Living with Mortality

Yesterday Joan and I joined Hospice of the Valley. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever faced. By doing so I affirm that my cancerous condition is terminal and that in all likelihood I will die within six months. I also agree that in the light of my poor reaction to radiation the likelihood of significant help from chemotherapy is dubious. So I have opted for community and care and quality of life.

It’s a strange time to join hospice because I feel better than I have in weeks. Finally I am coming out of the weakness created by the radiation. My energy is up; my appetite returned and I feel like a human being. I am hopeful hospice will assist me in developing a sensible exercise program and help me get back into normal living. I have graduated in the past three weeks from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. So my decision to join hospice grows out of my quest for strength, not weakness.

Most folks and their families turn to hospice in the last few weeks of life, when the crises are evident. It is unusual for one like me who is fairly healthy to come in so early. The norm is for families to hold off till the final crisis and are in the program less than a month. And I think I can understand why.

The hospice decision is so final! And it seems like giving up! It appears to operate at cross purposes to our prayers and the yearning of our souls. We cancer folks keep hoping for a medical breakthrough or an epiphany. It is hard to admit to oneself that such is unlikely to happen and spend our energy making the best life we can.

There is an orange notice that comes with all the sign-up papers. We filled it out and got a neighbor to witness our signatures. It goes on the refrigerator with a magnet and says in effect to paramedics, “no heroic deeds of resuscitation here.” Something about seeing that thing on the fridge got to both Joan and me. We held each other and wept for we are not ready for that sort of thing.

This morning I see the larger picture. Hospice is not about dying but about living, and it is here that I choose to focus my energy. I am hoping to discover resources to enhance my own meditation program, support groups and so forth. I am ready to develop inner resources that will strengthen my body and soul. There is no firm timetable when it comes to cancer.

My hope is to live until April 6. On that day I will be 70. As a boy I recall when my grandfather turned 70. He told me “three-score years and 10, that’s what the Bible says is a full life.” If I could make that I’d have no grounds for regret, would I?

But my real goal is to outlive the hospice rubrics. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be alive six months from now. And have Medicare bugging me on a lovely June day about overstaying my welcome in the program.


“Parson on the Loose” and regular Outlook columnist David Steele receives mail at 14021 N. Whispering Lake Dr., Sun City, AZ 85351-2329 or e-mail at