs and attentive care.
I cannot quote any studies to support these statements, but they do jell with my personal experiences. Eric, the old pal I mentioned above, Mike another old pal and Reg, a colleague of mine from work all died of prostate cancer within 18 months of my diagnosis. Eric and Reg and I went fishing in the Zambezi Valley three months before Reg died and twelve months before Eric went. Reg was on hormone therapy at that stage and was suffering badly from hot flashes – no surprise since the ambient temperature was about
40C – say 104F - but a bit of river water poured over him and some well chilled beers cooled him down. We caught fish, yarned about
the good old times and despite the shadow of death that hovered over both of them, we had a great time.
Mike lived in Cape Town, where we lived at the time. He had been diagnosed about
three years before me. He didn’t know anything about
the details of his diagnosis. Clearly it was late stage because he had an orchidectomy and then went onto what his widow refers to as ‘female hormone drugs’- presumably some kind of oestrogen therapy. He developed osteoporosis and broke a leg, some ribs and eventually his spine was so fragile that he had to wear a cervical collar. But none of this stopped him doing several things that he had planned to do all his life, but had been too busy to do. The chief of these was to visit France, the Loire Valley in particular, on an extended wine tasting tour – he was a vintner by trade.
A little over six weeks before he died, we had dinner with him at his favourite restaurant. As ever he was bubbly and bright and had us in fits of laughter describing the problems he had at a recent wine tasting in getting full glasses which he needed to taste the wine - he couldn’t tilt his head back far enough to sip from a normal tasting glass because of his cervical collar.
Shortly after that he was admitted to the hospice, where I visited him on a frequent and regular basis. The staff of the hospice were kindness personified and although Mike was more and more heavily sedated, he would drift in and out of consciousness, sometimes chatting about
old times, sometimes away with the fairies. I wasn’t with him when he died, but his brother was and he said he just slipped away.
I wouldn’t mind going like that. I know it can’t be guaranteed, but in the meantime, I’m living my life to the full, making the most of every day. As Robert Young put it I want to be alive when I die.
I want to go out with unfinished business because I have so much to do.
Diagnosed ‘96: Age 54: Stage T2b: PSA 7.2: Gleason 7: No treatment. Jun '07 PSA 42.0 - Bony Metastasis: Aug '07: Intermittent ADT: PSA 2.3 Aug '10
It is a tragedy of the world that no one knows what he doesn’t know, and the less a man knows, the more sure he is that he knows everything. Joyce Carey