I return to read this often. I may have shared it before I am not sure. It really illustrates what I have said so often about always 2 ways to see and deal with things. Plus, it both encourages and inspires me, often giving me the lift I may need at the moment.
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness how would it affect the way you live those remaining days? Dying people often find their life gains a renewed focus that teaches them something special about how to live.
Cheese. It’s what Ian John Phelps thought about after being told he had lung cancer and it would kill him. Something as “strange and stupid” as that.
“Living in Dorset we have a whole number of different types of cheese, I just thought I want to try as many different varieties of them as I can,” he says.
What would you do if you were told you didn’t have long to live? There’s a fascinating morbidity about such a question, that many of us will have pondered, safe in the knowledge that it remains hypothetical.
Life after such news can be ‘richer’
The cliche is to go out and buy a fast car, rack up debts and think little about the consequences. Sampling a rich variety of local dairy produce certainly wasn’t uppermost in Mr Phelps’ mind before he received his grave prognosis.
In the words of John Ransom, who also has a fatal disease, it gives you a new sense of focus however “awful, hideous and catastrophic” being terminally ill is.
“There are some things about my cancer that are a gift and that may seem really odd to some people,” says Mr Ransom, who was 32 when he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the whole lymphatic system. He’s now 46.
“It’s aroused something in me that’s made me more aware. You can do the same things for 20 years, running back and forth to work, or have five years where you process more about your life. I don’t know which one is the best, but maybe the latter is a much richer way to live.
“I was walking on the North Yorkshire moors recently, I was high up and the heather was out. I just felt I was on the ceiling of the sky almost. It was an incredibly intense feeling of happiness.”
Often the assumption is that people will want to squeeze the maximum out of the limited time they have left. Travel the world, climb a mountain, swim with dolphins.
Take fundraiser Jane Tomlinson, who died of cancer last year aged 43. Despite her illness she showed an indomitable spirit and raised £1.5m for charity. She ran, swam and cycled into the record books, doing marathons and cycling across America.
None of these material things really matter, illness demolishes them all
But happiness is not only about living life to the full, even though the pressure to do so when you don’t have much time left can be immense, say those who are in the situation.
Slowing down and enjoying the day-to-day is what gives you true freedom, says Frances Byrnes, a writer from Sheffield, diagnosed at the aged of 32 with advanced ovarian cancer.
“You hear people say that if your days are numbered then everyday has to be superb. It becomes a terrible pressure. I let myself be, I let go of that voice that says all time must be valuably used.
“You let yourself be what you can be that day. Letting go of that… daily check list of achievements is freeing and the world still works without you. I actually felt really alive, I was examining the texture of everything around me.”
Smell the roses
A self-confessed “busy bee” before his diagnosis, Mr Phelps, 45, agrees. He says because of his illness he has had to learn to slow down.
“Because I have it gives me the opportunity to look at things in a closer, more detailed way. My eyes are being opened up and lucky me.”
A lot of research done on dealing with a terminal illness has shown that people often end up living a happier and much fuller life in the time they have left, says psychoanalyst and counsellor Gladeana McMahon.
Jane Tomlinson inspired many people
“People deal with such news differently, some never come to terms with it. But most go through an acceptance process that includes anger and disbelief, but ultimately leads them to re-evaluate life.
“It gives them a new focus, a new clarity, a new perspective on what is important. I call it smelling the roses.”
People get caught up in the petty minutiae of daily life, let it stress them and lose out on what is really important and in front of their faces, she says. Mr Ransom agrees.
“You feel you are in a war zone sometimes, trying to achieve what you think you want with a lot of other people striving for the outcome they want,” says the father of two from Stockport.
“At times I have likened my own experience to the salmon swimming back to the breeding ground, struggling up the river. One of the things I’ve let go of is always wanting to have my own way and always wanting particular outcomes and actually going with the flow of things.
“I’ve turned myself round and am going with the river. You feel happier than when you are struggling against it the whole time.”
Often the pressure to achieve is about getting a certain lifestyle. But while people chase the latest gadgets and goods, they should not lose sight of the fact that these things cannot hold back life’s misfortunes, says Mr Ransom.
“We spend a lot of our time trying to protect ourselves, this whole consumer society fits in quite neatly with it I think.
People should ‘slow down’
“We buy things and the more things we have we sort of build a fortress around ourselves and think we can’t be got at. But none of these material things really matter, illness demolishes them all.”
But ultimately no one knows what time they have left. Diagnosed with a terminal illness or not, your life can change in a instant. That’s why you should seize the moment, to ask all those questions you have in your head and tell people how you feel, says Mr Pehlps.
“I’ve been to a load of funerals in my time and so many times people turn round and say if only I’d got the opportunity to ask dad or mum this question, but now I’ll never know,” he says.
“From the moment you are born and start learning to speak you have the opportunity to ask, so use that. Use it to tell people how you feel about them. I wouldn’t wait until you have an illness or anything like that, get on and do it now.
Back to add one more comment. Heading out of town to do some family visiting. Won’t have access to a computer until Monday or Tuesday. Blog may be silent until then but my heart and prayers for all will not be.