Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rog T's Cancer blog - Near Death Experiences (NDE) and coping with Cancer

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 49 years old and I recently had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the latest PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

Regular blog readers will know I usually set a different tone to the blog at weekends. I try and concentrate less on Barnet Council etc and more on the other issues. One of the questions I've been asked a lot recently, is how I'm coping with the psychological effects of being confronted with my own mortality. Strangely, that is the aspect that scares me least. I am scared stiff of having a prostateectomy and becoming incontinent, impotent and infertile (the fantastic 3 i's). Fortunately at the moment, this isn't on the cards. In the first four weeks of my diagnosis, this really scared me to death.
Death though?  Nope, not a worry. You may (or may not) find this strange.

I'd not really given it much thought, until I recently watched the film Hereafter, produced by Clint Eastwood. The proposition of the film is that people who have near death experiences (NDE) are radically changed by the process. Now whilst the film is a Hollywood representation of the issue, it caused me to give some deep thought to the issue and my views of life. I have had two experiences, which in their own way shaped my view to NDE's and the process of dying. The first happened when I was 12. I was staying with my sister in Northampton. We were at the park and I took my nephew who was 2 or three on a swing. He was sitting on my knee and we were happily playing.

The next thing I was conscious of was standing at the edge of the park, with two old friends, watching a commotion. We were chatting away and I said "what's happened". They said "Someone's fallen off a swing". People were running over and it all looked rather worrying. I asked "Who is it". One of them replied "You". Now this experience seemed to last a very long time. As the friend said "You", I was back, lying on the floor, in a state of utter confusion. I tried to explain what happened, but no one seemed particularly interested. They said "You weren't even knocked out, you sat straight up and the swing nearly hit you on the head". The thing was, I saw the whole thing and as I looked at the people who rushed over, I noticed details about them I'd observed from afar. I just consigned the episode to the dustbin of memory for a long time. The second time was in 1988, when I was run over in Burnt Oak by a speeding driver. When I realised that a car was about to hit me, in approx 2 seconds, time itself slowed down. I had a sudden realisation that it was very likely I would die. I entered a dream like state and realised that I was actually reasonably happy with the prospect. I realised I'd soon be seeing my father, who'd died the previous year. I realised that there were things I wanted to do, but it was probably too late, I'd missed the opportunity, but that was alright.

Again this state seemed to last forever, but suddenly, probably a quarter of a second later, my strong survival instinct kicked in. I couldn't prevent the car from hitting me, but maybe I could minimise  the damage. I decided to see if I could jump high enough so that the bonnet wouldn't hit me. I figured that as the car was braking and the windscreen would shatter when I went through it, this would be a better option than the hard metal of the bonnet. Sad;y for me, the plan only partially worked, the bonnet hit my leg, but my upward tragectory took me over the bonnet, through the windscreen, over the top of the car and onto the floor. Despite the pain, which was more severe than anything I'd ever felt, I knew I was OK. Despite a broken fibula, a fracture on the L2 vertibrae, a broken little finger and a massive bruise on my thigh, I got up and got someone to drive me to hospital.

Thinking about the two instances has convinced me that the process of dying is nothing to be scared of. My sister is a hospice nurse in the USA. I asked he about dying and she tells me that it is strange because spiritual people have spiritual deaths and people who are not spiritual don't. She also had a classic NDE when she fell off a bike in 1982. Her one was very vivid and she says it had a massive on her. What interests me in the issue is for all cultural differences across the planet, people who have reported NDE's report very similar experiences. I discussed this recently with a surgeon, who told me that out of curiosity he'd hidden something in the operating theatre, in a position where only someone floating above the person on the slab could see it. He tells me that more often than not, people reporting NDE's during surgery will tell him they saw it. He's not a religious man, he tells me that originally he planted it to demonstrate to patients that they'd imagined the experience. Whilst he is unconvinced as to what happens, he is open to the idea that there is an unexplained element to what he has seen.

I'm not particularly looking to start a debate about whether NDE's are more than flights of the imagination. Like many such things, I doubt that people with entrenched viewpoints will be swayed. I raised the issue, purely to let you know how it has helped me deal with the situation I find myself encountering. I discussed this with an atheist friend who finds all such talk highly irritating and cannot understand how anyone could possibly believe such bunkum. I asked him about what the surgeon said. His repsonse "I don't believe it, he was probably winding you up". I sometimes find it a little strange that Atheists are just as quick as believers to dismiss inconvenient evidence which doesn't fit their world view. I'm open to any rational explanation, but this has to explain such anomalies. In my opinion to ignore or dismiss them is as unscientific as claiming that the book of genesis is a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the earth.

The one thing I do believe is that for anyone suffering from a potentially life threatening condition, some understanding and acceptance of the process of death can only be a good thing.

On that cheerful note, I'll wish you a nice weekend.

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