Monday, February 14, 2011

Life Stories: Jennifer C. - How do you want to die?

Jennifer C.: My friend had breast cancer and she went through two years of chemo which was terrible and then she died. Everybody said how courageous and strong she was and how she fought the cancer until the end. Me, I think I would skip all of that, do you think I'm bad?

David Markham: Bad? What do you mean?

Jennifer C.: Do you think I am a bad person because I would just want to die? I am afraid people would be upset with me.

David Markham: I think it's your choice. If you chose to let nature take its course and not put yourself through extraordinary treatments, I think that's your right.

Jennifer C.: Is chemotherapy and radiation extraordinary? It doesn't seem to be any more. Most people are encouraged to go through it and then people praise them for fighting.

David Markham: Everybody's situation is different and their preferences are different. I don't think you can compare one person's situation and preferences to another's.

Jennifer C.: So you're saying it's all right if I didn't want to put myself through it?

David Markham: Jennifer, it's not for me to say, it would be a decision you would have to make. I certainly would support you in what every you decided.

Jennifer C.: If I chose not to you wouldn't think less of me, that I was weak or a coward or something like that?

David Markham: No.

Jennifer C.: What would you do?

David Markham: Well that depends, I guess, on what's going on in my life. But I'm 65. I've had a good life and I probably would not want to suffer any more than I would have to in the days that are left to me. I am more interested in the quality of life than the quantity. So unless there were good chances of a good recovery that would make the discomfort of treatment worth the benefit, I probably would not chose to go through chemo and radiation and all that stuff.

Jennifer C.: Really?

David Markham: My Unitarian Universalist faith holds that there is inherent worth and dignity in every person. I try to honor that. So the important thing for me would be what has the most worth and the most dignity? As a Unitarian Universalist I also believe in the right of conscience and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning and so, like Frank Sinatra's song, I would want to do it my way not just because other people were inappropriately expecting something else from me.

Jennifer C.: Right! You only get to die once so you might as well do it as you see fit.

David Markham: Exactly, my thoughts and feelings too. In Unitarian Universalism we value the acceptance of one another and we agree to encourage each other's spiritual growth. Facing death and dealing with it is something that we all have to do if we are willing to consciously think about it. A lot of people put it off and avoid it and if you die suddenly you never have to deal with dying consciously, but if you get a terminal diagnosis then you have to consciously think about and make some decisions about how you are going to handle it. Forrest Church was a pastor at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City and he not only died very consciously have being dignosed with Esophogeal cancer but he shared the process with his whole congregation. It was extraordinary way to die, very deliberate, very public, and it seemed, very loving.

Jennifer C.: Thank you, Dave. Your listening to my story and talking with me about this makes me feel better.

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