To fight or not

August 16, 2017

fight-or-notTo fight or not to fight, that is the question.
How tightly do we want to hold on to life?
What are we willing to suffer to do that?
Is having hope delusional?
Should everyone be told the truth about their condition?

I’ve seen some social media discussions about what is and is not encouraging to people battling potentially terminal diseases.

Some said that it was wrong to encourage people to fight. It was selfish. Another said we should encourage them to fight.

One said it’s wrong to tell them everything is going to be ok if the chances were greater that it wouldn’t be ok at all.  Another said that we should let people have their hope.

And on…and on…because everyone’s got an opinion and many of them like to share those opinions as if they were sent from on high. Well, I have another point of view.

Having worked with potentially terminally ill people for many years I know that it’s not always true that everything will be ok. Whether it’s a terminal illness or a chronic illness.

And I also know that more people than you think simply do not want to be confronted with that verdict because they want to live in hope. Or they intend to defy the verdict. And it’s also true that some do defy it.

I know that some people want encouragement for their fight, while others just want someone to just “be there” for them without comment.

All of this is individual.


Faith stones

Hey, the truth is, NO ONE would go through the kinds of (often) barbaric treatments that are today’s standard of care if they didn’t want to fight. If they didn’t want to hope. That is a FACT.

And I know that some people are just tired. Too tired to fight any more. And they want to let go of this life gracefully.

No one approach is better than another. They are both valid.

I say, let people have their hope and even their delusions, if that’s what gets them through the night. Why do we have to push the bad news on them in the interests of “being honest” if that’s not what they want? If it would create greater anxiety to be faced with it?

As for those people who want to let go, we must respect that decision as much as it might pain us, and support them on their journey home.

What struck me in all of these discussions was how so many people felt that their way was the only way.

But there is no one right way to handle a serious disease. No matter how much people might want to pontificate.

I say we just LISTEN.

Listen to the patient.  Listen to what they say.  Be there for them, no matter what path they choose. If they want to go, don’t hold them here. If they want to fight, support that fight.

And know that every single person is different. They’ll walk their own path regardless, but we can make it harder by thinking we know what they should do.

One of my favorite things in my new healing gift packages is the “You’ve Got This!” sticker. The “this” it refers to isn’t the cure. No, not at all. It’s the challenge. “You’ve got this!” means that you’re standing in your power and from that position of strength you will make the decision that’s right for you. Fight? Let go? Doesn’t matter. You’ve still got this because you’re standing in your strength.

Not too long ago a close friend was recalcitrant about some palliative treatment. Here’s what I said to her, which is the same thing I said to my mother:

If you’re saying that you’re ready to go, then I will support you every step of the way. But if you’re not done yet, then I’m going to ask you about this treatment again and again. 

And when someone asks me what they should choose, this Native American proverb is always my answer:

Listen to the wind, it talks.
Listen to the silence, it speaks.
Listen to your heart, it knows.
-Native American proverb

See Part 2 of this tomorrow.  For more information on dealing with major illness and disease, visit A Healing Spirit.

26 comments on “To fight or not
  1. I’ve been watching my father sink into the grip of Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned that that nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than meeting what needs they can still express for comfort.

    How sad to make someone linger past their point of tolerance to “keep” them here. Wow. This was good for me to read today.

    But for a while, I expect I’ll be saying that about a lot of your posts. You are just so caring, kind and respectful and those are things I want anyone to be if they’re near me or my dad right now.

  2. Love the quote at the end and a very good post. It is a dilemma when someone is ill and whether the fight is worth it. Quality of life is the question and that should be what is fought for.

  3. Listen! That is the most important thing. When someone wants to fight, support it. When they’re done, support that, too. However, you feel. However it effects your life, it is NOT your call.

  4. Vera Sweeney says:

    This is so good! It’s not our job to decide for our sick loved ones whether they should fight or not fight or how long they should fight. It’s up to them. It’s their life, their pain, and ultimately, their death. We just need to be there for them.

  5. Catherine Sargent says:

    We need to listen to what the person wants. Even if it might be harder on us, we should always respect their wishes.

  6. Pam says:

    Listening to people fighting illnesses is so important. Sometimes people don’t want encouragement, they just want to be heard.

  7. JoyCe says:

    Having worked in hospice for over a dozen years, I have heard this discussion multiple times. The decision to accept treatment or “to fight” belongs to the person with the terminal diagnosis, not to his/her family,friends or physician. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can do our own independent research on prognosis with and without treatment. Often times physicians are considered the experts, but one must remember that the physicians are also humans. Some MDs view a patient’s death a failure and will recommend treatments long after a cure is possible. Often times the side effects of those treatments reduce the quality of life for the patient and may even hassen death. There is research that shows patients with certain terminal diseases who have symptomssuch pain or shortness of breath managed actually live longer than those seeking aggressive or curative treatments. It is very important for the patient to define what a quality of life is for his/herself, research both the pros and cons of treatments offered and make the decision. There are many wonderful palliative care teams as well as hospice teams composed of physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains who can assist with exploring options with the patient and the family. They can also provide support to the patient when their decision differs from the decision their loved ones would like.

  8. BeTh Havey says:

    So ironic, as my husband and I just got back from a meeting with a new doctor at CITY OF HOPE. John has been fighting CLL for over 15 years and winning. This new doctor will be helping John transition from a clinical trial to a new drug. We are joyous.

  9. Liz Mays says:

    I think it’s good for people to know you’ll be there by there side no matter what they choose. If they’re fighting something, encouragement can go a long way.

  10. My mom nearly died dozens of times, so many that we quit paying much attention to the yearly bouts with death from Lupus, viruses, heart attack…I even apologized in advance if she would happen to die and I was inattentive! But we just couldn’t keep going there, and neither could she. We hoped she’d be better. Even after starting dialysis when her kidneys failed, when she suffered another heart attack…We honored her wishes by pretending. It’s what she wanted. Her last few hours of living, I held her hand and “watched” an old John Wayne movie with her and talked like it was just another family night. Sometimes I wish we could’ve cried and told her how much she was loved and would be missed, but that would’ve been selfish indulgence. She already knew.

  11. Each person fighting a terminal illness has their own problems, challenges and solutions – no two are the same. Each person deserves to know that they have family that cares no matter the choice.

  12. I am a person of faith and believe we all have a mission in this life. Ending the life of somebody or encouraging somebody to let go is not in my book.

  13. Kelly Reci says:

    Love this thought. It is very hard to say good bye to the one you love. It is very heart breaking to see them suffering. Let us just respect their decisions because how can we still fight if that person is already giving up?

  14. Czjai says:

    I agree. Being there for the patient, listening to him/her, and understanding his/her sentiments can make a difference.

  15. Nadalie says:

    This breaks my heart, thinking of everyone who had the opportunity to fight and everyone I lost who didn’t. It’s definitely the person’s choice. Whether that extra time is worth the pain and loss of quality of life. I’d like to think I’d be brave enough either way.

  16. Wendy Polisi says:

    I’ve watched more than one person close to me waste away. However, I never once encouraged them to let go and give up. I believe crazy miracles can happen and those can happen at any time. I will never give up hope or steal someone’s hope that something miraculous can still occur.

  17. That would be hard. I don’t know what I would do in the moment. I guess it depends on the circumstances. However, I always believe hope is the best feeling.

  18. Donna says:

    I don’t think this is about euthanasia but about how much can a person handle until they need to cross over to another sphere. When I was so sick it manifested in obvious pain, but more in being so tired. Walking any distance was almost impossible. I just wanted to sit by the wagon and let the wolves eat me. My family was having none of it….however mine was not cancer it was something that I would eventually get better from. But the fatigue was like a cancer patient and I felt what it was like…I don’t know how far I would go, and none of us probably know until we are there. If I am brain dead of course I want the fam to pull the plug, but if I just need my butt whipped then I am for that.

  19. I can understand loving people so much that we do not want to let them go. But there comes a time when it simply isnt up to us.

  20. You’re right – it’s all individual. I would hope that I would fight. Fight for my girls sake. But I’m not sure. And it’s definitely not my place to speculate about what anyone else would do.

  21. Victoria says:

    I was an oncology nurse for many years and feel I have seen and heard it all. It is a very individual decision. I worked with doctors who didn’t believe in taking hope away to the point that the patient/family made no arrangements so when the end did come it was a surprise, and no one was prepared. Other’s laid out the options to the point of confusion. There is always a happy medium. Some want the facts some don’t.

  22. Oh my goodness this topic is a toughie.You wrote it beautifully.It is obvious this was a difficult post to write. It speaks from the heart and touches nerves too.
    I fight every day to be here. I am a child of God and I know when I go it will be into welcoming hands.But, I have plans, giggle. I will dance with my husband on our 50th wedding anniversary. I will hold tight to the love and blessings always.I never tire of hearing, you are brave and you are strong, thank you for always fighting to stay here with us. These are not words of praise or selfishness. They are words of love. We will all know when it is my time to got and until then I will fight.

    Yes, we all have something to say on the matter don’t we. The beautiful proverb you shared
    Listen to the wind, it talks.
    Listen to the silence, it speaks.
    Listen to your heart, it knows.
    -Native American proverb is perfect!
    Hugs and thank you for sharing at TFT

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