I see that this thread started as only your second post to the forum so I extend a very warm welcome to Cancer Chat.
Your conundrum is indeed a poser and it is one which, I suspect many cancer patients consider at some point in their cancer journey – possibly many more than will admit to it. Unfortunately, taking things into your own hands can have some devastating effects on your family and, this is what usually stops people from following through.
Am I right in saying that you do not have cancer at present? I am not a doctor, but to my knowledge, COPD and ulcerative colitis although unpleasant and chronic, are not always terminal.
At 57 you a still a young man, and, although not as fit as you once were, it sounds as if you still have some quality of life. I don’t know what family you have or how close you are, but have you thought long and hard about the consequences for them? If your main concern is to shield them from the misery of watching you fade away, I fear that you do not understand the devastation that you will cause to them if you decide to take a sudden exit, regardless of how you execute it.
Both of my parents died of cancer, as have many of my family and friends. I myself have had two bouts of breast cancer. The first was 8 years ago and the second 6. I now have lymphoedema and arthritis, replacement joints, a collection of medical illnesses, problems with my sight and many other side-effects of medication.
In the early days of my diagnosis I did consider ending it all, because having nursed so many people to the end, I am only too aware of what the end stages are like. I had to sit down and consider the pros and cons of both options seriously. At least if I am to fade away this has a more gradual effect on family and friends, giving them time to come to terms with my departure, whereas taking control of when and how I go is too sudden. I have been in the unenviable position to have had 4 friends who took this latter course. Some of these happened 25 years ago and some are more recent.
I know that grieving is always a difficult time for those left behind, but the families of these friends still grieve after all this time and importantly, they blame themselves for not noticing what was happening and they are still living with this guilt. Some of my friends have had difficulty in getting insurance settlement after the event, whilst others have found their payments drastically reduced or withheld. This shows the potential for financial hardship for your family after the event.
Seeing these families suffer so dramatically following the suicide of their loved ones, made me rethink my decision, as I could not put my family through what these families have been through.
Refusing treatment on compassionate grounds is fine, but you do need to discuss this with your family to ensure that all members of the family agree with your decision. I have considered Dignitas, where the whole family would be involved from the outset, but my family is not in favour of this. None of them have had the direct link that I have had in nursing cancer patients, neither have they have they had anything to do with suicide, for which I’m glad. They may change their minds as my disease progresses.
So where do I sit in this debate? After 78 years to consider my options, I am still undecided, but am doing my utmost to enjoy this new life that I have. Despite all the drawbacks and, there are many, I still have a positive outlook on life and have continued to make memories, especially with my two grandchildren, who have had the chance to get to know their gran and will remember me fondly long after I’m gone. I am so sorry to hear that you have lost you’re your 4 grandchildren, because they do bring such joy.
If we were animals we’d be put down and taken out of our misery before the final stages, but, because we are humans, this is not acceptable by society. We can however, make our doctors aware of our preferences with contingencies such as establishing a ‘do not resuscitate’ policy in place. It is also up to the individual as to what treatment and medication s/he takes. You say, "Why should I burden my family and loved ones final memories of me as a skeletal figure withering away, a husk of the man they recall?" Many people who are newly grieving say that they cannot eradicate the picture of how their loved ones looked at the end. Fortunately, this memory lessens with time and fonder memories come flooding back.
I am sure that this is of no help to you, but it lets you know that you are by no means the only one in this position. Like Dave I thank you for bringing up such a pertinent thread and I hope that it runs for some time.
I sincerely hope that, whatever decision you take, it will be the right one for you and your family.
Please keep in touch. We are always here for you whenever you want to talk.