September 30, 2011

The Value of Extra Time.

I volunteer a lot to speak or be interviewed for videos and such as part of my "bucket list" item of giving back. I have opinions on many things related to cancer, chronic illness, life and death, health care, etc. based on my personal experience which I love to share if they might help others understand. So yesterday, I was doing a video interview for my cancer center's new website and was asked how I would value the "extra time" I had been given through the treatments that I had undergone.

In all of my time thinking and writing about life and death, I have been looking at the big picture - the meaning of life, what happens when we die, what is a good death - that sort of thing. I had never had to focus on the incremental time I have been fighting so hard to attain. So the question caught me a little off guard and I had to think for a moment. But just for a moment, because the answer was pretty clear.

If there is value to life at all, there is obviously value to each and every day. It is why we continually strive to avoid getting ourselves killed or dying prematurely from disease. But when you have a terminal disease, every day is more valuable than those prior to the day you realized you weren't going to make it. Of course they are! The challenge is to make them more meaningful - to you and to your loved ones. If you can make those extra days special in any way, then they have real value. My own objective is to make each and every day I have left special in some way and, to a large extent, I have been able to do that. Not necessarily every day, but certainly overall (so far, anyway....).

But that doesn't really answer the question. To do so, you have to compare what you get to experience with the extended time you have left versus what you would have missed If you hadn't gone through all those surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapies (or whatever) that gave you those extra days, months or years. While there are many such events - big and small - that I could list if I had a bit more time to think about it, there are two that really stand out and that I am immensely thankful for.

The first was the recent death of my mother. While it was a sad event, it was part of the circle of life and I was around to be part of it. I was alive to be with her in the days before she died and I was at her side when she took her last breath. To miss that would have been a tremendous loss to me and would also have meant that this dedicated mother would have lost a son before her - a mother's worst nightmare. By fighting to extend my life, I saved her from that and we both were able to experience what was, for her, a good death. Now that has real value.

The other event is a two-parter. I was also here to celebrate my daughter's recent engagement to a young man I admire and respect tremendously, so I now have the very valuable knowledge that she will be able to experience life with someone who she loves and who adores her. (The fact that my wife says he is very much like me doesn't hurt either!) Of course, the other part of this two-parter, is that I will be here to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day and that makes both of us very, very happy (as well as many others)! While I can't guarantee it 100%, the wedding is only a year away, and I have done everything I can to give me the extra time I need and I am absolutely determined to make it happen. I wouldn't miss it for the world....... or even for heaven!

I think it is important to think about the time you might have left in this way - as an opportunity to experience things that you really don't want to miss. And be incredibly thankful for the extra time that you, your doctors and medical science have given you. Don't waste a moment of it! You've fought hard to get it, so make sure you use it wisely. And if you're at that difficult stage when you're unsure whether all the pain and suffering is worth it, think carefully what you might miss out on!

My little girl is getting married and nothing is going to keep me from being there and enjoying every minute of it!


Anonymous said...

Bravo! I agree completely that every day should count because the clock is ticking down - not just for you but for everyone. It seems that until a person experiences a life-threatening event or circumstance, it's so easy to just go along with the flow without much thought about it. Even though it is frightening to think about losing one's life to a life-threatening disease, I think most people would appreciate having the time left to enjoy those special days and moments with family and friends. Love, after all, is everything. Both here and in the hereafter. That's a good thing to know.
God bless you,

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