Specialising in the human experience of Living with prostate cancer – warts and all

There is no defeat in dying – a son’s perspective

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Skyping Dad in June this year.

As Greg’s son it has been both humbling and inspiring to witness his journey these last few years. He has always said that “I have never died before.” As a believer in reincarnation I have always doubted that statement, but I have not argued with him – who am I to know?

It’s been over 4 years since the doctors first estimated he would live for only 2-3 years. In that time I have seen dad in many states of pain, discomfort, balance, not knowing, knowing, frustration, gratitude and grace.

From the beginning he has taken a very ‘realist’ view, acknowledging the diagnosis and doing his best to find out whatever he could to minimise the pain and reduce the chance of the cancer spreading. Although Dad’s default is to trust the medical system, he has certainly not taken it at face value. He has kept his doctors honest by constantly seeking to understand the assumptions behind their advice, and to understand the limits of their “permitted” offering.

Fortunately he has developed a good relationship with his doctor, Chris, who has come to learn how Dad likes a “no bullshit” approach.

There are two things that Dad is sick and tired of hearing:

The first is a necessary bureaucratic question: “What is your date of birth?” Even when in hospital for days on end with the same nurses, they are required by law to ask this question before administering any treatment.

The second is in response to Dad’s persistent need to know what will happen next whenever a new treatment is offered. Typically the answer is “everyone is different so we will monitor you closely and find out how it goes.” I know this has frustrated Dad, but I do believe he has come to see the truth in this statement, as evidenced by the random nature of his own body’s response to various treatments. It has been a very up and down journey with symptoms that are sometimes predictable, and often erratic. Watching him has helped me appreciate what a complex system the body really is, and how interrelated are it’s various components. One medicine reduces pain, but increases constipation. The constipation treatment has other side-effects, and so on.

Until his illness, Dad was not a big fan of alternative medicines or a fanatic of healthy foods. Over the years I have seen him experiment with different medicines and foods, applying his mindset to test their efficacy. His logic is straight forward and honest – if it works, he uses it until it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, he gradually raises or lowers the dosage until it does work. I have been impressed with Dad’s willingness to try all options – usually doing some internet-based research first. He has created an online community of friends with whom he generously shares his knowledge including the pros and cons of different treatments.

It is a blessing that as a family we have all been able to talk openly to him along the way about his treatment and about the reality that our time with him is coming to an end. I have heard of many other cases where people find it hard to talk about the hard facts, and even where sons and daughters aren’t even told their parent is ill until the last few weeks.

Thankfully Dad has been very up-front and we have been able to savour these last few years, reminisce and connect warmly with him through the ups and downs. I am thankful that his mind has remained very astute and his trademark warmth and sociable spirit has endured.

Many a time I have visited him and found him in better spirits than I would have imagined, given his condition. Pauline reminds me, however, that he does perk up around company and that he usually has a much lower energy the day after such a visit.

Dad has a philosophical approach to dying. Clearly he wants to live as long as he can, and at the same time has made a big effort to complete his affairs in this life – both practical and emotional. One of the blessings of a terminal diagnosis is that it gives everyone time to get prepared for the inevitable parting, to spend quality time together and reminisce, share, laugh and cry together. Although I will miss Dad dearly when he is gone, I will be forever grateful that we have spent this time together and will treasure many fond memories.

Dad and I have always had rich conversation about all manner of things from the personal, political to the philosophical and spiritual. We have not always agreed, but have held a mutual respect for the opportunity to be challenged about how we think about the world

In the early days of his diagnosis I was heartened by Dad’s accounts of his dreams that recounted direct contact with past loved ones who had died, in particular, Cheryl. Dad has always been a rationalist with little interest in things he has no direct proof of, like afterlife and spirit-worlds. Yet he has kept an open-mind and I believe his illness and the timing of these dreams has given him some evidence that as Shakespeare said “there is more in this life, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I know that he dearly loves me, and if there is an afterlife, will be there in the wings for me. Back in April when he nearly died in hospital, we did in fact say what we thought were our last goodbyes one evening – the morning after which we awoke to find he done a life-saving poo! Since that time I have felt a grace surround the family as his body gradually slows down and we are grateful for whatever time we have left with Dad.

I cannot imagine how it must be to live in Dad or Pauline’s shoes, where every day, every hour, and lately every minute is a challenge. I am impressed with their patience and resilience to continually face each day. I know there are many difficult times along the way, but I have not seen Dad depressed or angry beyond what is reasonable for someone in his condition.

Dad’s belief has always been that children continue to evolve the thinking of their parents. Dad, I will be proud to carry on your tradition of critical thinking that is infused with a big heart that genuinely cares for others and for the future state of the world.

I truly admire your fighting spirit and I trust that you will leave this body at exactly the right time. There is no defeat in dying. You have put up a good fight Dad, of which victory is not about surviving, but about embracing the process of life and death that has it’s own timeframe for all of us.

I will always love you and carry your love for me with me for the rest of my life. Perhaps I’ll see you on the flipside – if there is an afterlife afterall!

Written by David Naylor

26 August 2012 at 11:28 am

Posted in David Naylor

2 Responses

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  1. This is so, umhh beautiful David, you must love each other very much. Thank you for sharing.


    26 August 2012 at 11:43 pm

  2. David:What a loverly eulogy. Your words brought a tear or two to my eyes. I hope my son and daughter feel as much love for me that you have expressed for your dad. I also hope from the bottom of my heart that Greg will rallyand come back to us all. However I am also conscience of the fact he may have had enough and if that is the case and his body wishes to call it quits I wish him god speed and I am looking forward to meeting him on the other side when my time comes. Mate he has so much infornation collected on this web site for those of us with prostate cancer the site needs to be preserved and promoted. I dont know where we go from here but we have to go somewhere.. I have a feeling you and I will have a meeting sometime in the future about this so until then I will be thinking of you all throughout this time of your anguish over your dad. God comfort you all. Greg may peace find you.
    Lee aka popeye


    27 August 2012 at 11:17 pm

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