The gift that keeps on giving…

I have had what I can only call a surreal experience in the last two weeks. My dear mum has reached the end of the road in terms of curative treatment for her cancer. This in itself has been dreadful to process. The thought of being an orphan leaves an ache in my chest that I can’t imagine will ever heal.

But we are an incredibly practical family and I have decided to postpone my nervous breakdown until a more convenient time. While I have been pulling myself together and I continuing my work as a palliative care doctor for children, my mother has discovered that there is a critical shortage of bodies at medical schools across the country. Now these are human bodies that are dissected by medical students in anatomy class. Tools of learning so to speak.

Well, it’s all arranged. That’s it. The medical school staff were pleasant and efficient. The forms are signed and complete. Couldn’t have been easier and quite frankly my mom is chuffed to bits. I suspect there is great comfort in knowing that your usefulness can outlive you.

Weird for me; I teach at medical school. Very weird. But at the same time I am so proud of her and respect her decision.

A couple of weeks ago when talking to a mother whose child was dying, I was taken aback when she had the presence of mind to ask about organ donation. She wanted to believe that her child wouldn’t die for nothing; that his perfect body would be able to help someone else. And he did. So very special and meaningful.

Perhaps it’s time to look at how we view body or organ donation. A challenge for most of us. The idea is uncomfortable. But I’ve registered; I’m now a bone marrow and an organ donor and should I live long enough that my individual organs are no longer of value then I hope I will have the courage to donate the whole lot to medical school!

P.S. Thanks for the image. Just loved it.

It’s the journey that matters

I come from a family that has a macabre sense of humour. It’s a wonderfully wicked coping strategy that luckily we all inherited. This last year we have had a tough time; my mum was diagnosed with a horrid cancer and after nearly dying from the side effects of radiotherapy, she recovered only to discover that her cancer has spread and no further curative treatment can be offered. Such a blow, but as my mom says, “I won’t be buying any green bananas”.

Jokes aside, I do think that being given this grave and terminal diagnosis has given her a sense of relief. So often we bully cancer sufferers to ‘fight the cancer’, ‘battle the disease’, ‘beat the big c’. But are these militaristic terms always useful to the patient? Perhaps for some these words create a positivity that we all need when talking about cancer. Kate Granger, a cancer patient talking about living with cancer in an article in the guardian last year said -“She lost her brave fight.” If anyone mutters those words after my death, wherever I am, I will curse them.

The reason is that cancer is not about winning or losing; in war there are only losers.

My mother’s prognosis now means she no longer has to ‘fight’ or ‘battle’. She can accept her prognosis, set short term goals that enable her to enjoy the time she has left, making the most of friends and family.

In our work as palliative care practitioners we do not battle alongside cancer patients. We walk with them on their journey, perhaps we even climb with them. Although many of you will not be Miley Cyrus fans, you may still be able to appreciate the lyrics of her song, “The Climb’. It meant so much to a beautiful young girl who was very special to Umduduzi.

“There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move…….

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side
It’s the climb.”

For those who wish to read Kate’s excellent article –