Life or Death? The Choice is Yours

PJ Hamel | June 13, 2017

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When you’re battling cancer, you and your entire medical team are focused on saving your life. But sometimes every treatment fails, and pain and suffering are your constant companions. Your doctors (and family) want you to try another experimental treatment; you’re ready to surrender. When you know in your heart you’re making the right decision, but everyone else seems to disagree — how do you stand strong? Here are six key things to consider.

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You're not a "loser" for giving up

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If you’re thinking: “I should be stronger. I should continue to fight” — just stop. Fighting cancer is an individual choice; no decision is inherently right or wrong. And if you decide to end the fight, you’re not weak; you’re showing your strength by taking a stand for something you believe in — choosing how to die — despite what those around you may think.

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Your family and friends love you

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Any resistance they show to your decision to stop treatment comes from love — although it’s love leavened with heavy measures of fear and sadness. Truthfully, most of those people closest to you are thinking about themselves and their own feelings; this is only natural. They don’t want to imagine their world without you in it. Gently remind them that ending one’s life is the ultimate personal decision, and the best way they can love you is to honor and respect your decision to die, not fight it.

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Be prepared for some relationships to change

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You’ll probably find that some friends and family members become angry with you. They think you’re giving up; they don’t understand why you won’t expend the extra effort to keep living. First, their anger springs from love (see above). And second, they have no idea the mental, emotional, and physical anguish you’ve suffered. While their anger hurts, it shouldn’t change your decision. Ride it out, and hope they come around before it’s too late.

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Your medical team will change

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Most medical personnel are 100 percent committed to saving your life at any cost. So, when you decide to forgo their recommended treatments, they’ll back off — both because their time is better spent with patients undergoing active treatment, and because other doctors and nurses will step in to help, delivering the care you need for the course you’ve chosen. You’ll still see your oncologist; but you may get a different vibe from your visit.

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Take steps to die a "good" death

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Palliative care — treatment to ease the suffering of those at the end of life — is becoming more and more available these days. While palliative care isn’t designed to fight cancer, it improves quality of life by reducing pain, raising spirits, and otherwise smoothing the path to death. Hospice has traditionally been a good resource for this type of care; and now most cancer centers or large hospitals have their own palliative care departments as well. Be sure to use this invaluable resource.

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No guilt

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At some point, you’ll doubt yourself; it’s only natural with a decision this big. What if one more round of chemo would have done the trick? Should you have tried the clinical trial? Decide right at the outset of this final journey that, come what may, you acted in good faith and made the right decision. You weighed all your options, took the time to consider the advice of those around you, then looked into your own heart, and did what you knew was best for you.