As we get older, past our sixties and into our seventies, (our dotage?) I guess it’s only natural that we think more and more about our mortality. The fact that we aren’t going to be around forever. At least I know I do. And there are some things I just don’t understand. Mostly peoples abject fear of the inevitable conclusion of life.
In the morning when I wake up and put the coffee on to brew, I log into the computer, bring up the iTunes web site and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition. It gives me news and interesting stories. This morning there was a story about a new drug called Zaltrap that was approved as a kind of last-chance therapy for patients with colorectal cancer. Studies suggested Zaltrap worked almost exactly as well as an existing drug called Avastin. In fact, the main difference between the two drugs seemed to be the price. Zaltrap costs about $11,000 per month (emphasis mine) — about twice as much as Avastin. The story goes on about how Sloan-Kettering decided not to buy Zaltrap and how the manufacturer cut the price in half to try and get them to buy it. But here’s the thing about this story that bothers me.
The two drugs seemed to worked equally well. Both extended life by 1.4 months. But what if Zaltrap had worked slightly better than Avastin? What if it had extended life by, say, an extra week?
Now, extending life by 1.4 months or possibly an extra week? What the hell for? What will the patient do in that extra six weeks? Is the quality of their life going to be improved? Are they going to be pain free during that time, or are they going to puke all over themselves from the side effects of the drugs? Would you take either one to get another month and a half of life?
The answer for myself is no. If I was told right now that I had cancer or some other terminal disease (and isn’t life ultimately a terminal affair?) the only thing I would do would be to find the best source of heavy-duty narcotics to see me through to the end, even if that source was a street vendor of high-grade black tar heroin. At that point in my life I’m really not going to be too concerned about getting addicted to the stuff.
I’ll be 71 in a couple of months. I’ve had a longer life than my mother by nearly 20 years. I’ve lived longer than three of my six brothers and a much loved sister-in-law. During my life I got to live out a lot of the dreams of my youth. My brother Gary, my sister-in-law Jude and my friend Frank Hilson all suffered from cancer that eventually killed them in about a year of being diagnosed despite undergoing chemo and radiation therapies with side effects that, in my mind, anyway, intensified the suffering it was intended to relieve. For me it’s all about the quality of life, not the quantity. So I just don’t understand why people would opt for a month and a half of prolonged suffering. Not me.