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Richard Simpson, pictured at home in his Christchurch garden.
OPINION: As a 47-year-old man, married for 20-something years, two wonderful daughters, running a successful business, the last thing I expected was to be told I had terminal cancer.
It snuck up on me, hiding behind fatigue that I thought was due to working too hard. As a cyclist and runner, I was used to battling fatigue but this was different. More and more often, I found myself on the nod (the advantage of working at home) but stubbornly went about carving away at my business.
It was the cough that took me to the doctors. Four weeks of a cough that went nowhere, did nothing and generally made me grumpy. I went to the doctor, had a blood test, went back for more blood tests and then an ultrasound. There were rumblings in the room that something was not right. One week later and I was in A&E with a painful and swollen leg with the diagnosis of a huge blood clot in my leg and multiple pulmonary embolisms (clots) in my lungs. Then came the good stuff: a tumour on the pancreas, that appears to have spread to my liver and lymph nodes.
Another week later, this is confirmed as cancer with no possibility for surgery. I am now dying and with chemotherapy extending the time I have left, I have perhaps one year, maybe more if I am lucky.
This for an active, live life to the full kind of guy is, as you could imagine, a shock to the core. Over the past few weeks, I have come to terms with my own impending mortality and its arrival faster than expected. My family have taken the news hard but we are managing and coping, planning the time we have ahead of us to be the best it can. We see the year ahead as a time where we get to shape how I want to leave the world.
My family and friends are all that is important to me now and in that respect, I have been very, very lucky. There will be parties, laughter, sharing stories and sharing the rich diversity of the life I have been so lucky to lead. Perhaps that was my problem, I simply burnt the candle at both ends.
Right now, to look at me, I might seem fine, maybe a little thinner than the last time you saw me but otherwise looking OK. My head's been shaved as the family has wanted to do it for years so I finally relented and discovered to my relief that I don't have an oddly-shaped noggin. I’m walking around, smiling and being the same old larrikin I used to be, just a little slower. But I know this will not last.
I’ve finished my first round of chemotherapy but there is no knowing what the remaining 11 rounds will do to me. Once those have finished, will my descent be fast, or will the tumours have retreated? These are all unknowns at this time. The only known right now is to enjoy every precious moment with those I love.
At some point within the discernable future, my body will begin to fail. It will no longer have the energy to fight what is eating it from the inside as I increasingly become a prisoner within the shell I inhabit. There will be no other treatment options other than pain relief as I am forced to lie, sit, slump, whatever it may be and watch my family grow anxious with time. Days will become longer as we wait on tenterhooks before I slip away.
I feel it should be my choice when I decide to leave. My wife and I have discussed this and we agree - prolonging the inevitable is prolonging the pain for all of us. I want to pass with the dignity that reflects the wishes of not just me, but those who love me and those who are close to me. When all the fun has been had, when my body has failed and my mind exhausted, I want to have the option to peacefully die on my own terms.
The notion that I have to remain alive until the doctors can do no more is a harrowing thought. I will have to witness the pain and sadness on the faces of those I care so deeply about.
I believe that when there are no longer any more options to preserve life, pain and suffering are the only knowns, I should be allowed, under New Zealand law to pass with dignity and respect.
Richard Simpson is a Christchurch businessman and father of two.
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