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Tricky conundrums number 63… cancer, the social minefield. 20, February 2007

Posted by babychaos in Heavy Flow, Life and living.
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A serious one today… I was reading a discussion of terminal illness the other day. How people deal with it and the like. Someone close to me has cancer. She has it in her back and she has it in her breast. She has had two operations to reduce the size of the tumor in her back but she is practically quadraplegic. She is refusing to have any surgery on the lump in her breast.

Her family tell me she will not share her oncology results and advice with them so they have no idea what the prognosis is, my guess, since they reckon she has had cancer for four years, is that it isn’t good.

That said, she is a gutsy lady. She has decided that God has more work for her to do on earth – she has a strong faith – and that she is not going to die yet. She will not acknowledge that she might or brook any acknowledgement from others. Mention it, her family tell me, and you are ordered to leave the room. This must make it hard for them. Sometimes, if there’s a chance that something may happen you have to look it in the eye. You have to do it for the sake of others otherwise it will be so much harder for them if you do go.

I don’t think the National Health service has covered itself in glory on this one either. She went to the doctor several times about her back over the last two years. Each time she was diagnosed with depression and given tranquillisers. She is very feisty and can be difficult but that’s no excuse to just assume the problem is mental and not check her out. She became paralised over Christmas, that was when they finally got up and took notice. That said, the tumors in her back are secondary tumors. The main tumor is the one in her breast which the doctors reckon she’s had as long as four years. I gather she didn’t do so much about that – mentioned it, I think, but refused to let the doctor examine her and the doctor didn’t insist – not great doctoring there either by the looks of things. I can’t help wondering if she may have realised but decided that prayer and faith would cure her.

Now, a faith is a very personal thing, between each individual and god, what she decides has got nothing to do with me or anyone else. Anyway, it may be that the breast cancer is inoperable but if that’s the case, I can’t help thinking she could spare those close to her a lot of pain if she told them what the oncologists have said to her.

I find the idea that the cure will come from God alone quite difficult. Not because I don’t believe prayer and faith can cure people… there’s evidence to suggest it has across all religions so I’d lay bets it can but… But… I’m one of these people who has a lot of doubts and while I envy those who seem to hold their religious views with such rigidity and conviction I worry. If we have a creator of some sort, and I think we do, I wouldn’t begin to presume I know its mind so other than the very basic rules – treat other people the way you’d like them to treat you or maybe, do what you think Jesus would have done – I have real difficulty with pretty much all the “don’ts” of religion. Not applying them to me, I mean applying them to others. I do believe that if something is wrong it’s my place to point it out, if it comes to it, I believe it’s also my place to refuse to do it, even if everyone else around me is. However whether my argument and example are enough to convince others is up to god not me. It’s not right to force people… ok, I make an exception for Nazism it is right to force people not to persecute others but you get my drift, on the whole, it’s wrong. So… I can’t help wondering if this lady’s attitude is sensible, or more to the point, god’s will.

There’s an old story which illustrates what I’m trying to say.

A bloke is praying and suddenly he hears a voice from heaven saying “I am God, I will always be with you, look after you and protect you. If ever you are in trouble, pray to me and I will help you.”

The man is delighted and goes for a walk along the clifftops, by the sea. He steps too close to the edge, the rock crumbles and he loses his footing and falls. He is hanging on for dear life but he knows God will come to his aid. He hears a voice calling to him.

“Are you ok down there? I’ll go and fetch a rope and haul you up.” There’s a guy leaning over the cliff edge.

“No, no, I’m fine.” He calls back. “God will save me.” So he goes on his way.

The man hangs on but time passes and his arms are getting sore so he prays to God to hurry up and save him. Almost immediately he hears another voice.

“Are you ok up there?” It’s a woman in a boat floating on the waves below. “Jump into the water and I will haul you out.” she says.

“No no, I’m fine.” Says the guy. “God will help me.”

He really does hope God gets a move on though, he’s getting very tired and he’s not sure how much longer he can hang on but he prays for strength and before long he hears a helecopter. It hovvers near him and the pilot slides open the window and shouts out through a megaphone.

“Hello down there! Are you all right? Let me throw you a rope.”

“No!” Says the man. “I don’t need a rope. I don’t need your help. God will save me.”

“Suit yourself.” Says the man in the helecopter and he goes away. It’s low tide now, there’s nothing below but sand and rocks. The man can no longer hang on. He cries to god for help but none comes and eventually he falls off the cliff and dies. When he get’s to heaven he is terribly hurt, how could God make such a promise and then desert him in his hour of need. He berates god.

“You said you would help me!” He wails. “You said you would always be with me, look after me and protect me. You said if ever I was in trouble, I should pray to you and you would come to my aid! Why did you desert me in my hour of need?”

“What d’you mean?” Said God. “Are you crazy? What more could I have done? I sent a man with a rope, a boat and a helecopter…”

So I suppose what I’m saying, in my long winded way is this. If the tumor on her breast can be removed, wouldn’t turning down surgery be like saying “no” to the helecopter?  It’s different if she’s resigned and decided she would like to die but she hasn’t, she wants to live. Shouldn’t she give herself a fighting chance?

Is it my place to tell her and if so… how in the name of all that’s holy am I going to go about it? It’s unlikely she’d ever speak to me again, so is it a question of sacrificing my good relationship with her in the hope that it might make her well… if not accept the helecopter then at least allow the others around her to get close. And if I fail… I’ll have stuffed it up for everyone.

It’s a tricky one.


1. GeekLady - 20, February 2007

I don’t know what (if any) American TV shows you get, but there’s a good quote from the 1st season of House about this.
“If I break my leg, I believe it happened for a reason. I believe God wanted me to break my leg. I also believe He wants me to put a cast on it.”

2. babychaos - 21, February 2007

Thanks for that! What a cracking quote. How much space could I have saved?! 😉

I was thinking, last night, that I should probably find a bit more out about what’s going on before making such wild speculations on my blog! Maybe when I’ve done that I can make a slightly more informed decision about any future action!



3. Mrs. Nicklebee - 23, February 2007

Interesting conundrum, BC. Jesus told the Pharisees, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick.” Evidently He didn’t have a problem with His followers going to the doctor.

If I had it to do over again, I think I would approach someone dear to me about how she dealt with her cancer. Communication is so important in a situation like that and the lack of it caused quite a bit of friction towards the end of her life.

Sometimes I think people think if they don’t talk about The Thing, The Thing is either not really there or will go away, as if by acknowledging it, they’re adding fuel to the flame. Not talking about it won’t make it go away. The cancer is there whether her family knows about the specific diagnosis or not.

On the other hand, maybe she is well aware of the prognosis and doesn’t want her family sitting around, worried and on edge, waiting for her to drop over and jumping out of their skin every time she sneezes, coughs or hiccups. That’s no excuse for keeping her family in the dark, though. They’re her family and they love her. She needs to have the freedom to decide how things go, as a rule, but they deserve to know what’s going on.

I’m so sorry about this situation. I’m sure it’s hard on everyone.

4. babychaos - 23, February 2007

Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words Mrs N. I really appreciate it. I’m going to go and see her at some point over the next month or two, once Mr BC and I have sorted out some holidays!

I think I will just play it by ear and do whatever feels right at the time.



5. mrsmetaphor - 23, February 2007

You know on some strange level I think I get where she is coming from…now bear with me on this. I have these two conflicting thoughts that come often because 2 good friends in their 40’s died of breast cancer last year…so it’s on my mind, “what would I do if I got it?”

These two friends fought VALIANTLY! They were the best people I knew, they become stronger spiritually in the fight, they struggled, we struggled in the end they died. Because they were Believers and so am I of course we don’t think THEY lost…but rather that we, who survived lost. The loss is ours, not theirs.

But I think I ‘get’ the thought about not fighting. Perhaps it is the pacifist in me that has that little voice at the back of my head hearing “come to me all ye who are weary and I will give ye rest.” I dunno.
Maybe she is just choosing her battles and it doesn’t look like the ones who love her would be pleased about.

The one thing that comes out of my ramble, BC is this…remember the “loss” is yours and all the rest who are left behind. Maybe her actions are selfish or fearful or maybe she is just tired and she knows that by telling all she will be forced to endure longer than she hopes to…again, I don’t know…just a guess

6. Mrs. Nicklebee - 24, February 2007

Your welcome, BC.

Mrs. M, I think what you’ve said is why it’s important to talk things out ahead of time whenever possible. We can’t control when we get sick and die, so I think it’s especially important to communicate these things, even if it means letting someone know where we keep our written wishes.

7. babychaos - 24, February 2007

Mrs M I hear you. When all is said and done a person’s life is their own not anyone else’s. Another thing that has been going through my head over the week is my firm belief that people need to be allowed to make their own mistakes or at least do things that their friends and loved ones might think of as mistakes.

You are spot on in that when it comes down to it she should do what is best for her and what we should be doing is supporting her.

However, I think Mrs Nicklebee is also spot on in that I, too, firmly believe communication is key. Explained or understood actions often cause less pain. I don’t know what the full story is and clearly wouldn’t dream of poking my nose in until I do but it does throw the importance of communicating with your loved ones into vivid relief!

I’m going to go see her at some point so we’ll see…

Thanks for your advice and thoughts. It’s been a great help to me to get somebody else’s view! Helps me think it through.



8. hudds53 - 24, February 2007

This really is a tricky situation. I have read this post 5 or 6 times in the past trying to get my head together on how to respond. You know I have given considerable time and thought to dealing with passing from this physical world to the next. I am in a situation not all that different from your friend, the disease is different but the result will be the same.
Grief,facing death all of that is very personal and individual and will be dealt with in their own unique individual way. As an individual, my choice was to be very open about it all. I know my family will face a difficult time when I do pass from this world. In my own way I am trying to help to prepare them for that. I won’t be here in a physical form at that time to help them, so I do what I can now.
But that is my individual way of dealing with it. I agree with the comments above. I believe fear could be a motivating factor in her choices. As Mrs. N. said, it could be a fear of admitting or facing it, keeping it in the abstract could make it seem less real and less frightening. But also as said before, it could be her way of showing her love for her family, trying to protect them from what she may consider needless worry and grief. Her thought may be there will be time enough for grief after I am gone, lets just enjoy the time we have now. Let us celebrate now what we have and not mourn what is to come.
Here in Canada, the doctors will tell immediate family of a patients condition. Has the family tried speaking directly to the doctors?
If it is the case that the doctors don’t know if the tumor is operable, the as difficult as it may be someone must face her with it and try to persuade her to do everything possible. Possibly it could be something such as your story of the man hanging from the cliff.
I believe acceptance of a pending death makes the situation so much easier for all involved. But such acceptance should only come after all medical options have been exhausted. IF this is indeed the situation, the family must find acceptance withing their hearts and do what they can to ease her passing.
You speak of her great faith, has a member of the clergy spoken to her?
It is so sad, open and honest communication eases the burden for all involved.
You are all in my heart, my thoughts and prayers

9. babychaos - 26, February 2007

Hey Bill

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I very much appreciate it. You are so right about honesty. It’s just crazy how people run from confronting the truth, in the long run, it’s so much harder than facing it.

The latest update is that she has refused any further surgery but that she is convinced God wants her to stick around. I think in the UK that once a patient is over 16 the doctors are not allowed to share the information with the family unless given permission by the patient. It has come to light that she has known that she had breast cancer for the last four years but kept it to herself.

I can’t begin to understand the logic of this, especially of not sharing the knowledge with her husband. It seems incredibly cruel, which would suggest, perhaps, having lost two sisters to breast cancer already, that she is incredibly scared. The family have advised me to write rather than visit so I’m going to send her some chatty letters, when it comes to what I say, I’ll play it by ear I think, I’m sure the right words will come in the right place and man, cliff and helicopter may feature… I’ll know when I start to write..

Thank you again, for taking the time to help me – you, Bill and everyone else, it has helped me get my head round the situation and work out ways I might be able to help…



10. RubyShooZ - 28, May 2007

I’m a woman who has breast cancer and who has chosen not to have the surgery(s) and treatment and various therapies but I’ve chosen to at least try one of the cancer drugs that is supposed to help slow down the growth of the cancer because I know my family doesn’t want me to just lie down and do nothing.

I have been very open with my family since the beginning. They’ve been supportive and told me that whatever I choose is fine with them and that they just want me to be happy.

The reason(s) I have chosen to not go the normal route are various, but it mostly boils down to I don’t want to spend what time I have left going to doctors, hospitals and having procedure after procedure after surgery after blah blah blah and onward.

I can appreciate it when my family, friends and even some doctors have shared with me what they think. Sometimes they have swayed my thoughts, sometimes not. What I don’t want is people trying to push me in any direction. I’m not saying that you would do this babychaos because you sound very thoughtful and considerate about all this and your friend’s choice(s), but some folks do indeed do this, even while they say it’s a woman’s choice, they can tend to be pushy about what they think the woman should do and how they should do it and in the end, it’s up to the person who has to live and die with the choice they have made.

I’ve talked about this on my own blog some here and there and I think I’ve made my meaning a bit clearer there, I’m not sure.

I’m very glad to have found you here, thanks for stopping by my blog babychaos! I’m also glad you brought this topic up because I haven’t seen very much written about this on the internet – anywhere.

11. babychaos - 29, May 2007

Thanks for that. It’s been a while since I wrote this post, in fact, the lady in question died yesterday and it’s an older and wiser BC you find replying here than the one who wrote that.

I think we all began to understand her reasoning a little more as time passed. By the time she died, I certainly found I was more able to appreciate her decision.

I am very pleased to think this post has helped anyone who might be in this situation… I’ll be talking about it more in today’s post!



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