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End Of Life Advice

Who is your first appointment with tomorrow morning?

What if it was with an End Of Life Counsellor?

“I had such an appointment when I was 22 years old,” said a young man to me. “I was diagnosed with cancer on my 15th birthday, I fought for many years but it didn’t look likely I would survive, so an appointment was fixed for me.”

Now an end of  life counsellor isn’t exactly what you think it is. Yes, he or she gives you counseling on how to deal with your terminal illness but there is a lot of practical instruction — about writing your will, finalising your taxes, nominating people for your bank accounts, and even planning your own funeral or last rites.

Can you imagine the challenge of such planning?
Can anything you have to face come anywhere near this?

I think I’d first explain how I came to have an honest heart-to-heart chat with six cancer fighters.

I have a new client. Let’s just call him the Doc. The Doc is putting up a new cancer treatment centre called HOPE — Holistic Oncological Patient Empathy — and we’re helping him with the communication. It’s going to be a different kind of centre. Along with chemotherapy, there is counselling, yoga, meditation and even dance therapy.

“The key” he says, “is to make patients feel like normal human beings. They get treated so oddly and weirdly by people that it shakes them up and makes them feel strange. The more human they feel the more chance they have of winning the mental battle. They need support and honesty, instead they get ‘oh dear’ sympathy and ostracism.

(Makes you wonder where the real cancer actually is!)

To cut a long story short Doc wanted me to sit with some of his patients to find out what it actually felt like. So there was a 65-year-old guy with a cap, a 60-year-old lady in a colourful kurta, a 30-year-old media chap with a crew cut and this 25-year-old chap who was telling his story — all with different kinds of cancer.

(Yup, cancer is not picky about ages or professions — anyone will do)

The young guy told me, ‘whatever you do, you can’t win with people.’ If you don’t perform well they say ‘poor chap he has cancer’ and if  you excel (he had been a class topper) they say  ‘oh he got a promotion because the boss took pity on him!’

We discussed a lot of stuff. Chemotherapy (the side effects kick in three days later), self-help books (one of them swore by The  Secret) and Surviving. Someone served cheese toast type things and the conversation continued.

So what were the learnings of this life and death chat?

1. Don’t feel sorry for yourself till you know what others are facing.
2. The most important thing in life isn’t food or water — it’s hope.
3. If you could actually make your mind listen to you, you wouldn’t need self-help books.
4. When you eat too many cheese toasties you burp.
5. Live life a day at a time. Even better an hour at a time.
6. There is nothing more important than family (tell your mom you love her right now).
7. Everybody is facing their own demons. They’re just pretending to look normal.
So I don’t know what challenges you have coming up. Or what mountains you have to climb. But tell me what appointment you have first thing in the morning tomorrow?If  it’s not with the End Of  Life Counsellor then consider yourself fortunate.

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