Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Fix, To Fight, or To Fall on Our Knees

This post is part of Julie's Hump Day Hmmm. It's a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. To read some other great posts on the topic of "fixing" visit her site.

My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August of 2003. Doctors told him he was lucky. They found it early, and with agressive treatment he had a chance of living another five to fifteen years. None of us ever even asked if not getting treatment was an option; it was just assumed that my dad would do whatever it took to live a few more years. In retrospect, I wonder if he made the right choice.

You see, even with several rounds of chemo and two stem cell transplants, my father only lived another three years. Some of that time was good, and he did get to meet three of his grandchildren, even being around Calvin long enough that Calvin still remembers his PopPop. But most of those years were not full of quality life. He and my mom spent several months at a time in Arkansas, far away from family and friends, so that my dad could get the most advanced treatment. When he was finally home and done with his transplants, my dad had about eight months of feeling pretty good until the cancer started to return. My workaholic doctor dad, who had always been fit and full of energy, spent most of his time on the couch, making the occasional outing to make memories with his family. In September of 2006, he passed into eternity.

Should my dad have gotten treatment? I don't know. I certainly don't regret the time I had with him or the memories he made with Calvin. I don't regret our last summer at the beach, when he spent time with baby Hobbes and watched Calvin and my niece play in the sand and waves. But I know that most of that time, my dad felt awful, and I believe that he only went through with later treatments for our sake. He was ready to go.

My husband and I have talked about this a lot lately, and I keep coming back with questions. Why do terminally ill people receive treatment? What would I do if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness? I am thankful for medicine and for the time it bought my dad. I also think that there is no question of receiving treatment if there is hope for a cure, or of using medicine if it can alleviate some pain and suffering in order to provide a better quality of life. But I do think that aggressive treatment in order to fight off death sometimes goes too far. Sometimes, people are ready to die. Sometimes people do not want to live in misery for just a few more months. Sometimes people are like Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockinbird and just want to die in their full minds and at peace, not dependent on outside chemicals to regulate their bodies.

This is a tricky topic, and I think it extends far beyond terminal illnesses. There are so many medical treatments and medications that people use these days to lengthen life, hold off aging, "fix" a problem that may not be a problem (or at least not one that is meant to be fixed).

As I Christian, I can't help but see this pursuit of health and long life as proof that we live in a world that is not as it should be. Disease and brokenness are not part of the created order; they are a corruption of it. Death is not natural, it is the enemy. We are not meant to be comfortable with these things, but I also don't think we are ultimately meant to cure all of them. We are meant to live in this broken world and allow the brokenness to awake our longing for something more. We are meant to pray for God's kingdom to come into our brokenness and death and to bring healing and life. And ultimately, we are to look to Jesus, who was victorious over disease and death. His rule will usher in a new creation, where there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). Amen, Come Lord Jesus.


Melissa said...

Hey there! Long time no see!

You're right. This is such a tricky issue. I say that I wouldn't want these types of measures, but who knows how I'll feel if I'm ever in that situation. It's so hard. You want to keep on living, but at what cost quality.

Thanks for stopping by! Now I have to catch up here!

Julie Pippert said...

This is why I say so much of this is individual. It's hard, when you think of the various situations, to come up with a general rule or bottom line.

I suppose in your dad's sort of situation, the best we can do is figure when it is worth it. As best as you can predict. His suffering must have been so difficult, but I'm sure the love helped.

Thanks for sharing this personal story.

Tipper said...

Such a deep subject-and I like you have had many questions and ponderings about it.

Angela at mommy bytes said...

The wife of a friend died of multiple myeloma and I know how incredibly painful this sort of cancer is. It's hard to say whether treatment helped or not in this case, but it at least took the mind off the pain somewhat by having something else to concentrate on. Going so far as to move away from family would be extreme, because support is so much more important than medical treatment.

My father also died of cancer and he went for treatment right up to the last week. I think in his case, he felt that he was always going to make a recovery even though the signs didn't point that way. We let him continue treatment because it gave him peace of mind that something was being done and that he wasn't just marching to his deathbed.

I’m a week late for the Hmm, but check out my post here:

'becca said...

Sorry, I'm coming in late here, but your post that I read this morning was so interesting I came back to your site! :-)

As I Christian, I can't help but see this pursuit of health and long life as proof that we live in a world that is not as it should be. Disease and brokenness are not part of the created order; they are a corruption of it. Death is not natural, it is the enemy.

Well...yes and no, as I see it. Death is not part of our original nature from before the Fall. When God made us mortal, He gave us the instinct to fight death--because without that, we wouldn't get much done, would we?

But Jesus triumphed over death and showed us that this life is not all there is, this world is not the only place our souls can live. We have many responsibilities here, but ultimately it's all dust; it's nothing by comparison to eternity.

I, too, "see this pursuit of health and long life as proof that we live in a world that is not as it should be." We pursue artificial extension of our lives because we fear that this is all there is, because we don't trust God to take us on to something better, because we over-value our individual selves. Yes, of course, we should take care of our bodies, as we should take care of all Creation. But there is a point (and it can be hard to see just where that is!!) at which we need to humbly accept God's plan for the ending of our days. If the average person put as much effort into being ready for heaven as into staying alive, our world would be a better place.

Death is no longer our enemy. Jesus won that battle to free us for other concerns. But those old instincts stemming from the Fall are hard to resist.

Thanks for sharing your dad's story. It takes a lot of courage and compassion to consider the possibility that his time with you may have been more than you were meant to have.

TwoSquareMeals said...


I think we agree here. My point is that death is not natural. It is the enemy that has been defeated. Therefore, we as Christians do not need to fear it or to try to avoid it at all costs, though the world may tell us to do that.

Thanks for coming back and reading some more. I'm glad you enjoyed it!