In 2013, David Goodbourn wrote a powerful reflection in Reform on having months to live. In September 2014, his cancer not having taken the expected course, he wrote the article that follows, reflecting on the strange experience of still being alive. He died peacefully on the morning of Sunday 9 November
My death has been postponed. Last year I wrote the article “Parting thoughts” (Reform, October 2013) as I faced my last few months of life, but I didn’t die. I still have terminal cancer, but thankfully it’s taking a lot longer to kill me than expected; so, for the present, I have moved from dying of cancer to living with cancer.
The change in status has been strange. Dying of cancer was in an odd way quite exciting. People wrote, sent cards or visited, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years. My words seemed to gain extra import, and my thoughts went mostly unchallenged – no one argues with a dying man. People went out of their way to fill my remaining time with good things. While illness forced me to let go of activities and attitudes that bolstered my former identity, being the “man facing death bravely and with humour” provided a good alternative.
Living with cancer is far more humdrum. I have felt genuinely embarrassed to be still alive, as if, after all the fuss people had made of me, I could at least do the decent thing and die. Instead, life has returned to something like normal. This brings new questions about identity: Who am I now?…
Dr David Goodbourn was general secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and president of Luther King House
This is an extract from the December 2014/January 2015 edition of Reform.