When I opened this morning’s New York Times, the first words I read were those splashed across the front page: Senator Kennedy, Battle Lost, Is Hailed as a Leader. How wrong they were to use those words.
Neither Senator Kennedy, nor anyone else who battles a terminal illness, extends their lives as much as possible and finds what they consider to be a good ending, can ever be thought of as losing the battle. In fact, they are all winners in the truest sense of the word.
Having already been diagnosed with a fatal disease, the battle is for a decent life and a decent end to it, not a victory over the illness – that would be impossible and therefore not what was ever being sought. Yes, this is a personal issue for me as I have had a rare form of cancer called Carcinoid. It was successfully addressed with surgery four years ago, and thankfully has not recurred. The longer I go with no sign of disease the better off I am, at least from a statistical standpoint. But were I not so fortunate, blessed, lucky (take your pick), the battle would be to make the best possible use of the time I was given.
Ironically, that’s true for all of us whether we have many years on this earth or few. So unless one considers any death a defeat in an eternal battle with illness, fate or time, then the only way to lose is by not making the most of every day we have.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to go anywhere, no matter how good my life has been so far, and I know first-hand that it feels like a fight when you are engaged with the disease. But I think it’s crucial that we acknowledge that once you know the outcome, it’s no longer a fight that can be lost (or perhaps that that fight has already been lost) and what is left is a fight that can be won – to enjoy the gifts of each day, the love of family and friends, and the opportunity to make some contribution to the lives of others.
Millions of people are winning that fight every day, and it appears that Senator Kennedy did as well. We should all be blessed with long healthy lives, but the sad truth is not all of us will be so blessed. What can we do about it? Among other things, we can make sure that we win the battles that we can and Senator Kennedy was a great model of how to do that.