Mr. Smith in Fantasyland

Fairy KingdomThe breast cancer blogosphere has been abuzz with responses to a blog at the BMJ  (formerly British Medical Journal) by Richard Smith: “Dying of cancer is the best death”. According to Wikipedia Smith, a former editor of BMJ, is “a medical doctor, editor and businessman”.

There is a lot of silliness in this article. For example, he contrasts dying of cancer to dying of organ failure, which, he says, “will have you far too much in hospital and in the hands of doctors.” As opposed to cancer?

His last two paragraphs are the silliest, especially the part where he calls for an end to “wasting billions” on searching for a cure.

So death from cancer is the best, the closest to the death that Buñuel wanted and had. You can say goodbye, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare, according to your beliefs, to meet your maker or enjoy eternal oblivion.

This is, I recognise, a romantic view of dying, but it is achievable with love, morphine, and whisky. But stay away from overambitious oncologists, and let’s stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer, potentially leaving us to die a much more horrible death.

The most charitable assumption I can make is that Smith has spent more of his life as an editor and a businessman than as a medical doctor. I find it difficult to believe that he has ever seen a person dying of cancer in their last months and weeks. I find his argument so silly, in fact, that I don’t feel like discussing it point by point. Instead, I’d like to share a bit about how dying from cancer feels to me by linking to some older posts.

On Standby

I began to think about that boarding pass, and realized it isn’t the best analogy. You only receive a boarding pass after your flight is reserved and your seat is confirmed. The time and the date are set.

That’s not the case for us metsers. We know we’re going, we know the flight, but we don’t know the day and time. We’re on standby, waiting to find out exactly which flight is ours.

Dead Woman Walking

My life has become small, limited. I am usually not depressed, but the way I live might look like depression because of the fatigue, the side effects of pain medication and the very limited scope of my activities. My life today is so far from the active life I once led. Barely recognizable, in fact.

It’s not death, it’s the dying.

I’m fine with dying. I have very strong beliefs and death doesn’t frighten me. I’m even looking forward to “seeing” some dearly loved people who have died before me. But that whole “dying” thing – the weeks (months?) before death? No. Do not want.

There are more; just put the word “death” into the search box in the right sidebar. Spoiler alert: you won’t find “love, morphine and whiskey” in there at all.

Image Copyright: dazdraperma / 123RF Stock Photo

22 Responses

  1. Julie Frayn says:

    I read his blog and by the end, all I saw was read. He is an idiot. I withheld the F word since it’s your blog, not mine :). Seriously, cancer is romantic? Morphine and whisky? Love is nice but doesn’t kill pain. And what of all those who suffer alone? Argh, I just can’t even think about him any longer…. He’s an effing idiot.

    • Julie Frayn says:

      would you believe all I saw was RED? 🙂

    • Knot Telling says:

      “Red”, got it. 😉

      I’ve been trying and trying to work out why on earth he wrote that. Was he trying to be frivolous? Lighthearted? I spent some time trying to work it out, but I keep hitting the wall. It’s probably not worth that much of my time.

  2. Kelly Delaney says:

    Although he makes a couple of good points overall he is off mark. There is nothing good about dying from Cancer. I would like to know if someone he cares deeply about has.

  3. JSM says:

    Thank you for your reasoned approach to this. It is helpful to see an acknowledgement that this foolishness is out there and also see you take the power away from it. No need (or desire) to “prove him wrong.” His is clearly an ignorant view. No need to honor it with an impassioned response. If he is open to life, then some day he will feel how wrong he is. Until then, he’s an idiot.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you, JSM. Thanks very much for your words. It’s hard to take the power away from something that hurt me so much, but it was good.

  4. Diane says:

    Controversy sells, and writers need to pull in the readers, what better way to do it. Look at us criticizing it which means the article and headline is capturing attention. Why should he care if he is right or not.

    • Knot Telling says:

      But Diane, it was in a really old and well-known peer-reviewed medical journal. It’s not like he’s hawking The National Enquirer.

      Actually, at first I wasn’t going to write about it. (That’s why I’m chiming in after all the other bc bloggers.) But in the end I found that it upset me too much not to address.

  5. ren chant says:

    yeah, the best death for the PHARMA companies. personally, i’m not sold on it.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sorry, Ren, I don’t understand your comment. Actually, he is against research for a cancer cure and against lots of treatment. He thinks people should just go ahead and have a “good death” from cancer.

  6. Beth Gainer says:

    Wonderful response to Smith’s idiotic argument, and I use the word “argument” loosely. He has no idea what life or death means.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thanks very much, Beth.

      You know, he is a couple of years older than I, but I would have expected to read this kind of thing from a much, much younger person.

  7. Maxine D says:

    I saw the headline and went no further …….. what a load of tripe!! (That is as good as a swear word for me – apologies to those who love tripe) Love. morphine and whiskey – he wouldn’t have a coherent thought in his mind – maybe that is what he lives off and is what is behind his so called reasoning.
    Blessings and prayers

    • Knot Telling says:

      Wow, Maxine – good thing you didn’t read further! I’ve never seen you so worked up! 😉

  8. Knot, I tried to stay away from this, mostly because as usual, I had a different take than everyone else, but since you seem to be sincere in wanting to know where the guy was coming from (as opposed to just angry), I’ll give you my take. No, I certainly don’t feel the way he does on certain things. I’m so grateful my mother died unexpectedly and without much pain, but when my friend Maxwell recently died (Stage 4 lung cancer), I had the privilege of sitting by his death bed 2 days before he passed away. Maxwell did not have insurance. He’d been treated before with surgery and chemo, from which he suffered terribly. He came through and went into remission. He recuperated, enjoyed life and did things like any healthy person, until the cancer came out of lurkdom and was spread throughout his body. His clue? Numbness along his right side. They gave him radiation and steroids. He reacted horribly to both, even losing his voice since the radiation involved his throat. But they basically told him they couldn’t do anything more for him (no insurance, so no incentive at the County hospital). His biggest frustration was speaking only in a whisper (the treatment, not the cancer), but he was at peace and not in pain. Two days before, he slept a lot, going in and out of consciousness, but he wasn’t suffering. He passed peacefully. I had the peculiar thought that cancer wasn’t such a bad way to die after all. It took my fear out of any possible recurrence. I also think of my friend who died last year and was on chemotherapy. It didn’t seem to extend his life, perhaps a few months at best, and the quality of life was severely diminished from chemo. In my own case, I felt I had too much chemo, that it was overkill and to this day my health has been compromised as a result. So I came away from all these experiences thinking if we just leave some people alone and let cancer take its course, it’s not such a bad thing. I can’t explain it but Maxwell looked so beautiful on his death bed. I couldn’t stop staring. I think it was his beautiful soul coming to the forefront, getting ready to move on from its host. Thank you for letting me comment and share. Perhaps it sheds some light, at least these are my own thoughts. Peace and love to you.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Eileen, I am always very happy to see different opinions here, especially when they are expressed in friendship. Thank you.

      I myself have not had treatment for years, so I’m not a “treatment at all costs” advocate. I think the difference between what you are saying and what he said, is that he wants to stop research into a cure and seems to be advocating wholesale non-treatment. I believe in choice.

  9. Elizabeth J. says:

    My cancer was extremely aggressive. And I am currently on treatment for my second metastatic recurrence. You can read on my comments on some other blogs about the differences between deaths of my grandmother, sent home with pain killers to die, and my mother, dying suddenly in her sleep in her 80s. So, I’ll just abbreviate it by saying I think going suddenly in old age beats a lingering death by cancer at 20 years younger anytime. And no one would have dared suggest whiskey, even for pain, to either one of those dear ladies.
    I too have a sure faith that this world is not the end, and fear the process of dying, but not death itself. However, for many of us, wanting to live has nothing to do with either being ready to see God or fear of pain.
    One of the biggest reasons this “Dr.” Smith is wrong, I held her in my arms yesterday. Six adorable pounds of pure joy, of reason to continue living. The other is her big brother who tries to extend my visits by demanding, “ga-ma no go.” My dreams are not places to visit or things to do, things I could accomplish in months. It is watching those two grow up. And for that, for all those who share similar dreams for their children or grandchildren, we need research for treatments and cures.

    • Knot Telling says:

      “[…] I think going suddenly in old age beats a lingering death by cancer at 20 years younger anytime.”

      You bet!

  1. 4 January, 2015

    […] Caroline Lee, Knot Telling, and Chelsey, all point out the flaw in Smith’s […]

  2. 4 January, 2015

    […] Mr Smith In Fantasyland […]

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