There is a party game wherein one is asked a question beginning with “Would you rather….?” The person asking the question will pose two options, generally on the farthest of each side of the choice spectrum or perhaps posing two unwanted choices. For example:
· “Would you rather ride bareback on a beach in Cancun or do 5 laps around an Indy Car track?”
· “Would you rather be the tallest person in the world or the shortest?”
· “Would you rather live without sight or without sound?” (an example of two unwanted choices)
The person being asked the question will share his response and his reasoning as to why he thinks it better to be “taller” or “shorter.” Others then chime in with comments or with their preferences and reasoning. It’s a fun way to get to know others and often provides insight into how people see their world, both in the question itself and the answer. At the very least, it’s good for a few laughs.
One of the questions invariably asked in such a game is, “Would you rather know the timeframe of your death, having time to prepare yourself and loved ones, but know it is looming…or…would you rather death come quickly and with no notice, no time to prepare, and no foreknowledge that it is coming?”
It’s tough question, to be sure, but whenever asked that question, my answer has always been, “I would rather know.”
People with late stage cancers, with recurrent and incurable cancers, face questions like these every day. Whether posed by our medical teams, by caregivers or self-imposed, they are serious and difficult questions. Answers require introspection, deep and authentic discussions with loved ones, a willingness to go to the core of your being and to assess your life’s goals and purpose. Answers to these Would You Rather questions have real impact on the length and quality of life.
· Would you rather die at home or in Hospice/Hospital?
· Would you rather have high levels of pain and full clarity and presence or would you rather have no pain with limited clarity and presence?
· Would you rather take treatment and be “less than” yourself, sick and experiencing side effects for months if it buys you extra time at the end or would you rather skip treatment, die sooner but be healthier and more present for a longer period in the near term?
Leaning into a recurrence, which ensures my cancer is terminal, I now have a very important, “would you rather…” to consider. Do I take treatment now – and risk ill health in the short term (and in a pandemic), risk being “less than” I am today due to the side effects of treatment, risk living the rest of my life in a slow decline of capabilities and energy … or do I postpone/deny treatment and live as long as possible in my current state only to face a more sudden and steep decline when the time is near?
I’d rather not have to make that decision at all and yet I must. Fortunately I’ve played this game with myself over and over these past few years while anticipating a recurrence and have a sense of what I will do. When the decision is made, I’ll let you know.