Ethan’s Blog: What’s it like to have cancer and fight it with chemotherapy?

Ethan Remmel, a forty year old professor of Psychology who, when diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, chooses to write a blog.  In ten entries he takes the reader from the time of diagnosis to his farewell posting. His blog is a valuable contribution from a thoughtful, articulate, and honest patient enabling us to understand his thoughts and feelings about choices he makes related to his cancer’s relentless progress.  Additionally, he shares his struggle with “quantity of life” versus “quality of life”. He enhances our understanding of the positive and negative aspects of chemotherapy and vividly describes the complex aspects of the fatigue he experiences.

One of the surprising things that Ethan mentions is losing a sense of identity because so much of his life, energy, and passion is taken from him by the chemotherapy side effects.  It left him lonely, dispirited and discouraged.

Because Ethan lived in Washington State, he was eligible for and received a prescription for medicine that would allow him to end his life.  His response to filling the prescription was a common one –  just knowing that he could make the choice to take the medicine gave him relief. He was in charge whether he exercised that option or not.

( NOTE: At this point (January 2017)  seven states and the District of Columbia have provisions for taking one’s life. Sixteen other states are considering some form of legislation.  Public opinion polls in 2015 found that up to 68% of persons responding support “death with dignity” when a person is terminally ill and in pain.)

A posthumous family post at the end of Ethan’s blog describes a peaceful and intimate end which Ethan chose to have for himself.  We are the recipients of a great gift in this blog – one filled with  insight and care for others. It is a moving display of honesty and courage.

Reading this blog enables you to understand more deeply what a friend or loved might go through when they have treatments with debilitating side effects, and (2) it affords you the opportunity to consider what you would do if you were in Ethan’s situation.

Ask yourself how hard would you fight to “beat” a cancer diagnosed as terminal? Would you opt for experimental treatments? What about costly uncovered treatments? Do you have concerns about how your family would deal with you being ill? Would they be able to cope with the care you needed? How would you know when the rigors of chemotherapy were no longer worth the discomfort?

After you’ve thought about these questions, talk to someone who loves you so they will know what you want.  It’s all about the conversation.  If you don’t have it, no one will know what you want.

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