The Blog

Why David Bowie's Death Is So Relevant for People With a Terminal Illness Like Cancer

For me his last artistic and life effort, his last album, the lyrics and related video, released on his birthday (Friday 8th January 2016), two days before his death, all this carries a deep meaning and

The global outpouring of emotions over the death of David Bowie is enormous. So many have been touched in so many ways throughout their lives, by the man, his music, the way he lived his life and shared with us - a trend setter, visionary, a source of entertainment, meaning and comfort.

What strikes me even more is that what we got during his lifetime is also what we got with his ongoing productivity and creativity, when he must have known he was dying. There appears a clear line, continuation and consistency of integrity in who he was, what mattered to him and what he wanted to share. To me this is a powerful message to anyone reflecting on their own mortality, especially those of us who have a terminal illness and may appreciate even more just how previous time is.

People often reflect on the life-shattering power of a terminal diagnosis (including for family and friends). Nothing is what it was up to that point. Everything is called into question. We may struggle with meaning and purpose because very little is left predictable and certain - apart from death. It is difficult to stay motivated, even more so when undergoing tough treatments and dealing with a range of often horrendous side effects.

I don't know any detail of David Bowie's cancer and treatment. Working in the field and having undergone treatment myself I have some idea. But how much I or we know or don't know, that is not really the point. For me his last artistic and life effort, his last album 'Black Star', the lyrics and related video, released on his birthday (Friday 8th January 2016), two days before his death, all this carries a deep meaning and powerful message about determination and energy. Having cancer or another terminal illness can cut short and end our life, but we do not have to compromise on who we are - deep down. We can find ways to continue to leave a mark, continue to have meaning and purpose and to be relevant to others and the world.

Being treated for a terminal illness and even dying of it does not make us a lesser person. We may feel terribly vulnerable, frightened, angry and hopeless. But if we get stuck in any of those soul destroying dimensions, then we will get drained of positive inspiration, creativity and a chance to remain an active participant in the life that is OURS.

David Bowie chose to keep his cancer private and in doing so probably preserved energy and focus to work on something precious to pass onto to his family, friends and us. He made a choice, he did it his way. He will have filled the rest of his life in a way that gave him meaning and (hopefully) authenticity and peace.

If we can take that lesson to heart and really focus on not giving up who we are, even in the face of a terminal illness, than the terminal illness narrative will change. It will be less defeatist, humiliating, dehumanising and soul-less.

We need to find ways of holding on to who we are. The responsibility lies with us. Help from health care professionals, employers, family, friends, benefits advisors - you name it, anyone we get in touch with needs to treat us with respect and as an individual that still has a say in their life. But we have to take the first step!

There are others in the public sphere, who are not stopped by their illness and who continue with their craft and in doing so share with us just as David Bowie did: eg Clive James and Billy Connolly, just to mention two.

And I know, carrying on with our work is not always an option. Work does not fully identify who we are. But there are choices we can make and ways we can find to uphold the fact that we deserve well - always, in life as in death.

Thank you David Bowie for giving me hope and guidance on what I need to do.