Letting Go


Have you been swept up in the recent brouhahas debating how dying people should close out their lives – loudly versus quietly? Two doomed women have triggered voluble discussion in their separate determinations to live longer. They share being younger and skilled in amplifying their voice. Being loud has been a part of their strategy. They enjoyed full lives before and during their years with terminal cancer. One has since died, the other struggles mightily in a hospital.

The discussion has not been amongst the dying but rather largely amongst those still living lives of good health. Frankly, columnists needing to find a topic launched much of this with plain poor manners.

Andrea Sloan, typical of many advanced ovarian cancer patients, had no more FDA approved drugs to contain her cancer when her doctor indicated she was a molecular match for a new drug still in clinical trail. She couldn’t access the clinical trial so she organized a team, Andi’s Army, to petition the drug company via public outcry to grant ‘compassionate use’ of the drug. It was denied and she died within four months of her campaign start.

Lisa Sloan campaign for access to drugs

Lisa Sloan campaigning for access to drugs

Lisa Adams suggests no policy changes I know of, she just tweets and blogs her experiences as a lab rat for her cancer, saying yes to whatever seems plausible to keep her alive longer with her young family. She has quite a following indicating appeal.

Lisa (left) in the hospital with her doc

Lisa (left) in the hospital with her doc

I am also rather loud in my living with cancer just as I was rather loud in my pre-cancer life. Whether astrologically flawed as an Aries or for some other reason, I share my reality and am persistent in my medical options. It is not wrong or right.

I watch another cancer sister move into the end zone with her disease. She is as contained as ever. She suffers quite a bit and understands there is no turning around where her cancer is heading. She is actively dying despite still being in treatment. Why, I wonder, have none of my local sisters chosen Death with Dignity, legal in Oregon. But I wonder to better inform my own choices not in judgment. When in my own dying process, let alone how, will I finally let go? Physical pain can be more tolerable than saying that final goodbye, I suspect. I think the terminally ill have few judgments about how to die, we are busy enough keeping our heads above water. Watch us or not but don’t judge.

There is a story about the Buddha being approached for counsel on the best way to handle news of one’s own approaching death. Buddha, apparently, began to flail around in deep, loud, uncomfortable hysteria for several long minutes. Observers had no idea what was happening. Just as suddenly Buddha sat back up, done with the outburst, and said, “There is no right way to die.”

I awoke this morning to an hour of Martin Luther King, Jr’s voice. His speeches are always humbling and inspiring. The hour closed with his final speech before being assassinated. In it he referred to being stabbed in the chest and the knife missing his aorta by the merest of slivers. Doctor’s noted, and the press repeated, that if he had sneezed prior to surgery the knife would have shifted enough to kill him. A little girl wrote in his favorite letter, “I am glad you didn’t sneeze.” May we all avoid a fatal sneeze today and feel gratitude for the choices we are allowed.

A Leader

A Leader


15 responses »

  1. Marcy, as always, thanks for sharing. Buddha is correct. There is no right way to die and each of us must make our own decisions as to a course of treatment or not. Never having had to face it myself, I have no idea what I would choose. May we each have the courage to make the right choice for ourselves when that time comes. Love you!

  2. It feels to me that “Amen” is the only “right” response – for me – to reading your post. Amen – let it be so.

  3. A new question arises – whose voices to listen to about dying? Those who are actually dying or those on the outside looking in? All the best in overcoming oppression teach us, and remind me daily, to listen to those *of* the experience more. I suspect that actively dying is a space that fewer people want to speak from about actual experiences – and next to impossible to speak from in the very last stages – than, say, being Palestinian, or being a woman of color. Thanks for reminding me, again, that there is a perspective – that of the dying, actively dying, living with a terminal disease – about dying that we don’t listen to enough, that aren’t amplified to the degree they should be. Thank you :).

  4. Beautifully written, Marcy. I dare say, the decision of how to die, in the case of terminal illness, is really no one’s business except that of the patient and perhaps her family and doctor. Everyone has an opinion ( just post a story about a bakery denying service to a lesbian couple and watch the opinions fly, loudly) and despite best efforts, the opinions are worth nothing, unless asked for by the patient. No one on either side of the experience wants to say goodbye, but sometimes we should step back and notice if the patient is suffering, both physically and emotionally, and let them decide what is best for themselves. That’s why we have the Death With Dignity law in Oregon. And it is certainly not perfect. I know of one case where the young man wanted very much to end his suffering, but had waited too long and was not capable of administering the lethal medication to himself, and therefore was not allowed to choose death. Instead, his mother had to withhold feedings and he died a slow death nearly 45 days later. Not fair at all. Because we all die eventually, in my opinion (!), it is incombent upon each of us to learn our rights and the rules within the Death With Dignity law. One never knows when one might need to utilize it. May we all be blessed with wisdom and courage as we continue on our own uncertain journeys through life.

  5. I’ll listen to you any time anywhere – so glad you’re rather loud!
    I was listening to the same broadcast. No sneezes.
    and thanks for your earlier inspiration; I picked up my new (10 yo) dog buddy today.

  6. Everything you do, say, write is beautiful. You have been a huge inspiration to me in this process, even though I have not let you know (until now). We are still working, trudging, skipping here in Central Oregon on the social justice trail you blazed over 21 years ago. Check out cosjc.info — kind of my baby. Love you!

  7. Thank you for a very thoughtful piece, Marcy.

    As we’ve previously discussed, dying is a very complicated issue…..particularly in this country where we have only recently begun to discuss this openly. None of us live in a vacuum……we are all influenced by various bonds (familial, friendships, cultural norms, religious expectations,etc..) that can complicate not only our living……but and also our dying. For me, I am very comforted that I live in a state where we have the Death with Dignity Act…..but I understand and respect that for some that is not something that they feel comfortable with…..and unfortunately for others…..they do not even live in a state that provides them with that option.

    However, I have found a growing body of “the dying” that are speaking out about this and many of “the living” who advocate for and are respectful of individual choice when it comes to treatment, end of life care, etc. Let us all be hopeful.

    I am attaching a link to the Embracing Life, Embracing Death video from NPR that I shared with you. I think that others may also find it to be very powerful.



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