Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Good Thing About Cancer

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I had heard good things about this book. As an oncology nurse, I am a realist. As the wife of a cancer survivor, I’m an optimist. But I also know the reality of how this disease can affect every part of a person’s life.
I was afraid this book was going to be morose and melancholy. But it was surprisingly upbeat and funny.
Randy Pausch gives a lecture, which is basically his memoirs. He knows he has terminal Pancreatic cancer and takes this opportunity to say good bye. He says it was about Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, but it was really about him reliving his life in a form that could be passed on to his young children, who would have very few memories of him. I can relate to that as well, since my father died when I was three. I would love to have had something that he had written, or more pictures, or even videotape so I could hear his voice and see how he carried himself.
Cancer is a horrible illness, but it has one thing over sudden death. It usually gives you time to say what you need to say. That’s the only good thing about cancer. Some people don’t take the opportunity, but it’s there nonetheless.
I’ve seen people die who are still in denial about the severity of their illness. For all their denial, they still die, but with unfinished business. I’ve also seen “good” deaths. Those where they’ve said their goodbyes, given their advice, gotten their affairs in order, left a legacy, and asked their family members to let them go. A good death is as much a blessing as a good life.
This book has made me laugh and cry, and look again at the big picture. I’ve liked working with oncology patients because I’ve always found them to be “real”. They’ve dealt with, or are working through the big issues of life, and what’s bigger than facing your mortality and considering eternity?
In all my years of nursing, I’ve only cried at three deaths, all of them young men. I only now make the connection with my father, who died when he was 28. But I digress.
This book is not so much about dying, although he does talk about it, as it is about living, and appreciating the time you’re given. To use a cliché, “Every day is a gift. That’s why it’s called the Present.”

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