Death Wish

Did you ever fly to Japan? I traveled there frequently on business for a couple of years. I would board the plane, chat with my seat-mate, eat a meal, and watch two movies. Then I was ready for the flight to be over. But no, I still had five more hours to Tokyo! That's what my life feels like to me now: I'm ready to be at the end of my journey, but I may have fifty wearying years left to go.

Wait, don't worry, this is not a suicide note. There are circumstances under which I might hasten my death, as you will see if you keep reading. But not now; not today or tomorrow. Nevertheless, this is an essay about death, about how I feel about my own death. And I do want do die.

I've written about death before, and about how I'm very comfortable with death. My own mother's death a little over a year ago barely ruffled my emotional feathers. But internally, I questioned the validity of my feelings. How could I know how I would really respond when my own death came calling?

My death did come calling, and now I know. I want to die.

It was five weeks ago that death knocked on my door, and it was not very dramatic. There was the chronic sore throat, eventually the biopsy, and then the doctor saying, “It's a moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma of the right pharynx.” “OK,” I calmly replied. “What can you tell me about it?” I wasn't surprised, because I knew what it meant when the voice on the phone said, “The doctor needs to see you today.” Besides, my mom had just died of cancer, my dad had cancer, and my sister had recently finished a devastating course of chemotherapy. I was expecting it. Maybe not quite this soon, but I was expecting it nonetheless.

When they had me before the Stanford Tumor Board three days later, the gravity of my situation began to sink in. Waiting two weeks for MRI, PET, and CAT scan results began to get on my nerves. That's when I found myself starting to question the assumption everybody made that “good” results meant they wouldn't find any more cancer. That's when I realized I want to die. To me, good results would be my body so riddled with cancer, treatment would be useless. Send me to hospice, I'll be dead in six months. Exactly the way it had gone for my mom.

It's not that I'm unhappy. My life right now is working the best it has in my whole adult life. I just feel like I've had enough life, and I'm ready to move on. There don't seem to be any high highs or low lows for me in life anymore, just the day-to-day grind, and it's pain in the ass. When death came a callin', I had a wiff of the end of it all. Like when you leave a job, and you get to say goodbye to all those responsibilities, projects, and meetings. Just think, no more cooking meals, bushing teeth, picking out something to wear. No need to take care of the house, the car, the garden. No more fuss over holidays, planning vacations, or remembering birthdays. Geez, it smelled sweet to me.

To get back to the exciting narrative, the results from the scans came back, and I was very disappointed. I was clean as a whistle, except possibly for one lymph node in my neck. We did a quick needle biopsy on that, and it came out clean as well. Truly, I was not relieved; I was disappointed. Not devastated, but I felt like a kid who was wishing for a Barbie for Christmas, and Christmas came and went with no Barbie in sight. What a letdown.

However, I didn't tell you the whole story about how it went for my mom. Actually, she first had colon cancer. She underwent surgery, and they “got it all.” No cancer in the lymph nodes. Clean margins around the tumor. No need for chemo or radiation. Then, a year and a half later, the fatal relapse.

So that's my hope now, to be exactly like my mom. Clean surgery now, fatal relapse in a year and a half. Isn't that horrible? I'm sorry, but that's how I feel.

Except, I won't go out exactly like my mom. She struggled for every last pitiful breadth, and died a suffering mess. Me, I plan to take an early retirement plan when things start getting bad, thank you very much. (This is the only circumstance under which I can see myself taking a hand in my own my death.) No one can think the worse of me for that, can they? Not that I care what anyone thinks about it.

What do I think will happen to me after I die? I see four possibilities, which I list in order from most likely to least.

  1. Nothing. When I'm gone, Jack, I'm gone.
  2. My consciousness merges into the universal consciousness. It's the same result as #1, as far as my Lannie-ego self goes, I suppose.
  3. I reincarnate.
  4. My ego self continues to have consciousness on some other plane—I'm a ghost or a spirit, perhaps.

How do I feel about these possibilities? As far as the first two go, c'est la vie, no regrets from me. Lannie Rose has done her thing, and I'm ready to go.

If I reincarnate, that's OK. I'm ready to try this life again in a different form, if I have to. I had a challenging hand dealt to me this time this time around: transsexual, alcoholic, clinical depression, cancer—plus, fortunately, an ace of hearts (all the many good things in my life). I've played it as best I can. Now I'm ready to throw it in and take a new deal.

If my ego self continues on some other plane, I believe—and I mean that in the truest sense of not having any evidence but just a feeling—that whatever comes next is peaceful and wonderful. But there is nothing I can do about it or even know about it one way or the other. So bring it on, whatever it is!

People don't understand about suicide at all. Oh, maybe for some unfortunates, it's about depression and despair. But I'll bet we'd all be surprised if we could learn how many are truly about boredom. Few people seem to understand why I want to die, but for the life of me, I can't understand why most people want to live.

Maybe what I really lack is a sense of purpose in life. In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl identified three sources of meaning in a person's life: love, creativity, and just to show the bastards—to turn tragedy into triumph. I have love in my life, thank goodness, in family, friends, my Misha, and even my cat. But love doesn't really bring me joy, it brings me succor; it makes life bearable. (A lot like alcohol used to do for me, in my friendless, drinking days.) I've dabbled with creativity, with my books, Web site, and podcasts, but I think I've milked the content of my life pretty much dry at this point. (I wish I could write fiction, but I just can't make shit up.) I also had my grand creative project of changing my sex, which is the best thing I ever did for myself, and maybe for others, as well. I only wish I'd done it sooner. But that project is complete. I suppose I'll continue to dabble creatively, but it's not a source of strength to make me want to keep living. And as to showing the bastards, I really don't feel any urge to prove anything to anyone.

But what about the suffering my death will cause my loved ones? I'm sorry for it, but hey, I'm going to die eventually. They'll get over it. Except for my poor Misha—my one reason to keep living right now. My Misha needs me. It doesn't matter, though. It's in God's hands, as some would say. Or others might prefer: what's gonna happen is gonna happen. I'm not going to kill myself; but cancer may. Frankly, I expect to live a long and happy life, and I plan to act on that assumption. I fully accept whatever path my higher power puts in front of me.

I go in for surgery tomorrow. Wish me luck! (Dying on the operating table would be a great stroke of luck, it seems to me.) My only dread is that they find the cancer has spread to a few lymph nodes. Then they'll want me to do radiation and chemotherapy. Then, I have a really tough decision to make. Death on my left shoulder, suffering on my right. Which direction will I turn?

This is the hardest thing I've ever published. Not that it's difficult for me to write or think about, only that I know reading it will hurt many people who I know and love. But if my life is about anything, it's about sharing what I truly feel, with the belief that others must feel the same way. It helps so much to know we're not alone, and so I put this out there.

My seat and tray table are locked in the upright position and I am ready to land. If the plane is crashing, well, I'll try to parachute out while there is still enough altitude for a soft landing. In any case, I do hope the end of my journey is near.

Lannie Rose
July 15, 2008

Update: My surgergy came and went, and really went. The surgeon got a good look in my throat, decided it would be necessary to take half of my voice box and all of my voice, and opted to do nothing. So it came down to chemo and radiation for me. I'm going to do it, because the prognosis is very good of long term survival with almost full quality of life. Like I said, I'm not about to take my own life if it's not coming to an end anyway. Not just to avoid some painful treatments. And I'm hoping they don't turn out to be so bad after all. Hoping.