Terminal Illness and Death- Quality or Quantity, the Debate Goes On

What’s more important to You, Quality or Quantity of Life? How far do we want to go to prolong our lives?

What a complex life!! Amidst the web of relationships I am entwined in, I am caught in this strange cycle of life and death. Where birth brings in joy death sure does bring sorrow.  But strangely, in my 36 odd years of existence, I have learnt that not always must death bring in sorrow. I have had situations in life when the death of my loved one has brought in an altogether different feeling. It is that unique feeling of relief and sadness mixed together.  At such times, you seldom shed those tears of sorrow, but give a sigh of relief instead, thanking God that the life has come to an end. Strange isn’t it, but I have experienced this weird feeling twice in my life.

Appa’s last few years were a fierce battle- with cancer. And it was not only his, it was all of ours. Metastatic colo-rectal cancer has a poor prognosis with only 5% of the cases crossing the five year mark, post diagnosis. I still remember the doctor telling me this. Yet, we decided to go ahead with the fight. Despite the multiple surgeries, and numerous rounds of Chemotherapy, Appa didn’t make it to the five year mark. Amma and I still ponder over the fact whether it really was worth fighting such an aggressive form of cancer, ‘cause despite the treatment prolonging his life by a year or so, it did reduce the quality of his life drastically, and also burnt a big hole in Amma and Appa’s savings. A healthy Appa was reduced to a mere frame.

I still remember the last day of his life. As the body began the process of shutting down, I sat by his side rubbing his palm that was turning cold by the minute. The cancer had spread through his body and the pain it caused is indescribable. As I sat there that night, I said those silent prayers hoping those few traces of life would leave his body soon. Every minute of pain, seemed to be a lifetime. And finally after more than twelve hours of moaning in pain, Appa slipped away slowly.

I was glad his life ended!!!!

My Paati was the kindest souls in my life. I still remember my childhood days spent in her lovely little home in Chennai. The kitchen would be stocked up with the most yummy savories and sweets and every meal would be a surprise.  She did belong to a generation that was far healthier. No wonder Paati outlived many family members who were younger than her, finally closing her eyes at the age of 97. Despite having lived a contended life, her last few months were spent simply lying on the bed. Unable to move, due to a stroke, she would have pipes to feed her and an attender who would take care of the body and its needs. It seemed to be a mere existence as Paati slowly failed to recognize any of us. It was a painful sight to see the woman who taught me so much, to be motionless. For some strange reason, her life clung on to her body, refusing to let go. Unable to see her that way, I would secretly pray the ordeal ended. And finally when it did, I gave a sigh of relief!!

Advancements in modern medicine present us with opportunities to live longer lives and keep life threatening diseases at a chronic stage for longer periods of time. But is it worth being kept alive in this way? Just how far do we want to go to prolong our lives?

It’s truly tough determining this, because there is no one right solution. The process of knowing what you want may take time and deep reflection as well as conversations with your loved ones. Of course we all want our loved ones to live for eternity, but prolonging life and living life are two totally different things.

Isn’t quality of life more important than quantity???

27 comments

  1. I lost my mother to cancer, and in her case the disease couldn’t be diagnosed until it was quite late. But the 8 months that she lived after the diagnosis were a period I learned so much from her about the will to live with strength, the immense inner courage she had to face hardship, even impending death, the tremendous strength it takes to truly forgive, and most importantly to gracefully surrender to all that is beyond one’s control. Her death became a big lesson for me, in many ways, just as her life had been. So I am truly with you about this idea of quality of life, and will add that there is something about quality of death as well which can be transformative for the loved ones of the departed soul.

    1. I can understand what you must have gone through Beloo. Such moments are indeed a lesson in life. They teach you to delve deeper into your thoughts and get a clear understanding of what life really is about.

  2. I cannot even imagine the ordeal… To see your dearest ones suffer like this… I too agree that quality of life matters… I would never wish this pain to anyone specially when they are towards the end of their lives. It’s better to go quickly… This is one reason that makes me fear old age… Being dependent on others for even the basic necessities. Thank you for sharing your pain and raising this question.

    1. Yes Rajlakshmi the pain of old age couple with an ailment is a deadly combination. It sure is better to go quickly. Thats why the quality of life is better than quantity.

  3. It must have been so difficult for you to watch both your dad and grandma suffer. I saw a couple of relatives that way and I honestly pray that when my time comes, I go quickly and painlessly. I don’t want you family to suffer. Hope I can feel the same way when I come to that bridge.

    1. Yes indeed Shailaja. Wish we all just have those peaceful deaths with no pain and suffering. I hope so and pray for the same too…

  4. Always hard to watch loved ones suffer. There is no good or bad way to go. But I hope that we live life well and when it’s time to go, we have a dignified death.

    1. We all crave for that dignified death Suzy. But life has its own way and sometimes, it isnt that easy on the person as well as his loved ones around.

  5. such a difficult choice to make, while one part of us wants our loved one to stay with us forever, but to see them suffer indefinitely is more painful than letting them go. We were faced with a similar ordeal just before my grandma passed away after a prolonged hospitalisation and I perfectly understand when you say, you were glad your dad’s suffering ended.

    1. Thanks for sharing Shubangi. yes indeed these decisions are tough. But sometimes that the way life is.. Acceptance of it would be a wise thing to do I guess.

  6. I know what you mean. I have seen my dadi suffer and it broke me down. But then, God has his ways with things. Sometimes, we don’t know what but there are. So I can only hope that I leave the world in my sleep but we don’t know ever how it will be. Hugs.

    1. Thanks for the hugs Parul. Yup we all do wish we as well as our loved ones pass awa peacefully. But strange are the ways of God and the suffering is sometime inevitable.

  7. I’ve been through similar situations with both my grandmothers and my husband’s grandmother too. The latter touched 102, unbelievable no? But it is sheer trauma watching your loved ones, deteriorate day by day with nothing left of their former vibrant selves. We kept praying that these dear folks would pass on soon and without any more suffering. Old age without quality life is a double punishment, for the one undergoing and for the caretaker. Honestly, I believe I shall execute a will to the effect that, I would like to die naturally with no medication to save me, if ever I am diagnosed with a life-threatening condition! That’s how scared I am after seeing people battle such conditions. Poignant and thought-provoking piece Ramya. Really sad you had to go through such difficult times with your appa. Love and hugs.

    1. WOW 102……. But agree its tough to see them deteriorate each day…. Best one passes away in their sleep without being a burden to anybody.

  8. It is very difficult to see your loved one suffer in front of your eyes, I can understand how much you must have gone through. I have seen a friend go through such a situation and heard her cry everyday no able to believe her father go through the pain. She wished his soul would find a way to get out of his body soon. That is one stage of life I can never forget, it was in fact a moment of realization to me too.

    Menaka Bharathi has recently published http://simpleindianmom.in/interior-designing-for-stay-at-home-moms/

    1. Thanks for your words Menaka. It indeed is a tough moment and thats why I emphasise that its always quality over quantity

  9. Can relate to this post so deeply. I have lived every moment that you said with my own dad. His aggressive tumor got him bed ridden before we could realize anything. Till date its an ongoing battle between my heart and head as to whether quality/quantity is important. I wanted my dad to live a lot more. I have also felt guilty of praying for the ordeal to end. Seeing my ever energetic dad in such a sorry state broke me. That helplessness….I would never want anybody to be in those shoes. Hugs to you.

    1. OH I can understand SHini what you must have gone through.. Its a tough time in anyone’s life. Cancer sure does riddle you with pain and agony.

  10. As a doctor, I see many patients who present to us with end stage disease, to salvage them, one might have to resort to complicated surgeries or chemoradiation, which distrasously pushes the patient down the abyss, even when they are offered a few more years of their life back. It is sad to see them striving to live, not being able to feed or move about properly, depending on ryles tube feeds and urinary catheters. Bed sores further complicate the issues at hand.
    You are brave to have faced such a distressing situation in your life, not once, but twice. I would vouch for quality any time, but then the hope of living another few years with your family wins over in the end for most of us.

    1. Thank you Maliny for your words. I agree with you despite the years it adds modern medicine does come with its share of difficulties..

  11. I’m sure it was not easy for you to write this. Cancer is a disease that kills the patient and everyone around them too in more ways than one. I have seen someone struggle closely and the pain is unbearable. Yes, death would be better in this case.

    It goes without saying that it is always the life you have added to your days that matter and not the days in your life. Live as long as you can. Just do not exist.

    1. Yes Soumya, I have taken two years to even muster up courage to write it. Thanks for your words … it feels nice when people understand the pain that lies within.

  12. I witnessed my mom-in-law slip away gradually after we shifted her to a hospital with lung infection. She had had a tough life, what with schizophrenia wreaking havoc with her entire system and her peace of mind. She was there was a mere two days, but the infection had begun spreading to all the other parts and she passed away peacefully. I was relieved for her; she had fought a battle with the mental illness, the side-effects of the meds very bravely. She indeed deserved as less suffering in her end as possible and that’s what she got.
    Quality of life is indeed more important than quantity. What is a body lying in a vegetative state going to get out of life?
    I can understand how you and your mother must have faced your father’s and grandmother’s end. It must have needed tremendous courage to see them suffer the way they did!

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