Last week, I wrote about Death and Cancer Loneliness and one woman’s approach to dying and saying good-bye. Our conversation reminded me of a book I read years ago, Chasing Daylight, How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, by Eugene O’Kelly. A memoir about the last three and a half months of his life, Mr. O’Kelly decides how to spend his last days before succumbing to brain cancer.
I haven’t been able to get this book out of my mind. Rereading passages, I was instantly struck by Mr. O’Kelly’s discovery of the Perfect Moment. As a hard-driven corporate executive, Mr. O’Kelly traveled extensively and worked crazy, long hours before his diagnosis. Suddenly, his life changed:
What was a Perfect Moment? Usually it was a surprise, though sometimes I could see it unfolding. Sometimes I could help to engineer it, by creating the circumstances that would allow it to happen, but the best details about it were still a mystery until they happened. A Perfect Moment was a little gift of a moment or an hour or an afternoon. Its actual length was never the issue. The key thing was that you had to be open to a Perfect Moment. The radiation machine breaks down; one hour is going to come and go, an hour you can hardly spare; but then you accept that machines break down. You don’t get frustrated. You remember that it’s a waste of energy. You focus instead on something pleasing. The rhythm of your own breathing. The intricacy of the face of the person seated across from you. The beautiful poem your daughter wrote called “Traveler’s Fear.” The color of the sky out the window. …
My openness to Perfect Moments, I realized, may have been my own end-around at getting to consciousness, to the present moment. And I hadn’t seen it.
At the end of his life, Mr. O’Kelly had discovered mindfulness. Before his diagnosis, he had been too busy. Now, he felt “heightened awareness frequently.” He was becoming “sensitive simply to life itself.”
I read this book several years ago, before my own cancer diagnosis. Rereading it now, I realize it really isn’t about death so much as it is about choosing how to live. It’s a choice we all have to make.
Survival > Existence,
Cancer and Choices
Had I known the untenable consequences of choosing an oncology path to my cancer, I would have never taken the first step. Leaving the cancer alone, or not having pursued a “second opinion,” where my cancer was discovered. My (undeserved class 7) facility would have done a “single fine needle” biopsy into benign areas and I would have been sent home for 12 more months clean.
As it stands with a combination of cumulative, unexpected bills beyond my ability to ever pay, and the also unforeseen castration of a post cancer fitness program by a hospital based Wellness Center, separating me from it completely, life frankly sucks. This is not a quality of life I would have chosen. As a former Hospice Volunteer, I do know how effective palliative care can be. My always available option is another book, Final Exit.
Please Don’t Despair
Please don’t despair, Teresa. Please continue to hang in there and demand support. Can you talk to your doctor and tell him how upset and down you are? Is there a nurse you can speak to? Are there support groups you can join or a spiritual leader you can turn to?
Organizations like Cancer Hope Network, The Cancer Support Community and Cancer Care offer free support and resources to anyone dealing with cancer. The Cancer Hope Network will match you with a trained volunteer cancer survivor to talk with. Cancer Care offers free, professional counseling over the phone – all you have to do is call. The Cancer Support Community has on-line and in-person resources. Again, it’s all free. Please call them today and find out what they have to offer you.
I’m so sorry your quality of life is miserable. I hope I’ve been helpful, but I know there are others who could do so much more for you. Please call them and don’t give up.
Survival > Existence,
hi Debbie – I read Eugene O
hi Debbie – I read Eugene O’Kelly’s book last night in a single sitting. I found it by chance when searching for answers to my wife’s concern about her mother who, unfortunately, is in the final stages of a Brain Tumour. There were worries about the level of pain and suffering to be encountered. Eugene’s unique approach coupled with the description of the lack of pain on his journey was invaluable. i read teresa’s letter of stress which I identified with as I found myself in her position when diagnosed with aggressive Prostate Cancer. Faced with the decision to accept traditional methods or find another way. To accept this event as an avenue lined with possibilities or as a rocky road of chemotherapy and radiation. I took the former. My approach was unorthodox and, frankly, at times hard to accept that a rational human being would consider the healing methods adopted but here I am, floating down the same river as Eugene did. My way is just one way and Teresa, if you are reading this, there is always a way. Your way. I hope you find it. My website describing my journey is www.seeingsilence.com.
Keep Doing It Your Way
I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s mother’s illness and feel for your family. I’m glad you found Eugene’s book and it brought you comfort. Thank you for your words of support for Teresa and keep doing it your way. Good luck to you and your family.