Saturday, 2 February 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Our views about the privileges and challenges of aging

"Do not try to live forever, you will not succeed.” *

How does a diagnosis of breast cancer impact on our views about the privileges and challenges of ageing?

This was the question we focused on in our weekly discussion. Life is a privilege, and one that is often not fully appreciated until it is threatened. When we are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease such as breast cancer, that privilege is brought into sharp focus. 

We are all women with a diagnosis of primary or secondary breast cancer. We are women of all ages and we have all faced our mortality as part of our illness, and our fears that our lives may be shortened by the disease are real. For women with secondary breast cancer, their perspective is shaped by the knowledge that their disease isn't curable, although treatments often halt its progress for many years. 

If life is defined by the spirit, a life well lived, then does the length of that life matter? Is living to 'a ripe old age' a valid goal, or a vain one? If we know someone who is dying, don't we want them to stay, to live, for as long as possible? Is it a trait of the human spirit, to want to live a long long life? If so, then why do some people choose to end their lives, by suicide or Dignitas? 

Our views on ageing were rich and varied, with some of us wanting to live as long and as well as possible, while others value quality over quantity. A life of no regrets, with no time wasted. Some of us throw ourselves into a busy life, with bucket lists and living each day as if it were our last. Others find this approach exhausting and strive for the peaceful and the ordinary. 

We talked about our elderly relatives, of illnesses in old age which may change people, such as dementia. Here, our views and feeling are shaped by our experiences. The suffering we see, the loss of control, and the challenges of living with reducing abilities and having the resources to adjust have parallels with our experience of cancer. 

Some are preoccupied by their worry they are a burden to others, the human spirit does appear to cling on to life, through dementia, immobility, pain. If we have cared for elderly relatives who have been unwell (and for those in the caring professions who work with the elderly), we are confronted with these challenges and their impact on our own values and our feelings about cancer come rising to the fore - we may decide that growing old and becoming dependent on others isn't something we want. When quality of life is poor, how do we find pleasures? Does there come a time when decline leads to a desire for life to be over? We may witness frustration, and fear being old and infirm. However we can try to cast this aside and focus on living every day as best we can and being happy. 

We feel that breast cancer ages us, in that our physical and cognitive capability may be reduced following treatment, at any age. Harsh treatment regimes leave us depleted and adjustment is difficult. For those of us with secondary breast cancer our treatments are ongoing and can be debilitating. We may feel old before our time, which may limit our options, restrict our choices. 

Some of us feel that our diagnosis gave us a second chance, we've reassessed our priorities and our values. Compassion and kindness lead to contentment for many. For others, death feels closer because of our diagnosis, we no longer feel the invincibility of healthy youth, death is no longer abstract. Some of us make wills, plan funerals, declutter and tidy up. We want to be ready. Many of us celebrate life with rituals to mark the passing years, perhaps with lavish family gatherings and big birthday parties, while others let birthdays slip by quietly. 

We talked about our faith and the different ways of coming to accept our suffering, our mortality, our reason to be on the earth and how living in the moment might help us. 

We want to get our vitality back and be the best we can be, without counting numbers. We can't control what happens to us, only how we respond. 

Whatever our views, appreciating our lives was a key theme, whatever age, with many citing simple joys and everyday pleasures as being of huge importance, alongside gratitude. 

*George Bernard Shaw

If you are a woman with a breast cancer diagnosis living in the UK, and you would like to join our private group, please send us a private message via Facebook. 

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