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Here Comes Treble: Seeds Of Death

Within the space of one shocking week four of Isabel Bradley's friends revealed that they were suffering from cancer.

Within one shocking week, four of our friends told us that they were suffering from ‘terminal’ cancer:

Irene visited South Africa from Canada to say good-bye to her family and friends. It was “farewell”, not “au-revoir”. She has cancer in the lungs which is not responding to chemo-therapy. We spent a cheerful Monday afternoon together. When it was time for us to leave there were tears in her eyes and in mine. When Irene returned to Canada she discovered there is now a tumour on her liver; her doctors have told her to put her family and financial matters in order.

The next day, my hair stylist, Caroline, told me her doctors had diagnosed a tumour on her pituitary gland. Over the past year, she’s been treated for many seemingly unrelated symptoms. “They say if the tumour is small enough, they can treat it with medication, otherwise, they’ll operate. Either way, I’m going to beat this – this is me,” Caroline said, “and I’ve got a lot of living to do!”

Two days later our good friend Clive, told us that the excruciating back pain he’s suffered over the last year is the result of a tumour on the sacrum. His doctors told him it is the size of an orange and inoperable. “Sorry, Mr. L,” they said; then, almost as an afterthought: “Oh, and the cancer’s spread to your lungs. You’ve got six to twelve months to live.” He said to us, “It’s almost a relief, knowing what’s causing the pain and that I’m not imagining it!” The doctors recommended chemo-therapy, to attempt to shrink the growth on the spine. However, the chemo-therapy makes him so ill, he won’t be able to continue it; the other option is radiation. Morphine masks the pain. Clive has sold his car, and transferred his house and financial portfolio into his wife’s name. He has asked me to play my flute at his funeral, and has requested that the orchestra we belong to play the slow movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony in his memory .

Two days after hearing Clive’s story, we chatted to Jenny, smiling but pale, at the annual awards lunch of our writing circle. Her husband and daughter hovered nearby. She said to us, “Thank goodness I’ve finished writing my husband’s family history, and have almost finished mine. I’ll get it done before I go…I’ve been told I’ve got breast cancer. I’ve decided I’m not going through chemo-therapy: I watched my mother and my sister suffer that, it’s not worth it. I won’t see you next year – I can feel my life energy draining away every moment.” Her daughter was in a state of shocked grief; her husband smiled gently, but stayed as close as possible.

After being diagnosed with cancer, each of our four friends made difficult decisions:

Irene accepted further chemo-therapy; to gain a little precious time with her family.

Clive believed the death sentence pronounced by the doctor, and is preparing to die. .

Jenny, too, accepted the death sentence that the word, cancer conjures, and decided to die as quickly and with as much dignity as possible.

Caroline, from the moment of diagnosis, was the only one of our friends to decide that she will conquer the cancer.

It is unethical for any medical practitioner to predict how long their patients will live, that is something only God can know; telling people how long they have left to live, plants the seeds of death in a patient’s mind.

A moral and appropriate answer to the question, “Doctor, how long do I have to live?” would be: “No-one can predict the time of another’s death.”

Until next week, “here comes Treble.”

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