Is there any reason to avoid death? We all die eventually, but is it a destiny sealed in for a predetermined time, or do we actually have some control over how long we are on this Earth?
Most of us like to believe we have some control over our fates. This is evident in all avenues of our lives. We calculate a preemptive strike on how we think we will be perceived each morning when we get dressed. We go to college to attempt to control the type of career we end up in and the amount of money we make. We marry the person we believe, at the time, possesses the right qualities to carry on a long-term love life. That person, we also believe, is the right person to raise a family with. When we have children, we attempt to control their fates by agonizing over the name each child will be given. Really, we are all just a bunch of control freaks at heart.
Speaking of a bunch of control freaks, the adults in my family always appeared invincible from a small child’s perspective. When my grandfather first got cancer, it was something I didn’t understand. I couldn’t grasp the severity of the situation because I was so young and because he was so strong. He would get chemotherapy, probably have surgery, and eventually he would be ok. Death wasn’t an option. My grandfather must have thought the same thing because he survived colon cancer, twice.
By the third time my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, I was older. He was too. He now had an ileostomy bag (for waste collection) attached to his abdomen. He sounded weak; he looked weaker. He was about 80 years old. My grandfather underwent a third surgery, called a total proctocolectomy, to remove the rest of his colon. After a week of recovery, he was sent home.
He returned to the hospital within the month. The surgeon had made a slight mistake, and although the cancer was gone, my grandfather now had a severe infection where feces had leaked out into the rest of his body. It could also be said that the hospital made a mistake when they released him without heeding the warning signs, such as his rollercoaster fever. Infection is one of several serious risks in a total proctocolectomy surgery. As an Oxford study shows, although this surgery was not originally meant for people over 50, it has now been proven to assist patients of any age. The study concluded that the age of the patient at the time of operation was irrelevant to the patient’s recovery and satisfaction with the results. Still, regardless of the person’s age when they received their illeal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA) surgery, they would eventually experience continence problems and a lesser quality of life later on.
Since my grandfather had already received two surgeries for previous colon cancers, this likely made the third surgery more intense. My grandfather was a fighter, and he hung on for almost a month before succumbing to this final blow. Towards the end of it all, he asked to return home. It must have been his conclusive goal. He passed away the first morning we spent back at my grandparents’ house.
Technically, my grandfather beat cancer three times. I believe part of his survival was an active, determined choice to simply be alive. What finally killed him was the infection from a set of medical mistakes vital enough to warrant a malpractice lawsuit. However, like many families questioning medical treatments, we did not file a claim. If this had been his first surgery, our decision could have been different. My grandfather had lived the life he wanted. It wasn’t easy, but he was ultimately content. Had he survived the infection, it would have inevitably caused more problems, and the most important aspect of life is the quality – not the quantity. Looking back on it, his death is not what makes me sad. What makes me sad, truly and deeply, is the suffering that he endured, attempting to postpone fate one last time.
Amanda Whitman is a recent college graduate with a degree focused on Humanities and Writing. As a life enthusiast, Amanda wants to have a positive effect on the world. She hopes to encourage learning, discussion, and better understanding of one another through her work as a writer.