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My Diagnosis, My Terms

I was bald when I started my death doula journey, and the kick-off weekend training was exhilarating. I’d just started my treatment for cancer and was eager to take advantage of the vantage point of my life and this training. There were many “well meaning” nay sayers when I would excitedly share that I was going to start a journey toward becoming a death doula.


At that point, though, I was becoming all too familiar with people's reaction to my diagnosis and how unhelpful their unresolved fear around mortality was. Frankly, it made perfect sense to me to explore my core beliefs around death and my aptitude to test them at a time when I was facing a life-threatening illness. When else would I ever get this perspective real time?! Likely never.


This is a cautionary tale to the reader to please check your biases, skeletons, and boogie men at the door.

Having volunteered at hospice for over a decade had having worked in social work and grief counselling, I have witnessed and experienced the sting of projection countless times. However, unpacking my own diagnosis and journeying down the treatment path added a whole new layer of isolation.


It’s common knowledge that cancer can be isolating, not only because of one's compromised health but also because there’s an unspoken norm that makes us feel like we are not to be seen unless in we appear in perfect health or aesthetic.


What I didn’t account for was the waves of discomfort crashing against my positivity. I didn’t think I was going to die, but I did have to consider the possibility. I did believe I would get through the entire odyssey...in fact, the only thing that cause me any doubt was the unmitigated fear from others.


Most people would respond well to my witty reminder to not give me “the face”! You know the one where mouths faintly frown and eyes become huge emoji going-to-cry eyes. I’d rather be laughed at than slathered in pity for experiencing the deepest connection to my soul I’d ever had.


But others, others would take me to task when I asserted that I was “really good, “seriously.” I began to get really curious about the drive behind that behaviour...why did most people need to convince me that I was terrified and brave? I won’t insult you with my conclusion to that question. I’m sure you can figure it out.


I’ll always be grateful for a wild old soul I met during a chemo treatment. We were lamenting about how weird people get and how they expect us to cry all day. Her name was Birdy, and she shared that she’d finally given up.

“I figured it was easier to join 'em rather than fight with them everyday.”

Birdy said the ladies in her retirement community moaned and groaned at her every time she came back from treatment. “The fuss is ridiculous!” she said. Eventually, Birdy decided to tell them it was the worst one ever and insisted that she go to bed immediately. This way, she figured they could feel right and she can get to her programs and have some fun!


Please think of Birdy the next time you hear of someone’s diagnosis and try to determine how to respond. Don't tell them how they do or should feel. It’s their diagnosis after all, so they should decide the terms of how they feel about it.


Anyone interested in becoming a death doula can register for HHA's Death Doula certificate program here. The next training weekend is September 22-24, 2023.


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Lara Lodge is a death doula candidate with Home Hospice Association.



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