During the parliamentary debate on assisted suicide in Victoria last year, I felt compelled to write a letter to the politician’s involved outlining some concerns I have about the concept. The letter drew on my experience as both a doctor, and a patient with an incurable cancer, and while my concerns had been present for quote a while, they had crystallised some what since my melanoma diagnosis. A heavily edited version of this letter was subsequently published online by The Gospel Coalition, and it can be found here. However, I thought some might be interested in reading the unabridged version, so I’ve included the text of the letter below. You can also download it as a PDF here.
I still remember quite vividly the unfolding nightmare that was my melanoma diagnosis in 2013. It was bad news after bad news after bad news. One kick in the teeth after another. First it was “There’s something big on your chest X-ray that shouldn’t be there”. Later that day it was that “it’s also in your abdomen”. A couple of days later it was diagnosed as melanoma. A CT scan early the next week showed it was also in my brain, which ruled me out of pretty much all of the clinical trials of new melanoma treatments. A follow up MRI a few days later showed it was even worse than the CT had suggested which meant stereotactic radiotherapy to the brain mets was no longer an option and I required urgent neurosurgery followed by whole-brain radiotherapy. There was one remaining hope in the form of a targeted therapy which had shown promise, namely dabrafenib, but again I was disappointed to discover that my melanoma didn’t have the mutation that this drug targeted so it wasn’t an option either.
This torrent of bad news was upsetting and frustrating for me and my family, and in amongst trying to wrap my head around each new piece of bad news, I was often left wondering where was God in all this? Did He really care? Why wasn’t He allowing me access to these treatment options? He seemed determined to just let me die, and quickly at that! Don’t get me wrong, there was lots of provision from God in other ways, such as the practical and spiritual support of my family and church, but I was still struggling with these darker questions as well, and wondering what was going on.
Another day trip to Sydney, this time to Bondi. It would be great if I was going to “Sculpture by the Sea”, but no. Yet another medical appointment. Today marks 4 years since my health started unravelling. Living with cancer is tough. You often hear it described as a “battle”, however many don’t like that term as it infers that if you lose the battle you weren’t fighting hard enough. Those that do survive, must’ve fought harder. In my case I don’t think the analogy works anyway because the last few years has been a pretty passive process for me. Things being done *to* me rather than *by* me. It’s often felt like I’m just curled up in a ball while cancer kicks me repeatedly. Occasionally it, or perhaps more accurately, the treatment side-effects, seem to get bored and leave me alone for a little bit and I can catch my breath. But when I do try to get up & do something, I get whacked from behind again and I’m back on the ground.