This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
February 2, 2000
It is just a guess but I think most people with cancer have thought about suicide. It's not the flaw of the person. It is the nature of this beast.
It wasn't until I was diagnosed with cancer that I thought of it seriously. Until then, I was not the suicidal type at all. There were a few times a year or so ago during the pits of depression when I came to realize why people commit suicide. I wasn't prone to it but I was depressed enough to understand it. There were times when I stood on that brink and looked down into that black, bottomless pit and knew why some made that choice. It was just not mine.
But it took cancer for me to consider suicide as an option.
It came to me when I learned what I might face in my final weeks or months, the possibility of being bed-ridden in a hospice and in such pain that the only relief is morphine that not only brings relief, but so numbs my mind that I can't operate. When I considered that possibility, I decided I wouldn't want to face such degradation and would prefer to close my life with some dignity, while I still had that choice and the ability to do it.
It made me realize the ultimate measure of our control over our lives is our ability to decide when to end it. If we do not have that freedom, we do not own our lives. It doesn't mean we need to exercise that option. It merely means we must be able to have it.
It also made me wonder why there is such opposition. I don't have an answer. The subject is too new to me.
When I thought about suicide, I wondered how I would do it. Guns are out. Too messy. I think it would be very rude to leave a mess. In fact, it's even rude to leave a body that someone has to find and pick up and take care of. No, the best way to do it is to leave no trace.
So I was thinking about Puget Sound up in Washington State. First, it is beautiful there. If one is going to die, it should at least be in an aesthetic locale so in those final minutes or hours one can relax, be contemplative and gain some peace of mind. Second, the water of Puget Sound is always very cold. There is a maxim: 50/50/50. In 50 degree water, you have 50 percent chance you'll be dead in 50 minutes from hypothermia. Third, done in the right part of Puget Sound, the body would be lost and just become food for the residents. The danger is washing up on someone's beach. That would be quite rude.
It would be quite easy to take a night ferry to, say, Victoria and just step quietly off the back of the boat. One would never be missed. But such violates #1, the aesthetic setting. Sitting on a ferry and waiting to fall off is hardly relaxing.
Or one could go up into the mountains or the desert and die there, hopefully in a place where one won't be found. The only question is how to die.
These are the sorts of thoughts that ran through my head.
The idea was to aesthetically and politely close out one's life while one still has the option. Of course, one could argue that as long as one is that capable, maybe it would be too soon. What if one is on the verge of improving? Ah, that's the rub, isn't it? But that's also the point of going to an aesthetic location. Maybe one will change one's mind. Maybe sitting in a beautiful place for a few hours to come to peace with oneself will cause one to want to live longer. There's nothing wrong with that. One is exercising that option to the fullest, with such a decision.
But let's say one has been in excruciating pain and the pain killers are not working. One is not prone to seek the best location. One just wants it to end. Practicality overrides aesthetics in such circumstances. I hope I never get to that point. Frankly, I hope I don't get to the point of suicide but - and this may sound very strange - I enjoy contemplating the option. Not thinking about killing myself, that it is an option, if only to decline. But not from fear. Never decline suicide from fear. Decline it because there is still an alternative. After all, death is pretty irreversible by all accounts.
No, there is something empowering to know that one has that choice or option. It gives us the opportunity for ultimate control over our lives.
Some people oppose suicide, saying that only God can make that choice.
Oh, really? Then if I make that choice, I am God?
No wonder it is so empowering and so opposed by so many.
So let's keep that option open.
We need a God we can trust.