Death of a cancer hero

He died. Finally. He had been fighting for such a long time. Fighting hard. And he had always been so positive. So brave. A cancer hero, just the way we like them.

I wonder why we want the victims to be heroes. What does it mean for us and what does it mean for them?

Death is something unacceptable … at least in our every day life. We know that each breath we take brings us closer to our own end. But being confronted with the process of dying makes us feel uncomfortable. Thus, a patient who fights cancer till the end pleases us and eases us. Doctors who promise cure and find new treatment possibilities until the very last day are welcome. Doctors who say “it’s over” aren’t.

The ideal cancer story starts with a shocking diagnosis, continues with difficult, sometimes even hopeless situations and straining treatments. During all the time, there are relatives, partners or friends  holding the patient’s hand and asking him or her not to give up. Finally, the story culminates in a triumph of life: most of the times there is a miraculous recovery, a successful therapy, a romance or marriage, tighter family ties, closer friendship, a person changing for the better and understanding the true meaning of life. How wonderful.

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but life doesn’t work like that and death does not either. Most cancer stories are ugly. Not necessarily because they have a sad ending, but because ideals quickly start to melt away when physical agony and aporia take over. Why, for example, would not being able to go to the loo make you a better person?And why would anyone fight against something invincible like a cancer beyond remedy? It would be tilting at windmills.

It does happen sometime. The cancer victim I talked about in the beginning, a 23 year old man,  kept on fighting. Posting a new picture on Facebook every day, getting weaker and weaker, but not giving in. Always citing inspirational quotes and being so positive. So terribly positive.

I have developed a sixth sense for the dying. Don’t ask me why. But at a certain point I knew he was not going to make it. And I pitied him a lot for bravely being the kind of cancer hero the others wanted him to be. They cheered him on. For his sake and for their own. Maybe they thought that they would be able to outsmart death as well, if this young man could.

It must have been his desire to deal with the diagnosis and – later on – with his dying in a heroic way. But how did he feel when he saw that there was not going to be a happy ending for him? ( I hope he never got to understand it, but it would be hard to believe knowing his story)  Were there at least relatives, partners and friends with whom he could share his fears and his negativity? I am afraid being a hero to the bitter end mattered more to him than his own needs. I am sorry for the tears he might have not allowed himself to cry.

Just as much as we should live our own life, I believe we should die our own death. Step by step, the way we want to. Fighting as long as it makes sense. We don’t have to be heroes when confronted with pain, dying and death. Not always at least. Not for the others and not for ourselves. As it nears, we have to accept the end and make peace with it.

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