Dying is not losing, it’s just unlucky

“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.”

These powerful words by ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who recently died of cancer, resonated with me. Just take out “to cancer” and replace (or not) with what your loved one died of – the point is the same. Dying does not make one a loser.

This point was eloquently elucidated by one of my favorite Chicago-local bloggers, Mary Tyler Mom, here. MTM, whose three-year-old daughter Donna died of cancer, notes:

“If some people “win” their battle with cancer, if some folks “beat” cancer, it stands to reason that some people “lose” their battle with cancer. Where there are winners, there must also be losers, following that logic.  And that is the concept I reject.  People unlucky enough to die of their cancer diagnosis are not losers.”

Amen, I say, for premature babies too. If some preemies win their battle with prematurity, if some babies beat the odds, then others – following that logic – lose. The reason this line of reasoning really upsets me is because it leads to the following:

Baby A beat the odds! Baby A is a warrior, a miracle! Our prayers were answered! We are so blessed!

Baby B lost to the odds. Baby B…. then isn’t a warrior, too? Isn’t a miracle? Our prayers weren’t answered, so what does that make us? The unblessed? The outcast, the unfavored?

No. It makes Baby A simply lucky, Baby B not so. Luck does not rely on personal strength, integrity, prayerfulness, holiness. Luck simply is, or is not. MTM continues,

“If two children are diagnosed with cancer on the same day, one with leukemia that has a 90% cure rate and one with DIPG that has a 100% mortality rate, the surviving child is not a winner, just as the child who dies is not a loser.   That child who survives her diagnosis did not “beat” her cancer, so much as survive her cancer.  The nuance there is crucial to understand.  Both children, no doubt, would have tried to cope with the brutal treatments they endured in the name of cure and both children, no doubt, demonstrated bravery and strength throughout their treatments.”

Like MTM’s daughter Donna, our son had an approximately 50% survival rate. Like her, he died. In a related post, MTM says, “My girl is not a loser, and she sure as hell never surrendered.  Good freaking Lord, just days before she died she was still attending school.  Does that sound like surrendering to you?  Not to me.  Not a chance.” Like Donna, my Ander did not “surrender.” His heart wasn’t functioning as a full term baby’s would. There was nothing he could do, yet he kicked his legs and held our fingers and turned towards our voices every day of his life. I don’t think he wanted to die. I think he wanted to live. We so, so wish he could have. But he did not “give up.” We chose to take him off of life support. And I don’t think that means we gave up, either. We simply succumbed (gave in?) to the inevitable, and ironically, kept hoping for every minute after.

What I will say, though, is the language some use to extol their survivors hurts those of us whose children did not survive. “Does it make it prettier to think of thousands of angels floating above us, protecting us in a way that we were unable to protect them?” MTM asks. “Does it make us believe that these kids are stronger than they actually are if we wrap them in the imagery of warriors with protective gear and weapons to defend themselves?”

These vulnerable children are just that – children. They live and breathe and fight until they no longer live and breathe. It doesn’t make the survivors better than the victims, more special, stronger, more worthy. Lucky, sure. But just that.

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4 Responses to Dying is not losing, it’s just unlucky

  1. Gretchen says:

    Amen. Seriously. When I listen to people talk about a near-miss tragedy, related to a NICU stay or otherwise – “he was such a fighter” – it does bother me. My son was the feistiest baby in the NICU, and deemed healthy and strong by all professional opinion. But, his strength and health could not beat a bacterial infection, especially one that was diagnosed too late. He fought, he suffered tremendously…., and then he died.

    Recently, there was an airplane that nearly crashed into a couple’s suburban bedroom. The owners were talking to reporters, saying something like “there were angels watching over us today”, and I thought, but what about the pilot and passengers who died? Did God forget about assigning them angels? I know it’s different than what is described in your post, but it seems to be the same thinking. People are so self-preserving and so accustomed to owing positive outcomes to strength, perseverance or God, that they simply cannot see the randomness of the world. Until it happens to THEM.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    • babylossmama says:

      Gretchen, yes! The plane crash example – and the questions you raise – is exactly the next logical step in the argument. In fact, I was planning on writing about it today :).

  2. Oh, absolutely. I know you and I share the same views on this. Our boys were amazing little fighters. They died, but they did not ‘lose their fight’, not one bit. I get so sad and cross when there is the implication that the surviving babies are somehow better, or more worthy. You hit the nail on the head: they are lucky. I get so frustrated when people don’t think about the implication of the words they use xxx

  3. Luck accounts for so much. So, so, SO much, and it pisses me off when people don’t (won’t) recognise that.

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