March 23, 2012

Death and courage.

I saw a movie the other day that made me think about death and the courage with which we face it. It was called "Act of Valor" and was about elite teams of Navy Seals and the incredible acts of heroism they undertake to protect our countries, their families, and each other. They fight terrorists, drug cartel armies and any number of heavily armed factions by putting themselves in "harms way". And as they say, these are special men and "damn few". To them, it is a way of life and, I daresay, a way of death for they are prepared to die and have consciously made the decision to die if necessary, whether from a bullet or from diving on a grenade in a crowded room.

Regardless of your views on war, I would hope that most of you would view these men as courageous when it comes to facing death. I do. In fact, for all my life, I've felt that there is no more "noble" way to die than while saving other lives. I memorized this little line from a book I read when I was around eight or ten that encapsulated this - "Greater love hath no man than this, but to lay down his life for his friends." I've never forgotten this. But for me, unless I get a chance to run into a burning bus, I'm not likely to die this way. I will die the death that's waiting for me thanks to my own rebellious prostate gland and I don't feel very courageous about it.

Should I though? People tell me how courageous I am because of the way I'm facing up to what is happening to me. Maybe it just seems that way. Maybe I appear strong and stoic when, in reality, I'm just as afraid of dying as the next guy. I don't want to die. I don't want to have pain. I don't want to be fighting for my final few breaths. This doesn't make me a coward, but it makes me normal, I think. Just because I have accepted my death and am dealing with it as directly as I can doesn't make me braver than someone who is more quietly accepting of their death. Maybe it's because we always talk about "battling" our terminal illnesses that is suggestive of a heroic fight to the death. Maybe that's where the idea of courage comes from.

My courage, whatever it is, must necessarily be in how I stand up to the symptoms of my disease progression - the pain and fatigue mostly, the effects and side effects of the medications I'm on, the emotional and psychological roller coaster that defines so much of my life. It's not easy and it's not something I chose to face, but face it I must and in that, I guess I do have a choice. Any of us could choose to just curl up and die. Or we could choose to rail loud and long against the injustice of it all. But I choose to stand up and face it each and every day and do everything I can to minimize the impact it has on my life. I choose to have a good life - what's left of it - and I choose to have a good death. But I don't think it's courageous. Not like those other guys. It just is.

Personal Update

Continuing to deal with side effects of steroids mainly. The problem is that it is helping with the pain so it is a difficult question of tradeoffs. Wish me luck. I'm just so tired but the steroids are preventing me from getting the sleep I need.

2 comments:

Lori Hope said...

You know how I and countless others punched by cancer feel about, "You're so strong (courageous)!" Thank you for writing so eloquently about the issue and bringing forth a different and very important perspective.

I do think it takes courage to "put yourself out there" in the way that you continue to do - or at least I think it takes some courage for me to. :)
Love and always hope,
Lori

Heather Campbell said...

Thank you for sharing your process of living with dying. You bring light and even hope to a subject that normally is not discussed openly.

Thank you for your generosity of spirit.

Heather