Two days after Senator John McCain announced he had a brain tumor, I underwent a biopsy to diagnose a new mass in my left leg and determine whether it is cancerous.
It is. It’s a big fat ugly tumor the size of a baseball.
I’m still in the dark about treatment. My oncologist has mentioned something about an experimental drug. Personally, I am leaning toward a drug that is non-experimental, one known to work.
When I know exactly what my options are, I will consider them with the knowledge that I am terminal. Nothing is going to save my life. That being the case, if my doctor’s plan is to subject me to an aggressive therapy that will make me sick and miserable, on top of the pain and misery I am already experiencing, further degrading the quality of my life, I am not sure that I am interested. If the treatment might save my life, I would think differently. But it’s just to keep me alive a while longer. My feeling is that quality of life is more important than longevity.
Needless to say, I hate all this. While it is tempting to bemoan my rotten fate, I have to look at this as an opportunity. It’s as if the gods of destiny, fate, karma, whatever you want to call them, decided that I am just too lazy these days to practice on my own accord so they figured to give me something really serious to practice about. They keep doing this and I wish they’d just leave me alone.
“With a good heart, compassion for others, whenever a problem arises, you experience it for others, on behalf of other sentient beings. If you experience happiness, you experience it for others. If you enjoy a luxury life, comfort, you dedicate it to others. And if you experience a problem, you experience it for others—for others to be free of problems and to have all happiness up to enlightenment, complete perfect peace and bliss. Wishing others to have all happiness, you experience problems on their behalf.”
– Lama Zopa Rinpoche, The Joy of Compassion
Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings were very instructive and encouraging to me a few years ago when I was preparing for a liver transplant. Based on Medicine Buddha practices, some of it steeped in Buddhist mysticism, much of it practical and empowering. He makes clear that healing begins and ends with our hearts and minds. He maintains that there is no healing without compassion, and indeed, compassion itself is an important source of healing.
“The best healer is someone with the realization of bodhicitta, the altruistic thought to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all living beings… Every single breath of someone with great compassion is medicine…”
What the immediate future holds I don’t know – but I have made a decision on the end. I do not want to die in a hospital, or here at home, I want to die in a Buddhist setting, in fellowship with other Buddhists. My thought is to conduct the end of my life as though it were a personal retreat. I’ve been looking into Buddhist hospices. Unfortunately, there are not many. I’ve only found three: Zen Hospice in San Francisco, Tara House at Land of Medicine Buddha, and Enso House in Washington state. If you know of any or if you are a Buddhist caregiver, please contact me.
In the meantime, may you be happy and at ease, and free from suffering.