Columns Jeffrey Weiss: My Way to the Egress Opinion

The latest news has challenged my life. What should I do now?

Sunset in Florida. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Kari Nousiainen

The sun sets in  Florida. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Kari Nousiainen

(RNS) — What should I do when the odds jump for a more rapid Egress? Does a quicker likelihood of my death push me emotionally or even spiritually where I have not been?

I was diagnosed with glioblastoma last December. Median survival for that brain cancer is about 15 months. Median recurrence is about seven months. This week, my eight-month MRI came back with bad news: Looks like a recurrence, with a tumor the size of a big grape.

My doc told me that I’m pretty much on the median. Which means I can’t hold onto any hope from my own data indicating I might push much beyond that.

On the other hand, I still feel pretty good. Aside from fatigue and some challenges coming up with words, I’m not in terrible shape. My doc tells me I should keep that standard for a couple of months, even if I find no treatment to try that beats the odds a bit. And GBM has data indicating that many patients keep relatively high quality of life until they come close to their Egresses.

So no kidding: It could be worse. It can get worse. What should I do now?

Last week, my wife and I visited Florida for six days. It was partly me being a tourist, but more important was what my wife had been considering. Once I’m gone, might she want to head back to her East Coast roots to an active senior community?

My native-New York wife not only felt connected to the culture back east, even after three decades in Texas, but she also liked thinking about the possibility of a mostly Jewish community.

I grew up in Florida and had a pretty good sense that the factors she held high could be found in some of the state. She decided to start in the Tampa area on the Gulf and then spent some time on the East Coast. My priority was to make sure she had the time to feel the flavor of the regions we visited. She succeeded. She will need to decide for herself once I’m gone, we agreed from the get-go. But she’s in far better shape to make that decision.

I had a bit of my own open set of priorities. I was born in Miami. And while I’ve lived in Texas for most of my adult life, I still felt an emotional attachment to where I grew up.

While we were in Florida, I swam in the ocean a couple of times. I ate seafood that had been swimming not long before cooking. And I wandered through some parks and shopping locations with a sense of coastal Florida. Not the busy and sophisticated Miami area but some less busy places; in particular, Palm Beach and Broward counties. Summer isn’t the most popular time for tourists, but I’d loved Florida summers when I was a kid and felt it last week.

And I found myself profoundly depressed during the trip. My internal identity was set without logic or language. When I spent time feeding my identity – Listening to the waves! Eating great bagels! Watching others walk by! – I painfully missed that I’d not visited in so many years. That I’d not lived there for so many decades.

My wife and I have traveled a few times since the cancer diagnosis to places that made me feel cheerful about a small adventure. But this trip? I decided that I would not return to south Florida unless I won the lottery and moved back ASAP.

That Florida visit was the week before the most recent MRI. And the newest news has me tangled up and challenged. Right now, I’m planning to see if I can boost my odds for a longer life, checking with a couple of the nation’s top hospitals that have some early or experimental treatments aimed at GBM.

Do I qualify? Do the treatments seem worth the possible downsides on my quality of life? That’s a decision I need to work on over the next couple of weeks.

But I am mortal. All of us are mortal. I was raised Jewish, studied lots of faiths as a religion-focused journalist, and have very few beliefs in what various religions say about what comes next. I do like some of the considerable vagueness in Jewish tradition.

Yes, Jewish traditional theology is focused on God. And on human souls. And on there being something that lasts beyond life. But unlike some other faiths, Jewish tradition includes lots of shrugs. What’s there that we will experience in the World To Come? Jews have some hopes but not much certainty.

I find that a bit comforting, even now. I hope, I hope, I hope something of me will learn something I can’t know now, once I get through the Egress. But who knows?

And now? I want to try to keep doing what I find worth doing for as long as I can. Maybe nudging my family, my friends, the world in directions that will make stuff a little better even after I’m gone. And I really do want to search my bucket list for the months or weeks my brain keeps working well enough.

Even writing a few more of these columns. Inshallah.

(Jeffrey Weiss writes the RNS column “My Way to the Egress.”  The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)

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Jeffrey Weiss

13 Comments

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  • https://twitter.com/drjasonfung/status/900506113015255041

    Prayer & fasting? Believe you need to do something different than what medical system offers. And what you have been doing. It seems you are in process of documenting your disease & death.

    Hezekiah’s Prayer & Healing https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+38&version=NIV

    Today’s Gospel https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+1:43-51

    Also today https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+49%3A1-33%3B&version=NIV

    Think it is possible to live, but has to be own immune system & faith in God’s will for you to live.

  • Thank you for sharing your stories. As a believer I could say some things that would sound really clique at this time, so l won’t you know what those words would be. So, more pictures of the dog please and smile as much as you ever have, you’ve connected with this reader. I hope that makes your life and your work with these words a little more worthwhile. Thank you again.

  • 9 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Deuteronomy+4.15-31&version=NIV

    Is medical system a form of idolatry? Medical medians. 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

    Hezekiah & Nathanael/Bartholomew passages both have “figs”. Sun “sign” eclipse? http://www.textweek.com/festivals/bartholomew.htm https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+38.7-8%2C21%2CJohn+1.48-51&version=NIV

  • Keep nudging, and you will make the world a better place. If you want to visit the east coast of Florida again, come visit us in New Smyrna Beach.

  • Why not leave the man to do what he feels is best for him and his own? Tossing series of verses out of context …not sure how that can sooth the the suffering of those who are of different faiths.

    “Believe you need to do something different than what medical system offers.” I’ve heard such words uttered before a preacher asks for “seed money” to receive a “cure” not available on earth.

  • Mr. Weiss, Thank you for your column. I am sorry for your diagnosis, and what you might be facing.

    The only thing I can offer you is a question: what would you be doing if you did not have this cancer diagnosis hanging over your head?

    I just turned 67. I’m very conscious that I am somewhere between the last 30 seconds and the last 30 years of my life. My determination has always been to enjoy my life just as much as I can, to love my friends and family as much as I can, to contribute to the world as much as I can. Now, I want to do the same, just more so.

    I learned a lot from reading the Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for meaning” nearly 50 years ago. He wrote something to the effect of “Without our will we are born into the world, and against our will, we leave it.” In the mean time, what are you going to do?

    I also learned a lot from the first three of carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan books over 40 years ago. Don Juan said you must always live your life by looking over your left shoulder to see your death standing there. He meant that being human, death always confronts us, and no matter how much you try to run away from it, it will still be there.

    So, do your best to enjoy your life and your family to the utmost of your ability.

  • I enjoy your thoughtful column! Please know that you have already nudged the world in a positive direction and made stuff a little better. Thank you for that. God bless you on your journey.

  • “Why not leave the man to do what he feels is best for him and his own? ”
    Because it doesn’t seem to be working, if he wants to be healed. Believe part of GBM is feeling that it is best to die.

    This verse is from Hebrew Scripture.

    “9 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. https://www.biblegateway.co

    Is medical system a form of idolatry? Medical medians. 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

    “Tossing series of verses out of context …not sure how that can sooth the the suffering of those who are of different faiths.”

    Believe we share faith in One True God who is author of Scriptures and all healing.

    From Hebrew Psalms https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalms+103&version=RSV

  • I would like to hear your ideas about Christopher Hitchens’ “Mortality.” Maybe a column?

    Kindest thoughts to you and your family.

  • You are inserting your own dogma into this man’s process of dying with dignity. Have you no shame? Why trot out a grocery list of verses and then expect them to be eaten in gratitude? Why do this to people who don’t believe as you do…and don’t wish to?
    I already know how my disease will kill me (it will not be gentle) and I’m not spending time staring at ancient manuscripts or begging an unseen deity to intervene.

  • It’s never easy to know for sure one is facing one’s own death. The diagnosis of cancer, especially cancers that have a high rate of the possibility of dying quickly, are the worse. I was diagnosed with double-duct pancreatic cancer three years ago and given a prognosis of maybe 15 months with surgery and 5-6 months without surgery. But no chance of a cure for sure, BUT GOD, said “you’re OK, I’ve got your back.” What did that even mean? I didn’t have a clue. I never took it that He was going to heal me. To me it meant, no matter what happens, you’ll be OK. So, as a long time Christian, my faith told me it was a win, win situation. I die, I win, and step into eternity with Jesus. I live, I win and stay a little longer with my family and friends. My cancer is in remission, no trace so far. Am I healed, maybe–there is no cure for pancreatic cancer, but I am OK.

    Just recently I read an article by John Piper called, “Don’t waste your cancer.” Best way for a Christian or anyone for that matter, who is facing death by cancer. I could have written it, because I followed many of his suggestions, when I faced some of the worse days of my life.

    God bless you, in making the decisions we all face at the end.

  • Just a small note: Mr. Weiss DID openly ask all his readers (it’s right there in the headline), “What should I do now?”

    Larry Valin is just giving his answer. Like all the rest of us, he was asked. (No offense to you, but some of us are okay with ancient manuscripts and an unseen Deity, regardless of the circumstances of our eventual demise.)

    Don’t know if I agree with Larry on everything, but he had the courage to mention the possibility (and the Hebrew Scriptures) about God and healing, which so far I have not had the courage to mention. So major kudos to Larry on that point.

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