A good friend has gone through weeks of excruciating chemotherapy treatments, without any guarantee of success. The regimen was so difficult, there was the possibility it would kill him. I don’t know that I could agree to it. The thought of being continually nauseous makes me shudder.

The night before my recent birthday, as I hung onto the toilet for an hour and a half violently ill, I kept saying I wanted to die. I was totally depleted, trembling in cold, and my body and mind were out of control. I can’t imagine possibly enduring that experience daily. But, you never know until you’re in that situation.

My friend had the same physical nightmare I did, but he suffered nausea because of cancer. Mine was because I dragged longer than necessary on a joint. Luckily, it was an unusual occurrence for me, and one that I won’t succumb to again. He doesn’t have the choice. He can’t say, “I won’t do cancer again.” Only, “I won’t do the treatment again.”

My mind’s images as I crouched naked and sweating were so grey, empty, and scary, that I feared I would die. A strong voice inside said, “You’re better than this.” I begged to live because I knew I had more work to do on myself, and in behalf of others. I shook with chills, and slept briefly on the cold floor. 

Lincoln, our labradoodle, was asleep on the bed of a guest downstairs. He heard me, came upstairs, stood anxiously outside the bathroom, and expressed his concern to Ray with a loud bark. Ray, in bed, suffered with me, listening in anguish to every pitiful sound, sometimes putting a pillow over his head, as he imagined the day when I might possibly be reacting to chemotherapy, rather than just strong grass. 

I haven’t had a drink in more than 25 years, and although I swore off pot too, it had never been a problem. Yet, there’s always the fear that an occasional high from any source will trigger a slip with your poison of choice. If I had consistently good judgment in such matters, I wouldn’t have ended up as ashamed and disappointed as I was with myself, as I begged for another day on the eve of my 71st birthday. But, I had hoped the grass would eliminate my need for a tranquilizer to ease sleep with my sciatica, and, I over-compensated knowingly.

It’s the difficulties in our lives that teach us the most about ourselves, about life, and about what matters most. My life challenges have all been things that I could manage, and small compared to those of most others in the world, certainly to those of my good friend with cancer. I want to know from my friend, “What are your reasons for wanting to live under such conditions?” “What observations about accepting one’s increased probability of early death do you have to share?” “How are you now a different person?” 

Here’s what I have to share from my own bad night. Slow down, and do things in moderation. You can always have seconds if you choose. If you have an addictive personality, don’t screw around with your recovery. If you’re having a bad experience, and it’s your own fault, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes. Forgive, but don’t forget. Think about what happened, and consider the experiences of others, such as those worse off, and those who endured the effects of your mistake. Share your experiences, and the lessons learned with others so that they don’t make your mistake, and so they learn from your reflections.

Also, be grateful. Be grateful for life, and the privileges you enjoy, and be very thankful for those who stand by you as you face life-altering challenges. None of us do much in life without love, and help, from others. My good friend has a husband who stood with him through every awful minute. So, too, do I. Single people have family and friends, and if not, they are always the recipients of the kindness of strangers. I am so very grateful for all of the love that guides and guards my precious life.

My heart embraces with more awareness today everyone who suffers, for whatever reason, the physically and emotionally debilitating experience of being so sick, they wish they were dead, but who actually want very much to be alive.


Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.


Check out other stories by Brian McNaught

McNaught: We Never Know Who’s Listening

McNaught: Shared Beliefs on the Unknown

McNaught: What Makes a Family

McNaught: Keeping Them Together

McNaught: Memories Light The Corners Of My Mind

McNaught: Through Thin And Thick

McNaught: The Way We Were