When it Comes to Terminal Illness Who Says What the Good Fight is?

Two questions right off the bat…

“What is the good fight?”

“Who says what the good fight looks like?”

I have noticed over the years working with dying and death that there exists an expectation that the one walking with cancer or a terminal illness will fight on at all cost and wrestles the monster to the ground. I noticed it with my brother Peter too. There is this subtle and sometimes not so subtle underlying expectation that the one dying must fight for their life – that fighting for life is somehow more worthy than living the rest of your life as fully as you can without fighting.

I watched a beautiful movie last night, “Me, Earl, and a Dying Girl” it was touching, raw and thought provoking. There was a scene in the film when the young teenaged girl fighting cancer for her life decided she had had enough of treatments that were not working, feeling like shit physically, mentally, and emotionally with no hope for cure. She simply chose to stop the fight and live the life she had left.

When she made the announcement to her boy friend he lost it. He got angry ‘at’ her for quitting, for giving up on college, life, and him. He yelled ‘at’ her for making a choice he did not agree with. She asked him to leave if he could not support her in the choice she had made. So he left.

This very raw and poignant scene speaks to exactly the point of this article. Who gets to describe the good fight? Who has the final say? There seems to be lots of people with tons of input from a multitude of perspectives. And all of this is input for sure. Some of it may be helpful and some of it may actually be a hindrance. At the end of the day who is it that gets to say fight or not, and how the fight will play out?

In this scene of the movie there was lots going on between just these two characters. She had had enough of the fight and wanted to live the rest of her life and then die – quality as opposed to quantity. Clear and understandable.

Her boyfriend was understandably upset and his response was out of his emotional reaction to the ‘bad’ news she had shared with him. His upset was more about him than serving her needs. Understandable too. Her Mom was an emotional mess too.

So including only these three characters, imagine what the young teenager had to go through to maintain her choice and she was the one dying!

My brother was facing a very difficult choice – do I do another round of intense chemo-therapy and then stem cell transplant? The whole system was involved, medical system, family, co-workers, and friends, now that is input! We all had different opinions, me especially. Yet at the end of the day it was Peter’s ultimate choice. Yes we all got to say our piece. Then the important point came. Peter chose and we as his family needed to put out opinions aside and line up on the side of my dear brother’s choice.

We did and this is where the magic began.

Though I had a hard time watching my brother suffer I was a big cheerleader for him. I simply took my upset to friends and family and shared with them my emotional reactions to what I was watching Peter going through. So I kept myself healthy AND served my brother on his chosen path. My emotional reactions would not have served him in any way. He already knew my perspective so any further bangin’ on the drum emotional or otherwise would have been abusive. The entire family cheered Peter along and supported him in his choice – it was all about Peter.

In his active dying it was much the same. Once the ‘good fight’ was done and death was knocking Peter also had choice about how and with who he died and he expressed it.

Just his wife present.

All other good-byes were to be one–on–one short and sweet no fuss, no lengthy hanging around. Though some of the family wanted it to be done differently we set up the end of Peter’s life exactly as he wanted it. We all had a private time with Peter, said what we had to and then left. At the end of his life there was only him and April, his wife, as he took his last breathe and died. Just the way Peter wanted it.

So I guess that answers the question. Who has say about the ‘good fight’?

The one dying does!

It is all about their best wishes for their fighting for life, dying, and death.




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