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No, not that I am doing the limbo with my belly sticking out, rather that I am in limbo with my belly. In between, not knowing for how long.

It has been over a year since my last posting and I have glided through the year on healthy wings. Why, I have really never felt physically healthier, in better shape, well-toned. I do my jogging around the neighbourhood every other day and my weight-lifting exercises on the days in-between, with one day off on the weekend. Then a good shower and off to the market for a great coffee and chat or good reflection about cosmology.

No signs of any trouble within, but then, that is the problem, isn’t it? Everything looking fine on the outside, while possibly things are churning within, under wraps? Just don’t know. So I have adopted a more near-future outlook not involving any long-range planning. I glide along on a more fatalistic outlook, with a trendy ‘whatever’ disposition providing a much more reactive mode of life than before. It feels good and I find philosophical solace for such a viewpoint in oriental thinking.

Indeed, I have taken a shining more deeply than previously to buddhist philosophy and find much satisfaction in reflecting on cosmology and ontological matters such as time and space, self, being and reality. Just trying to bring together various strands of thinking to brush a coherent and comprehensive picture of the way the world is. As good an activity as any other.

So I remain in limbo, but then that is the case of so many older people, isn’t it? I have just entered that stage of life earlier than planned. And earlier than I feel like, full of vim and vigor as I am externally. In a way, I feel fortunate to confront this stage of life while still in good health. The gods are looking kindly on me, for sure. As they always have.

Not much looking death in the eye these days or even philosophizing about life. Ever since my last belly check and the prospect of living on for quite some time yet, I have gone back to thoughts of political activism [I know: I really shouldn’t] and cosmological curiosities [space and time in particular]. Why, I’m even toying with the idea of going on over to Oxford for a few months next Spring to partake of the giddy air of that ‘inspiring spires’ town. Long ways away yet.

So things will be rather quiet here on the belly front for a while. At some point, for sure, the malady will resurface and create new urgency for rethinking the last few strides in life, but that is down the road a bit. My worldly affairs are in order and my good wife keeps bringing home some bacon [even though she does know I’m a vegetarian ;-)], so I have become a man of leisure, a would-be country gentleman if I owned a farm [three good chickens just don’t make it] and a philosopher ‘en herbe’.

I take my leave with this wonderful old Taoist story that I have always admired…

‘A farmer lived in the days when fighting was going on between small kingdoms in China. This farmer had a son. His son, with the aid of the horse, was tilling a small field. One day the horse ran away. The neighbors came and said, ‘It’s a very bad thing. You have such bad luck.’ The farmer said, ‘Maybe.’ So the next day the horse came back with half a dozen other wild horses. The neighbors came again and they said, ‘What tremendous luck.’ So he said, ‘Maybe.’ On the third day the son, while trying to ride one of the wild horses, fell and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came and said what bad luck it was, and the farmer said, ‘Maybe.’ The next day the king’s people came to recruit strong healthy farmers into the army. When they found this farmer’s son with a broken leg they left him alone. So, again, the neighbors came and said it wasn’t such bad luck after all and that everything had turned out well. The farmer said, again, ‘Maybe.’’

Well, we just had the death of one of our five chickens and another is in our home chicken clinic in quarantine, awaiting her fate. We hope she will pull through, but nothing is for sure. And no, it is not likely to be avian flu, although it is probably some kind of flu of a more minor kind, albeit at times deadly. And so we have had a visit from the grim one, you know who.

Good news on my own medical front. I just saw my oncologist a week back and her review of my latest CT scan indicates a not unhealthy liver. Those little spots noticed there on the previous scan have not grown, so they are unlikely to be cancerous. I thus remain with a phase 3 prognosis and my days have suddenly brightened. Why I am even rekindling my interest in Italian with a view to retirement over there in the land of hills, song and wine. I just now have to convince my good Better Half to take retirement herself at an appropriate age and join in the fun. Ah, life is so short.

In my recent travelling up to Canada and back, I sometimes slept out under the stars and, as always in such circumstances, I was stuck once again by the magnificence of the starry night and in utter awe at the scale of the universe. All the more impressed I am when I read in Parting the Cosmic Veil that modern astronomy has established that our visible universe is but a tiny fraction of the Cosmos out there. And thus, how insignificant we can feel in our own little troubled lives centered on our own personal concerns.And when we combine this with our basic make-up arising out of evolutionary biology, with our drives and psychological aspirations, how humble we can become. I keep swatting mosquitoes and flicking off ants that crawl up my feet with impunity, without fully realizing how analogous my own situation is in terms of life, just on another scale.

Time and space and scale are the interrelated frameworks of our existence and travelling upon their dimensions offers much in the way of cosmic speculation. Combining that with human frailty and aspiration fill out the picture that leads to a modest stoic and taoic perspective that puts my personal life in perspective. The meaningfulness derived from our local relationships, intertwined as we are with the lives of others close and dear, does not overshadow, as it usually does, the setting of operation within which we live.

Is this a proper balance? Who is to know? One’s personal history, and I judge that I have had a marvelous one, by my standards at least, provides us with a certain direction in our thinking. I feel gratified that I will be leaving this pleasant life and this wondrous cosmos after having spent some good time in them. Not that my departure is imminent, just forewarned.

It is finding the right perspective that is the challenge to it all. I believe I have succeeded in finding a good one to fly by in my thinking and decision-making. One that is appropriate to me. One that can hopefully be shared with you over time and understood for what it is.

“There is a ripeness of time for death, regarding others as well as ourselves, when it is reasonable we should drop off, and make room for another growth. When we have lived our generation out, we should not wish to encroach on another.” Thomas Jefferson, near the end of his life.

Is there such a thing as a natural death? Dying of old age? Not really. As our bodies gradually wear out, they become more subject to certain illnesses, one of which will eventually do us in. Modern medicine has developed the means to overcome some of these untimely events, which is terrific. Alas, modern medicine also can assist an unprofitable survival, in the spirit of keeping going at all costs. And in favoring the dying in hospital rather than at home in more natural surroundings. It appears 80% of Americans die in hospital. What an unpleasant way to go!

So medical science must be put in perspective. Likewise the thinking of many doctors [but not all, of course], which is often more oriented to healing specific dysfunctions and to life-preservation at all costs rather than to the overall health and life context of the patient.

I for one do not intend to carry on to the bitter end if that involves a serious degradation of my life, as will most likely be the case in the terminal stage of my cancer, or some other illness if I do indeed survive my cancer, still a very real possibility. I wish to leave behind a positive memory of myself, and so I shall.

When the time of terminal illness approaches and physical health starts to deteriorate in a bad way, I will most likely be helping things along, in a positive way. It is what is called dying with dignity. Just hastening things along a bit to die well.

I have not determined any specifics yet, it being much too early for that. And I will not be going early, life and family are too precious to me for that. I just want to let you know that there will come a time when we will face death in the eye. And celebrate this natural event rather than descend into gloom as our societal norms encourage us to.

So I will be dying a natural death, only one hastened briefly to add dignity to the occasion and avoid the mind-troubling ignominy of an inevitably drawn-out process that can be better controlled.

I do of course realize that these are troubled waters indeed and that societal consensus is lacking in this debate. That is why we as a family will be talking about it in an as engaged manner as you wish to, while keeping our emotional strings well tuned. I will be listening and reflecting a lot. I have much time on my hands, and all the time that will be needed to fully explore where we go with this. For we will be going forward together.

Summer greetings to all!

Well, I just saw my surgeon. It has been a little over a month since he stitched me up and I haven’t stopped weeping since. Through a little hole, that is, at the top of my 3-inch incision next to my belly button. Just a little fluid from somewhere inside, not much bother really, except that I had to keep changing a bandage over the hole twice a day so as not to soil my t-shirts.

Well, I figured maybe I shouldn’t be weeping so long, so I threatened to plug the hole with putty. He thought he should perhaps see me, so I put away the putty can.

He didn’t have any putty on hand either. He poked around at my hole and then stuffed it with a little length of 1/4 inch tape. It’s a wicking tape, to help the fluid wick out. And gave me the bottle of tape – now I myself have to do that, twice a day actually. So I am no better off than before.

It appears that the stitch is dissolving [as it should!] and the hole is the conduit for getting rid of it. Another 2 weeks or so and the hole should dry up. And close up? I hope so J

So now I go around with a bit of tape sticking out of my belly! Life is just full of surprises, isn’t it?

What is the best age to die? Is there a best age to die?

Most of us of course don’t even ask the question. We let fate determine what age we die at. And how we die. And most of us go for the long term, living as long as we can, often despite a gradually diminishing quality of life.

Now, each of us has our own individual perspective on this. Some of us who are my age have given it some thought and many of you who are younger have only fleetingly thought of it, quite understandably so. Why think of death when life is so much ahead of you? Indeed, don’t waste your time on death.

Some of us share easily the cultural norms of our society and of our times, others are more individualistic in our thinking. No one way is better than the other. They are just different. We are different and need to respect our differences. We each have our own circumstances, our own life.

I myself believe there is no one age that is better to die at than another. I have been blessed with a very good life and look in wonder at my good fortune. I have no unfinished business, no ‘must do’ items I need to accomplish, no ‘must see’ places to visit before my life ends. So 65 or 75 or 85 are all equally acceptable to me.

I am also fortunate in having no fear of dying, no anguish over my final passage. There is one thing I do worry about, though and that is the potential anguish my close ones might themselves feel regarding my death. I worry about you folks, about your own predisposition to deal with this, your own cultural and personal beliefs and ways of responding. And that is why I am writing this, offering you my perspective and helping you understand my own decisions, and hopefully deal with your own eventual grieving.

Because there will be grieving of course. That is part of the natural process this is. But consider that this will take place irrespective of whether it is in 5 years time, 10, or 20. It will be the very same.

I have decided to die a natural death [more on this at a later time] and that is why I have forgone chemotherapy. As I discussed in my Prognosis posting, further treatment after my surgery would have upped the odds slightly. I considered that the upping was too little to justify the handicaps of treatment – the potential side effects and attendant emotional turmoil that would follow any dashed hopes upon an ever-possible later recurrence. So I decided on the gentle way, going with the flow of life as is, taking whatever odds come up naturally.

I believe this is a healthier way for me and for my family too. Sorry that I might not think like you do, but those of you who know me well know that I have most often been an adventurous thinker not inclined to tradition or norms. That is just how I am, and I am now an ever older dog unable to handle fancy new tricks 😉

But of course, there is a better age to die than another, cicumstancially-speaking. There are some who will draw out dying unnecessarily long, basically living too long for their own good health, and that of their close ones. Social norms again at play. Sometimes dying earlier is better. That is not an issue with me. My decision does not involve a will to die early, just one to die naturally. If that be earlier, so be it.

So I am quite happy to go at whatever age. I will be living some fascinating end years before then and when time comes; I shall “go gentle into that good night”. I hope you will all accompany me in good spirits! Life is too short to moan about.

With fondness,

Philip

When I was diagnosed with cancer of the colon, I underwent surgery to remove the offending cell growth and ancillary tissue. The situation is not a simple one. It was discovered that the cancer had grown through my colon wall and into the lymph nodes in the adjacent area. That put me in a Stage 3 diagnosis. The tissue was sent off for analysis and the pathology report indicated that 4 of the 20 lymph nodes analyzed were cancerous. Not too bad, but borderline, as anything above 4 is not so good. So, a pretty advanced Stage 3.

I then started seeing a medical oncologist to follow my progress. She had me have a CT scan and that showed up 3 little spots on the liver, which is one of the organs a colon cancer will favor travelling to if it does so. Well, we just don’t know if those spots are but normal aging spots or cancerous ones – they remain too small to make any determination. If they are cancerous, then I will be diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, not good. A further CT scan is planned for August and differences between the two, if there are any, will be revealing – are the spots growing or not? Till then, uncertainty lingers.

Now, a Stage 3 diagnosis after surgery leads to a prognosis of 50% survival after 5 years. Adding in adjuvant chemotherapy would have added an additional 15% to that, not much [more on this later on…]. The prognosis for a Stage 4 diagnosis is much worse, so I am hoping that I am a Stage 3 fellow.

Now, these are all ballpark statistics and just that, statistics. Some patients go earlier than 5 years, others later, even much later.

The big ado about cancer is the problem of recurrence. You get it once and your chances of it recurring later in the same organ increase. There is no cure for it, only some therapy to increase the odds a bit. It can be an emotional yo-yo – you feel up and then it recurs, and so on. Not too pleasant for anyone involved, not just me.

National Cancer Institute information on the stages of colon cancer… http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/colon/Patient/page2#Keypoint7

And on recurrence effects…

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/When-Cancer-Returns

All the best!

Philip

I made a momentous decision today. After consulting with my doctor, I have decided to forgo further treatment for cancer. I know that many will not look favorably on that decision and will find me foolish [that might be putting it gently]. Nevertheless, it is my decision and it will remain such. Please do not attempt to dissuade me from this decision. Going back and forth in the decision-making regarding the very important issue of my eventual death will only muddy the waters and arouse fears and uncertainties among those closest to me.I have discussed the issues with my wife and children and they understand where I come from. This is not a decision that I have made lightly and as such, it is not one to be contested. I know many of you would like to talk me out of it, believing that your own view is a better one, but there are just no best views in this matter. It is a very personal matter, one that rests ultimately with me and my own best assessment of the situation, which I have studied and sought counsel on.Now, don’t worry about my upcoming demise. I am not about to croak in the near-term and I will have lots of time to elaborate on my worldview and why this decision is the best for me and those close to me.

Currently, I have a 50-50 chance of living 5 years [the 5-year term is how oncologists deal with prognosis]. So I may even outlive some of you yet 😉 . Cancer is not like a heart attack that grabs you suddenly and scares the living daylights out of you. There is time for reflection and I have embarked on the journey to now, to living in the present moment. It is something we yearn for all along.

 Ciao,

Philip

This is my blog to keep you all abreast of what I am up to in my final years of life. Bookmark it and visit it from time to time to see what’s up.

As you know, I have been treated surgically for colon cancer and now most likely have fewer years to live than I anticipated upon retiring last year. I was planning to live till I got old and cranky [estimated at 75] and then departing gracefully back into the land from whence we all come. Now, my life expectancy is 65, still a respectable ways to go as you can see. And I will be going all the less cranky too! What a silver lining!

I’ll go into all this statistical stuff in a further posting. This one is just to get going.

I’ve titled this blog Near-End Thoughts, even though the end is not yet near, only approaching. But I do know I will be leaving you all at some point and that does focus one’s thoughts. They happen to be good thoughts in my case, a result no doubt of my interest in philosophy and spirituality.

So don’t feel bad about my situation. I’ll just be leaving a little earlier than planned. We all leave one day or another. I just have the occasion to face my mortality head-on and decide the how and when.

I’ll elaborate on this and other facets of going in future postings. So please wish me well in my last number of years to come and keep smiling, as I do 🙂

Good wishes all around,

Philip  Philip