Life and Death

Sorry. I haven’t been around for a while, but I am back for now.

Recently, Dec 11th, 2013 to be exact, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in my esophagus, so I thought I would like to share some of my reflections on that unexpected news with my readers. For some of you, this will be repetitious, but I thought it would be good to have the salient information on my blog.

My initial research indicated that esophageal cancer is a fairly virulent cancer and progresses rapidly. Right now I am undergoing  chemotherapy and  radiation, and after two bouts of chemo and ten of radiation I am not yet feeling any side effects. Those are the main facts, what is more relevant to this blog are some of my thoughts since the diagnosis.

All of us live with some level of awareness that we will die at some unknown future date, and as a philosophy professor for some 43 years, I had on  many occasions discussed this reality with my students. Young as they were, it was often hard to get any kind of experiential handle on that impending reality, but invariably we had good discussions about the theme, the main insight we usually would arrive at is that it is death that makes life so precious and worthwhile.  Having had all these discussions, I felt I had a fairly honest acceptance of my own mortality, but after the cancer diagnosis, I could feel a real shift take place in me. The sense that I would indeed die some day was something I had acknowledged many times, but now I could feel that the acknowledgment I had lived with was at a distance from me, and was somewhat abstract. Now, with my esophagus in peril , and the rest of me along with it, I felt my imminent death in a much more actively experiential way. I would find myself locking up the house at night, and wondering how many more times I would do that. Taking out the garbage, the same thought surfaced. How many more garbage trips would I get to make before I died.  That sense of the real finitude of all my activities has been with me since the diagnosis. I have a life threatening illness, and my time on this planet is under some new limitations that were not present to me before the diagnosis.

The uphsot of my shift in awareness has been a deepening experiential sense of how truly precious every day, every moment we are alive really is for us.  Even being stuck in slow moving traffic is preferable to being dead. All of my life activities have a preciousness and a value to them that I can definitely feel more deeply now that I am in the domain of cancer and its potentially lethal implications.

The counter feeling to an enhanced sense of the preciousness of all aspects of my life is that I am 82 years old, and I  have lived a full,  wonderful, exciting, interesting, at times challenging, and incredibly  rich life.  I had a career I loved, and my philosophy both as a teacher and as a seeker has enriched me beyond measure. I have had deep, abiding love all of my life. People have been unfailingly kind and loving to me in so many ways.  Someone asked me about my “bucket list,” but my life is wonderfully complete. I have done so many things that I wanted to do, and had so many wonderful friends, and always been blessed with love from the family in my life. Remarkably, I have had two remarkable wives, and Barbara, my current wife has been so remarkable in her support and advocacy for me, that I can’t begin to delineate how much she has done for me, and is still doing every day that we work our way through this latest challenge in our lives.

This is a more personal blog than I usually write, but I think what I want all of my readers to know is that every moment we live is truly precious. Each of us is a unique being that never existed before. Each of us has some unknown window of time in which we live out that existence. Cherish that time. Live fully and live well, and most of all live here and now. There is no going back. We always live into that unknown future.  Enjoy it and breathe in your life deeply.

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About The Practical Philosopher

I am a retired Philosophy professor. I taught philosophy for 43 years, and I would like to share some of what I have found pursuing the fascinating journey of philosophy.
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10 Responses to Life and Death

  1. Ken says:

    My prayers are with you at this difficult time Cousin Billy and with your positive attitude anything can happen. Don’t ever give up, like you need me to say that. Much love going your way and keep up the good fight, you are an inspiration to all and an amazing person. Keep in touch…ken

  2. Maria Katonak says:

    Dear Bill:

    Thank you for this honest and deeply affecting blog. I was particularly touched by your noticing the mundane–locking the door at night, taking out the garbage and how much we take for granted. It helps me to wake up a little more. May you have the privilege of writing a blog on your 90th birthday!! Much love and healing to you,
    Maria K.

  3. Maria Katonak says:

    Bill:

    Thank you for these words, they are wonderful.

    I just posted a comment on your blog. Before my comment it says: Maria Katonak says: “your comment is awaiting moderation” What does that mean? I didn’t write that.

    Maria

    Sent from my iPad

  4. Bill,

    Barbara was kind enough to send me your blog.

    We met only once and interacted briefly, but in those few moments I did get a sense of inner strength and calm.
    No matter what happens, I am sure that you will be fine…especially with Barbara by your side.
    Maybe we’ll meet again, I’d like that.

    wishing you all the best,

    Joel

  5. Wonderful post on wonderfulness of life. May you live longer and prosper.

  6. Lois Brown says:

    Bill, an Episcopal priest, a dear friend of mine, once said to me that just thinking about another person is a form of prayer. I am thinking about you now. Lois

  7. Thanks, Lois. Your thoughts are indeed welcome

  8. shaunellis says:

    Bill, I am saddened to hear about your diagnosis, but it seems that you are able to see the “upside” of mortality in that it’s what gives meaning to life. Last fall I was being tested for a type of Cardiomyopathy which could result in sudden death at any time, without warning. Because of scheduling, insurance, and other reasons, it took most of autumn to discover it was normal variation, essentially a false positive. I feel very fortunate that the tests came back negative, but I now have some idea of what you mean by the shift you describe when the abstract awareness of death becomes real. I appreciated things more, took more risks (in a good way), and it was a strangely positive experience that I am making every effort to carry with me. I sincerely hope that you overcome this challenge, and I’m happy to hear that the side effects of the treatments haven’t been too bad. You and Barbara are in my thoughts.

  9. shaunellis says:

    Bill, I am saddened to hear about your diagnosis, but it seems that you are able to see the “upside” of mortality in that it’s what gives meaning to life. Last fall I was being tested for a type of Cardiomyopathy which could result in sudden death at any time, without warning. Because of scheduling, insurance, and other reasons, it took most of autumn to discover it was normal variation, essentially a false positive. I feel very fortunate that the tests came back negative, but I now have some idea of what you mean by the shift you describe when the abstract awareness of death becomes real. During that time I appreciated things more, took more risks (in a good way), and it was a strangely positive experience that I am making every effort to carry with me. I sincerely hope that you overcome this challenge, and I’m happy to hear that the side effects of the treatments haven’t been too bad. You and Barbara are in my thoughts.

    • Hi Shaun,
      Thanks for your kind and caring thoughts. I am glad the Cariomyopathy was a false positive, but such encounters definitely shift our sense of being in the world in a more present way. I’m 3 weeks into the protocol, and so far, no side effects, so that’s hopeful. Be well, and thanks again.
      Peace,
      Bill

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