Saturday, 13 April 2013

Readjusting perspectives on disease and death

I enjoyed this picture which I saw on Facebook this week. 

Talking of which there was a very counterintuitive blog from Dr Kate Granger, the young elderly medicine specialist who has a rare aggressive form of terminal cancer. I listened to an interview with her by Stephen Nolan on Radio 5 a couple of weeks ago. She really is a remarkable and winsome character. Her post on Monday was entitled "Is cancer inherently evil? I think not...".

She wrote: "On our DSRCT (her form of cancer) Facebook page there are several patients and parents of patients who post regularly about how they are going about 'beating the tumour' or 'conquering the beast' afraid 'to give up the fight'. The treatments in the US are particularly barbaric with multiple intensive chemotherapy sessions, frequent surgery, radiotherapy and trials of newer treatments. It is as though people are expressing their anger and grief about the situation by blaming the cancer itself. I find this hard to do myself. This is going to sound really strange but I quite admire my cancer. It’s a clever entity that has fooled my body conning the usual systems that living organisms have to suppress tumour growth. When I look at histology slides of DSRCT I cannot help feeling it is somehow beautiful. Maybe I’m just weird!

"However it does raise the point that cancers originate from within us as human beings and therefore by referring to them as evil do we think as ourselves as evil? I think not. I think of my cancer as a part of me and it is unfortunate it has happened to me at a young age, but I cannot change this so acceptance and living as well as I can for as long as I can is definitely going to be my game plan, rather than waging a holy war…".

I do, by the way, recommend her whole blog,, which is quite the most insightful and paradoxically beautiful writing I have come across on a subject which usually makes for rather grim reading. She didn't profess to a particular faith when Stephen Nolan asked her about life after death, though she admitted to believing that there is something "more than this" - perhaps partly from her experience of palliative medicine.

At the other end of life, and very much from within a faith tradition, a friend drew my attention to this moving story from Italy, Goodbye for young mother who died for her unborn child. It comes from June last year and concerns a young couple, Chiara and Enrico Petrillo, who had lost two babies with birth defects. "In 2010, Chiara became pregnant for the third time, and according to doctors the child was developing normally. However, Chiara was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and was advised to begin receiving treatment that would have posed a risk to her pregnancy.

"Chiara decided to protect the baby – named Francisco –  and opted to forgo treatment until after his birth, which took place on May 30, 2011." She survived a year.

Enrico, the boy's father, is quoted as saying, when his son grows up, he will tell him “how beautiful it is to let oneself be loved by God, because if you feel loved you can do anything,” and this is “the most important thing in life: to let yourself be loved in order to love and die happy.”

“I will tell him that this is what his mother, Chiara, did. She allowed herself to be loved, and in a certain sense, I think she loved everyone in this way. I feel her more alive than ever. To be able to see her die happy was to me a challenge to death.”

1 comment:

  1. Some few years ago I read a remarkable book called “Facing Death and Finding Hope” by Christine Longaker.
    I hope it will not offend anyone if I recommend it here? I found it sensitive, pratical and full of wisdom and love.