If it happened to me, I’d make different choices.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother and her treatment options since her diagnosis of a stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme. You know, the big, bad, nasty brain tumour.
I can’t help but put myself into her shoes.
This last visit could not have been timed more perfectly. I think I caught my mother right in a sweet spot, right after the last nausea-inducing monthly round of chemo and the “Oh yeah, that thing’s definitely growing, let’s get it out” surgery. I think I caught her on her best week since her radiation began, and I’m so grateful for that.
I’m also grateful that I got to go to one of my mother’s appointments and see for myself how she and my father are relating to the care team. She’s not just along for the ride, she wants all they can do for her, she wants to put off that day for as long as possible – the one where the tumour comes back and there’s nothing they can do.
I also deeply honour her decision to live, the determination she tapped into shortly after her diagnosis when she knew in her body she could make the tumour disappear. “Just watch me do it!” her soul whispered.
I honour my mother’s choices and her experience, I am not doubting her choices and I’m proud of her for asserting herself in the face of this terrible disease.
I just can’t help but think about what I’d do differently. My choices would not be better – in fact they could be arguably worse – but I think about them all the time, and I’m compelled to talk about them. Thank goodness Sweetie doesn’t seem to mind.
*** People, please know that Sweetie’s Dad is in the hospital too, and could use all the healing and prayers you care to give him. This last trip was overshadowed for both of us, wondering how many “last times” we were experiencing with our parents.
I talk about what I would do differently as a way of warding it off, like bringing an umbrella prevents rain.
I would not opt for life-prolonging treatment, not at the expense of however many “bad days”. I would not cash in a good week on a gamble that I might have more good weeks down the line. I’m a bird in the hand kind of gal.
I would rather have one good week than a few crappy months.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I would make such a profoundly different choice. Erik & I have previously talked about The Miracle of Life; the paradox and danger of understanding that our consciousness goes on after the body dies. If you value the consciousness more than the body, then you start to devalue your own life and the lives of others.
I’ve been thinking about why I’d go for a short good life than gamble it for a longer, maybe just as great lifespan.
The root of my thinking is not based in my work as a medium, but in my experience as an animal communicator working as a veterinary assistant for five years.
My death education began with my animals as a kid, and my first exposure to the worst parts of suffering and humanity were in that veterinary clinic. I remember the first dog I held as he was put to sleep. He looked a lot my childhood German Shepherd. He was young and healthy, and it seemed like such a crime to put him down.
I remember the ancient black Labrador, emaciated from neglect and disease, but who always gave us a loving wag of his tail whenever we approached him. This fellow was an SPCA seizure, and had spent most of his life in a backyard. He was not suffering, and so the vet brought him to the clinic and spread orders for everyone in the office to give him as much love and attention as they could for the next week. One of the vet techs even slept over in this dog’s kennel to keep him company. I was the one who held him as he slipped from his body after the best week of his life.
I assisted with dozens of euthanasias during my five years at that clinic. The vast majority of deaths at the clinic were gentle, and only when no more could be done. I soon recognized the change, the look in an animal’s eye, or in the tension of their body that said, “I am done.”
Most people don’t have the choice of medically assisted death, so their bodies go through a slower transition and that can look like terrible suffering, which leaves the surviving loved ones in a lot of pain, remembering those last hours or days.
We like to think of our consciousness as one static thing, but our consciousness changes when we’re incarnated, and is changed again each time we leave a body.
Our body has it’s own consciousness too. Our bodies *want* to live. They want to experience pleasure, eat, sleep, have sex, be excited, be outraged, be passionate – feel alive! We were born with an autonomic nervous system and our bodies want to use it! It’s like the “passing gear” on a really sweet car. What’s the point of a porche if you don’t floor it once in a while?
The body does all sorts of disturbing-looking things while it’s shutting down, and observing this process can pile anger and guilt on top of grief, especially if there is a sense the death is “wrong”.
We the living really want to “should” death.
Death, you should be painless. You should be perfectly-timed. You should come softly as a friend, as a sigh of relief, of forgiveness, or love.
This idea has formed in my mind as I’ve translated the death experience of hundreds of people and animals for their loved ones in session.
Only the body fights death. The soul does not.
While we are incarnated, our “You” consciousness is fused with the consciousness of our body animal. Start by thinking of the purple circle as your soul, and the green circle as your body. When you’re incarnated in a body, the two levels of consciousness overlap.
When your body is hungry, aroused, in pain – that experience is processed by your body, and it impacts the “higher” part of your consciousness.
There is so much overlap between the body and the soul, that the overlap is really a new facet of consciousness that didn’t exist before you incarnated. Your unique “You” plus your body has created something that did not exist before your incarnation in this life. Your soul and your body had a baby, and it’s the new YOU.
When I’m communicating with someone who died, it’s the purple circle that’s exchanging energy with MY purple / green overlap. Sometimes my physical body interprets the communication in physical sensation, sometimes my consciousness “gets it” and my body’s brain has to translate the concept into English.
After someone dies, that green circle falls away, but the green / purple overlap remains, and becomes a part of that purple circle. Here’s the brain bending part: that purple circle is overlapping however many other past lives. They’re layered on top of each other. You can address a past consciousness by flipping the pages of that purple circle.
When I communicate with a spirit, I’m always looking for that top most purple circle, because that’s where the personality is, that’s how the client knows this being.
The YOU, the purple circle is just one facet of our individuality and the sum of our experiences. I use the term “Individuality” rather than “Higher Self” because I want to show that our Individuality is the passive sum of all of our individual incarnations and experiences.
Higher Self has more of an “intention” behind it. The “Higher Self” is the force behind the shaping of the pink Individuality. The pink circle is where your soul is, right now. If you were to visualize the pink circle of any loved one on the other side, it would be a ball of light, and would look and feel the same as any other spirit being. The higher self is that thin ring around the pink circle, applying intention and pressure to shape what is created within itself.
Finally, we can never forget where we come from. We are all one, we are all love, we are all God. That’s the yellow sun, our connection to all that is, was and shall be. Connection with this yellow sun is a joyous, transcendental experience. People can spend lifetimes meditating to get a glimpse of this while incarnated, while others experience it completely in the throes of a wild physical orgasm, at a rock concert, or during a potentially fatal accident or event.
That, in a nutshell, is how I relate to life and death.
So given that this life is an overlap of my purple self-awareness and my green physical body, when my body starts crapping out I have every intention of dropping that circle like a piece of over-ripe fruit. Let it go to ground and start again, so long and thanks for all the fish.
I say that now, knowing that my green circle wants to perpetuate itself. Maybe I’ll feel differently when that day comes. Maybe I’ll want to hang on.
My point, and my motivation for writing this post, is to talk about the process of the green circle separating from our individuality.
We are born knowing how to die.
The more the body shuts down, the thinner that overlap becomes, the less the experience of the body affects the purple consciousness. Think of that green circle as just fading away.
So often while talking with animals or people who appeared to suffer in death, they talk about how they didn’t suffer, even as their bodies fought to breath. Some of the things they have said:
I was sitting in the chair next to my bed, watching.
I was standing at the foot of the bed, telling the doctor to let me go.
I jumped out of my body and ran around the room! Did you see me?
I was holding you, trying to let you feel that I’m already out of that body.
I have pictures from the day my dog Mocha passed away. It was a very peaceful death, thank God. We were five hours away from the nearest vet (being a holiday) and it was clear Mocha was not in pain, so I just sat with her for the eight-hour death process.
I look back on that day with profound gratitude. Had I still lived in Toronto, I would have taken her to the vet to have her death process hastened. I never would have experienced how calm and peaceful it was to sit with an animal I loved as they gently peeled away from their body. I did a lot of praying and I know the process would have been easier on me if it had been faster.
Mocha’s soul hung around in the room with us for minutes after her body stopped breathing, and we were gently, lovingly, BEGGING her to jump into the light. When she finally did, her body truly ceased to live. Mocha was gone, and this body left behind had become a completely inanimate, decaying object.
Something else which has surprised me every time I see a death: how immediate the affect of death is, how the body looks intangibly different.
From the other side, death is not often described as a painful traumatic event. You know who suffers? The ones left behind.
Sometimes people or animals fight for life not to put off their own death, but to put off the pain and grief of those who love them.
They are the brave, the generous and the strong.
This is how I’m spending my time right now: watching “Cash Cab” with my parents and getting groomed by a budgie.
She knows she’s not allowed to pick at the fabric!
Can’t figure out how to imbed video from ipod so here’s the link:
Y’all have heard of the #fuckcancer movement / trend, right? It’s a way to channel the natural anger that comes from people experiencing what seems like a senseless illness. The generally accepted track post-diagnosis is to go through this very difficult treatment and hopefully win some good time you likely wouldn’t otherwise have.
My sister and I were discussing my mother’s condition a couple of days ago.
As far as brain cancer complications go, my mother has so far avoided a lot of the potential challenges. No seizures, she can move around her house, take herself to the bathroom, feed herself. When you think about how much my mother has lost with terrifying swiftness, it’s easy to forget that she’s actually in pretty good shape. She watches a lot of TV, and she’s feeling too crappy to really carry on a conversation.
But in the six months since her treatment began, my mother hasn’t really had one good day.
When my mother was given her diagnosis, she’d just had brain surgery, and she was with my father and sister. The doctor said the words “glioblastoma multiforme” without explaining the implications: drastically shortened life span, continuous treatment.
What my family was told was that treatment was her best chance at getting some “good days”. That she’d get through radiation and then “feel better”. That we’d have a chance to “make some memories” as a family.
I feel like the docs are never really honest about the side effects of cancer treatment. My family was never offered counseling, no one to sit down with my mother and say, “Hey, so, let’s discuss your options. What you want. What to expect.”
My mother faced enormous pressure to get into treatment *immediately* and was even told that if she chose to delay treatment, she may not be able to access any services in the future. Basically you’ve got your ticket to the cancer ride, are you on board or not?
My mother got on board. My family’s fears about the side effects were mitigated with assurances that the treatments weren’t nearly as dramatic now as they used to be, that the medications available for controlling side effects are much more effective now. They use words like “comfortable”.
At the time, I was confused why my mother choose to do treatment. I felt like the docs couldn’t *really* promise that she’d get more time, or feel better, or have ANY good days.
Without radiation and chemo, the tumour probably would have recurred by now and killed her. There is no way to know whether my mother would have had any “good days” if she’s simply healed from the surgery and tried to see how high she could bounce back.
It just makes you wonder, because the best conversations I had with my mother since her diagnosis were in that two week period between her surgery and the beginning of radiation.
My sister and I were wondering if treatment beyond surgery was a mistake… because now, the docs are out of ideas.
My mother is nauseous all of the time. It’s a severe quality of life issue. They’ve taken her completely off meds, they’ve switched meds around, even tried antidepressants. She’s still sick. You know what they said at her last appointment?
“Maybe the radiation has caused brain damage which is causing the nausea.” ie, the nausea is untreatable.
Her last MRI was great – no tumour re-growth. Hurray! But you know what? Without re-growth of that tumour, her oncologists won’t refer her to palliative care. Only under a palliative care model would my mother’s comfort be considered the highest priority.
Did I mention she was never offered palliative care as one of her choices? My sister, who is a HUGE palliative care advocate, is particularly pissed about this.
I’m confused about it, because I thought the treatment *was* a palliative regime designed to maximize her good days. No, it was actually designed to just maximize her days. I can’t help but wonder if she’s contributing to some statistic attached to her treatment center, if they have a vested interest in giving patients more days, since the patients have no means of rating for posterity what sort of days they’re having, how they’re feeling, whether they’d felt the days were worth the cost.
It makes you wonder what the motivation is behind pushing a senior woman through chemotherapy to maybe prolong her life by 6 – 18 months. Why not lay palliative care on the table right away? Why not offer counseling and some time to decide? Why is the only factor prolonging life?
Some people get angry at the disease. My sister and I, we’re pretty pissed at the medical system. I once again, suggested pot. My mother would absolutely qualify for a prescription. It *might* take the edge off her nausea and maybe even make her a little hungry. Maybe she could eat, feel satiated and actually have a good nap? Maybe.
It’s about the only thing the docs haven’t tried. Apparently, her current oncologist isn’t really pro-pot and won’t write a prescription. My sister’s working on getting a referral to another oncologist who is a bit more open. More holistic.
It pisses me off that a doc can say, “Well, I’m out of ideas but I’m not going to refer you to palliative care, nor will I write you a prescription for a substance that seems to help a lot of other people. You can continue to retch into a bowl.”
Fuck that oncologist. And while I’m at it, #fuckcancer
On January 15th, 2014, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme. That’s a big, bad, nasty brain cancer. In the past, people who have received this news have survived for a year or so.
In April 2014, and in September 2014 I was able to travel home to be with my mother thanks to you amazing folks, my readers. You donated to my travel fund, you booked readings, you told your friends. Please know how grateful I am, I could not have done it without you. You guys aren’t just blog readers, you’re friends and angels.
Thank you so much for your help. I will be forever, forever grateful for that extra time with my mother.
On Thursday April 23rd, 2015, just before 3 am, my mother passed away while in the company of loving family.
She received the best possible care, but it still breaks my heart.
Thank you everyone for your kind words of support, and a very special thank you to the folks who have written me about their own losses, and how this blog and my mother’s story has helped them through some of the most difficult times of mourning.
Grief touches all of us, and so none of us are alone.
(Blog Post: Ashes to Dust Bunnies)
For all of your love and support, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.