For those who are wondering how my Mum is doing (or, indeed, what I’m doing in Sydney unannounced and at such short notice):
Mum has been quite unwell for some time and there’s been enormous difficulty in getting a diagnosis. She finally has a clear – if terribly sad – diagnosis: small-cell lung cancer, stage IV (terminal), metastasised into her bones and probably her liver. She’s just started on “palliative chemotherapy” which turns out not to be a contradiction in terms: it’s the use of chemotherapy drugs at a low dose to improve her quality of life for most of the time that she has left (the cancer will win eventually, but this treatment can often replace a long slow decline with a period of stability followed by a very rapid decline). It’s too soon to predict how long she has. After great distress on several evenings last week, discussions are becoming more philosophical: reflecting on what’s gone well in her life and on some of what hasn’t. This is also leaving all of us (my father, brother and myself) in a somewhat better state of mind.
I’ve been receiving a flood of well wishes and offers of support all week as friends and colleagues have become aware of the situation, most of which I’ve not yet managed to acknowledge but it has made the week’s burdens far more bearable: during one particularly difficult discussion with an oncology nurse she thought to ask whether I had any support, I suddenly realised that I had far more than I could possibly draw on. Thank you so much to everyone who has called or written, it’s made a huge difference, I really do appreciate it and will strive to acknowledge each note individually soon.
In the meantime, if reflecting on this situation is enough to inspire you to action then I’d like to offer two small but profoundly important things for you to think about (and, hopefully, act on!):
- Make sure you have arrangements in place to deal with the possibility of your loss of mental capacity (e.g. by injury or disease) while you are still alive. You really don’t want to inflict this stuff on your close relatives when you’re already in critical condition. The relevant instruments are frequently separated into two types – one medical and one financial – are called things like living wills, assignments of medical agents, enduring guardianships, lasting or enduring powers of attorney, etc. In NSW the two documents have forms defined by legislation and can be completed in a few minutes in front of a lawyer. They can be revoked or changed at any time and should probably be reviewed annually along with your will if you have one. I’ll be completing these for myself shortly and will be gently badgering my close relatives to do likewise over the next few weeks.
- Give serious thought to blood and organ donorship. You’ll never know whose life you improve, but you’ll make an enormous difference to someone. The change in Mum’s condition that a single unit of blood brought about was astonishing. When I held a NSW driver’s license I always ticked the “everything” box in the organ donor section and will be looking to complete the voluntary paperwork in Singapore shortly. I’ve never given blood, but this is something that I’ll also be reconsidering over the next few weeks.
These two things are relevant for essentially anyone who is over 18 years old, has any living relatives and isn’t suffering an incurable disease. While they can’t be completed today, they can probably be completed this month. I really hope that you will.