On Death -guest post

While some of you are trying to decide whether to read this Guest Post – the title may seem too grim, let me advise you that it was written last August.  The author is alive and well.  Nic is a battle-worn 23 year old Canadian who has beaten both AML (acute myelocytic leukemia) and ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia). He writes at an aptly-named blog Cancer: A Spiritual Journey.  This post, his meditation on dying, was written in a moment of preoccupation preceding a follow-up exam.  For most of us such thoughts are not only familiar but unavoidable.  It’s how we deal with it that makes the difference.  In his most recent entry, January 6, Nic writes “I am still here, just busy! Underwent a bone marrow transplant – just got discharged on saturday. It went really well and I have a great feeling about 2010!”

On Death

Life is a funny thing. I find that it likes to slap us around a little. I suppose that is what we get for taking it too seriously sometimes. Last Friday I was going in to the hospital to find out if my leukemia was in remission or not. Always a fun day. Physically I had felt pretty good for the previous week and I went into the hospital thinking everything was going to be fine.

After enduring the hospital waiting game, which at times can be worse than any disease, I got called in…Being eager as I was to find out how my counts were doing I looked at the sheet. Shit. Hemoglobin was lower than before. My first leukemia, AML, was the type that dropped your hemoglobin (red blood cells). The other counts looked good but my red blood cells, oh no!

The human brain jumps to the worst possible scenarios: “Oh god, AML is back, I am fucked.” and “This cancer is too aggressive, I will be dead in a year…” At the same time though, there was a strong feeling of calm or acceptance. I was afraid of death and I really didn’t want to die when I was going through AML  back in January. I pulled through that though and felt like I was given a second chance at life and I rebuilt my body with care and hard work JUST to find out that cancer was back again. I went through something big though. You see, when the same leukemia returns within a short period of time, it is very aggressive and wants you dead. In my grief and sadness I became comfortable with the idea of death. Then I found out it was a different cancer, a childhood form of cancer (ALL), that has an extremely high remission rate.

I like to believe that life, or the universe, or whatever god you might believe in, they all bring us things we need to grow. In my mind, we come as souls to this planet to learn and ultimately evolve. My mom used to refer to earth as a boarding school for souls. You come here to learn and leave when you are done or if you lose your way. And I find comfort in the belief that souls can return to this world as many times as it takes to achieve the learning. But I’m digressing…

Back to the hospital room – sitting there waiting for the doctor with these fearful thoughts running through my head and a little sadness around the idea of dying. Sadness yes, but not fear. I don’t like the idea of leaving so many good, amazing, and loving friends and family behind. Sure my troubles will be over when I die but what about everyone else? I went through hell when my mom died, it sucked! So a few minutes go by like this and then my doctor passes by and peeks at my blood counts as he’s going to another appointment. I laugh a nervous kind of “I’m fucked” laugh as he pauses. He then says “looks good” and moves on.

Waves of relief rush over me. All that worry, all those fearful thoughts of AML returning, having to go through the intense chemotherapy again and forever, doctors giving up because my disease is too aggressive, so many fearful thoughts all washed away. Ahh, I did it again. I fell into the trap. I forgot to trust!

You see, as I said, life likes to slap us around a little. Where there is potential for fear, one will usually experience it on very intense levels before it has even happened! Then, when it does happen, it is never as bad as you would have thought. In fact it is usually the opposite and you walk away from the experience with new insight or even joy. This is why it is so important to try and keep your mind in the present moment. I won’t go into all the reasons why, Eckhart Tolle writes volumes on it. Keeping your mind in the present helps you avoid so much anxiety, so much negative thinking. It helps you overcome fear.

Along with “being in the now” it is also important to take a non-judgmental attitude towards everything that happens. Try not to view things as bad or good. They are what they are. The “best” things in life can often lead to being considered the most disastrous and at the same time the most “horrible” things in life can become the most beautiful.*

Only 40% of A.L.L. patients survive passed 5 years. And A.L.L. has the highest rate out of all the blood cancers. It is quite possible that I will die in the next few years. Although death does not scare me anymore (it is the big unknown but everyone has to face it some time in their life) I do feel a great deal of grief around possibly leaving so early. In my belief, souls leave when they have learned what they need to learn from that lifetime, or if they have become too caught up in the illusion of life. A soul, especially a soul that has seen many lifetimes, that sets out what it wants to learn and then gets too distracted or scared to accomplish that goal while in a human body, will most likely leave and start again in another form. They are here for the human experience!

What we must always remember, what I must always remember, is that we are always safe. There is really nothing to be afraid of and all spiritual masters know this. Death to me is so unknown. Perhaps we are just purely biological, bunches of moving matter with big brains that one day will cease to move and breathe; lights out, finished. But that is a boring perspective. I prefer the view that in death we transform to our purest, highest evolved self, the soul – the light – the love, and that we return to our source of such warmth and joy as never experienced in a human body. There we can remain or we can choose again to re-enter the playground that is life and incarnate into a beautiful baby. Millions of souls always coming and going, always interacting with one another, bringing each other the experiences we need to grow, to learn, to love. This perspective feels right to me.

On a less morbid note I encourage everyone to always face their fears. Fear is a powerful force that can work against you and possibly leave you crippled but like everything else it is only there to help. Charge headlong into your fear and it will evaporate and leave you feeling so much better and more powerful than before. You will find new passion, ambition and joy for life and in return get a richer and fuller experience. Trust in life. We are always safe!

from: Cancer: A Spiritual Journey


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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