Here’s what I’ve learned in the year since I found out I had metastatic tumors inside my body: that tumors kill people; how to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy, what cancer-related questions you should never Google, the limits of cancer knowledge of oncologists and people in general, and what will happen to me in particular. Unless you or someone you love has cancer, you probably don’t care about any of this.
I have also thought a lot about many things that may interest you: the meaning of life, priorities and goals, what matters in the face of death. But then again, you better not care what I think. We give importance to reflections on death because coming face to face with it is nothing. But the weight of death also has the power to distort these reflections.
Editorial trends show that people love cancer magazines, and dealing with death is thought-provoking, it’s true. However, I am not convinced that those who know they are at the end of their lives have any wise advice to give to the living. At best, it sounds like we have some pretty empty advice you’ve seen somewhere. At worst, these are very poor recommendations for anyone who isn’t going to die any time soon.
Every day like the last
One of the lessons dying people are supposed to teach others is to live each day as if you were to die tomorrow. So I tried: I ordered my coffee like I was going to die tomorrow, I went for a walk like I was going to die tomorrow, I argued like I was going to die tomorrow. Carpe diem, it’s fine, but it’s hard to live like this.
If I really tried to live today like it was my last day, tomorrow would be awful: I’d end up with loads of cleaning to do, hangovers, and worry messages on my voicemail that I’d have to answer. . And even if I took a darker approach, bringing my family together to share my last words, some final thoughts, and my passwords…so what? Will I bring everyone back the next day?
At first, when I didn’t know if my diagnosis left me five years or five months to live, I had melancholy thoughts that gave each moment a seriousness, an importance. If this is the last time I see my son play baseball, there’s no way I’m going to miss a beat staring at my phone.
Appreciating the little moments in life makes everyone feel important, and at the same time, it’s impossible to savor them all. Both propositions are true. Appreciating even a single moment a day would already be a feat, which I have been trying to achieve for years. This message shows up in all the personal development books, on all the mugs, pillows, and posters that are supposed to boost morale. So yes, cancer reminded me to live in the moment, but Ikea had already done that.
What is different about dealing with death is the reason to enjoy this moment: there is not much left. Of course, it’s nice to be aware of your own mortality, but I’m not in my 20s anymore. I already was. And I could still plan a vacation.
Those who are not dying should be aware enough of the finitude of life to understand that not everything can be done. It’s sad, of course, to think of all the books you won’t read and all the places you’ll never visit. But the limitations are not enough to spoil our experiences. The length of the menu doesn’t affect how much I enjoy my food, and I enjoy the book I’m reading without thinking about anyone I’m missing.
every day is a life
In fact, it is quite possible that I will value each of these books even more if I am aware that I will read relatively few of them in my life. But facing death gives too clear a view of the finitude of life. Choose a new reading when death is upon me and all my knowledge will soon be gone? It’s okay, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no harm, but when the shadow approaches so fast, it’s not easy to relax with a good book.
Prioritizing with death in mind is like working to a tight deadline where everything that isn’t critical falls by the wayside. It works when you’re dying, but it’s not transferable. A busy life also has lower priorities: friends who are nice to see but won’t be on your deathbed, great hobbies, professional and personal projects, books to read, meals to eat, and movies to watch, nothing you individually wouldn’t gain. . importance in the shadow of death, but things that, taken together, beautify life.
The only priority left for me after the shock of the diagnosis wiped out everything else was helping my son grow up. Nothing else mattered in light of impending death. And now, however cautiously optimistic my treatments take me, I can’t forget that all my other priorities are secondary at best.
Even my top priority:help my son grow– turned out to be unfeasible. Achieving long-term priorities requires finding meaning in the mundane and boring routines of everyday life. Playing ball with my son is nothing special, but it makes sense because it’s time we spend together watching him develop and talking about what’s on his mind. It’s part of my approach to fatherhood: showing him that he can talk to me when he needs to and that I just like spending time with him.
But no particular ball game, date night, Thanksgiving, or shared coffee with a friend is anything but special. Over time, it is the succession of these little nothings that becomes like this. Taken individually, some activities may not be defensible at all: Hundreds of things in my life are more important than playing ball this afternoon. Like the long-term patterns that cease to exist when nothing is long-term, living as if we were to die tomorrow means completely losing the ability to find meaning in the routines of everyday life.
All the dead have the same skin.
Cancer showed me that I had priority over all others, and it also robbed me of my habits; it forced me to interrupt my daily life to make way for operations, convalescence after operations, nausea from chemotherapy, exhaustion. I had to make excuses to explain to my son why he couldn’t play catch or even why he couldn’t put him to bed. So I guess so, I have one piece of advice from this whole experience: don’t get cancer.
Cancer diaries hint that there is a momentous lesson to be learned from those facing death. That may be true, but the things I’ve learned are mostly irrelevant, or clichés that only seem important because anything close to death seems deep (read a list of “famous last words” and judge how ordinary they would sound if the person who said them had not died immediately afterwards.)
This does not mean that the teachings of the dying are invalid, but they do not have any special meaning. Death simplifies things in a way that doesn’t help those who aren’t dying and seek to live a successful life that isn’t complicated or chaotic. Also, dying people are, we are, as prone to spouting nonsense as anyone else.
I hope that despite the statistics, I have years to forget what this experience has taught me, to remember again the priorities I let go, knowing, but not feeling the burden of this knowledge, that time is running out. I would especially like to be able to not enjoy every moment, and play ball for the sake of playing ball. Not feeling like you have to constantly enjoy life before it slips through your fingers is probably a sign of a successful life, exactly the kind of cliché that makes a lot of sense when it’s a dying man saying it.
#cancer #taught #life