[Editor’s preambling note: All of this was written a couple of years before the author actually developed cancer, and I think before his mom did, so please don’t treat it as a plea for pity, or an accurate reflection of how it feels to be replete with malignancy.]
So many resources dedicated to keeping us all alive, and making us believe that we should all be kept alive, that nobody remembers they can choose to die whenever they feel their lives are complete. No matter how little a body is worth, to the one living in it or to those outside, we’ve evolved culturally to somehow refuse a person the right to die when they determine their body and mind are no longer suitable for this world.
How would you like to die?
When the question comes up, in a college philosophy class or the philosophy class that is the basement of the older guy who’s let you hang out in his basement when you were 12 and didn’t know he was a bit of a loser, the first timeless answer is, invariably, as one is at the apex of a tryst with a certain Bea Arthur and another Spencer Tracy. But then you wouldn’t get to enjoy the cuddle afterwards. So here are some other options to consider in your inevitable demise:
- Jumping out of a plane: No parachute, shooting heroin, gun in hand ready to pull the trigger as you enjoy the terminal velocity. A certain and exhilarating death, as long as you cover your landing field with land mines and poison and snakes or any combination of the three.
- Heart attack: You’d blend in with the masses since it’s the most common cause of death, as well as the most common phrase punnily written on pro-Bret Hart signs in arenas across North America in 1992. This is a good one to fake while stranded in a rather boring conversation, but in order to not come across as a fraud, sometimes you must actually die at the end of it. The long con will never go out of style.
- Murder: Ahhhhh! Getting murdered, for the most part, is not great, like if you’re shot to death by a deranged fan outside your home. But it could be appealing when you end up being considered a hero in the afterlife, even though that’s only if you get killed while saving a baby from getting robbed by some young punk who couldn’t keep his grubby paws to himself.
- Spontaneous internal combustion: This would be cool as all hell to watch, so if you’re lucky you’ll be standing in front of a mirror at the time of its occurrence. The smoke will billow, the initial spark igniting off an invisible flint, and the flames bursting from your loins will quickly and painfully course through your veins until it’s all over. You’ll make a news story too, for a little post-mortem fifteen minutes.
- Cancer. Not a good one. In no particular order, all kinds are absolutely terrible. Skin, intestinal, testicular, ovarian, stomach, prostate, liver, mouth, lung, brain, blood. It doesn’t matter which one you have, because cancer is awful no matter which way you look at it. Please donate to the Canadian Cancer Society. Seriously.
If your eyes somehow landed on this page and you chose to begin processing these words, I think it’s only fair to tell you immediately that cancer is what you’re going to be reading about. I also don’t want to sugarcoat this and give you any idea that this will end well. It can’t, because it’s real.
From this moment until I die, this disease is going to consume most of my life and all of this story. I’ve never really written before, and certainly not about my feelings. Maybe I just never had the time. Now that’s all I have. Time, until death. That’s all any of us have, I guess. But what’s different is I won’t let myself stop thinking about it. It’s only been a few weeks since the news got out, and living in a small town, this is all that I am now – the guy with cancer. I can’t make eye contact with people anymore, mainly because they can’t return the action. Not without a practiced look of condolence anyway. So I am left here, churning out my only attempt at self-reflection since I was ten years old at summer camp and one of the counselors made us write in a journal every day. I found it a few years ago, actually, the journal. I was a boring kid.
They say to write about what you know. Not that I know a whole lot about cancer at this point. All I know is that I have it, it started in my stomach, and it’s going to kill me, presumably very quickly. I’ve been told to get my affairs in order, like I care what happens to me after I’m gone. It’s not like I own anything anyway. Either way, here’s my will and my obituary – do whatever you want with them. As I learn more I’ll have more insight and personal views on it all, and if you want to keep reading it that will probably mean more to me than I care to admit. Actually, screw it, I want you to read what I have to say. I don’t have any kids, never wanted any, but obviously I hope that I can have some sort of lasting impact on the world.
Even as I deteriorate, I don’t have the guts to end it myself. Death used to take up a lot more of my thoughts. I would say more than most people but maybe not. It’s not the most social topic I suppose. Maybe my thoughts brought on the cancer. Hypochondriacancer.
We want to kill cancer, not cure it. The cancer cells are fine. Their effect on me is not. I’ve staved off death for another day, but it won’t be long before it’s all over. I hate leaving behind this useless legacy, but I’m too weak to fight any of it.
Nobody visits anymore. I guess they never did, but for some reason I thought they would now. There are times when I realize it’s freeing to be on the way out. Nothing matters now, if it ever did, and I should be able to do whatever I want. But I don’t. It’s almost easier now that I have something real to complain about. It’s understandable at least. The way I’ve always seen it, you either complain or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you have cancer or not.