Would You Rather Die Old or Commit Suicide Young?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On Monday, I made the executive decision that before I wrote an article about one of the companies I follow, I would address an issue that makes me uncomfortable.

If you haven't seen these two stories, get ready. They're deep and heavy. Beyond riveting. However, IMHO, they're both must reads.

First, there's the story of the Kansas City sports media personality, Martin Manley, who decided to kill himself on his 60th birthday. You should really explore his Website for more context, but this excerpt provides the clearest rationale for his decision:
I always thought I might commit suicide someday. When I considered the options of living to be old and all the negatives associated with that alternative, I knew there was no way on earth I was going to allow myself to deal with such an intolerable situation ...
It's also true that I wanted to leave on top ...

Then, Manley steps into often tenuous analogy territory:
Very few athletes go out on top -- or even close. Most play far beyond their peak and even far beyond their relevance. Often times, it's a sad sight to see. I was beyond my peak, but a ways from being irrelevant. Nevertheless, irrelevancy was on the horizon for me as it is most people at my age -- me more than average.

Of course, there are some obvious holes you can poke in Manley's justification of his suicide. He addresses many of them at his site.

The most glaring to me -- why spend your life knowing that you "might commit suicide someday"?

Talk about a defeatist attitude.

A much more exhilarating alternative might be to have dedicated your life to physical fitness as to wind up like Jack LaLanne, who died a pretty damn good death at the age of 96.

Plus, like many analogies, the sports analogy sucks. He takes the notion of one's profession, craft or livelihood and parallels it with their life. That's not a sound intellectual leap.

But we're dealing in extremes here. The guy who says the only way I can go out on top is to kill myself "versus" the one who blasts through his daily exercise routine up until the day before his demise. And so many other ways of viewing life and death in between.

The whole thing makes me think of my favorite passage from a Haruki Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore:
In everybody's life there's a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can't go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That's how we survive.

Not to judge Manley, but that's what it comes down to for me. At some point we all reach Murakami's "point of no return" and we have to determine how we'll proceed. Acceptance obviously means different things to different people. There are likely as many outcomes -- emotional and otherwise -- to this existential quandary as there are people in the world.

I probably would have forgotten all about Manley's story had I not come across this thought-provoker at Bloomberg, What If What You 'Survived' Wasn't Cancer?

I'm not sure how I can do justice to this amazing piece from Virginia Postrel by merely excerpting it, but I'll try:
You're feeling fine when you go for your annual physical. But your mammogram looks a little funny, or your PSA test is a little high, or you get a CT lung scan and a nodule shows up. You get a biopsy, and the doctor delivers the bad news: You have cancer. Because you don't want to die, you agree to be sliced up and irradiated. Then, fortunately, you're pronounced a "cancer survivor." You're glad they caught it early.
But maybe you went through all that pain for nothing.

If that's not the best hook to a print article I've read in a while ...

Postrel goes on to explain that we're diagnosing more early-stage cancers than we ever have, leading to more treatment and more "survivors." However, researchers are asking an interesting question: What if you didn't actually survive cancer because, without the diagnosis and subsequent treatment, it wouldn't have killed you anyway?
In a well-intended effort to save lives, the emphasis on early detection is essentially looking under the lamp post: Putting many patients who don't have life-threatening diseases through traumatic treatments while distracting doctors from the bigger challenge of developing ways to identify and treat the really dangerous fast-growing cancers ...
Early detection of non-life-threatening cancers also produces a steady supply of "cancer survivors" who work to support cancer charities and make their efforts look successful. There's an entire industry devoted to celebrating "breast cancer survivors" in particular, and many women are heavily invested in that identity. It offers a heroic honorific as a reward for enduring horrible treatments ...

Long, and well-told, story short -- lots of people go through plenty of physical and psychological suffering because doctors tend to err on the side of caution.

This prompted me to have what might very well be a medically ignorant thought: Does chemotherapy and radiation treatment ultimately end up killing people in instances where the cancer likely would not have? In other words, you get diagnosed, you receive treatment and that toxic cocktail ravages the body to the point where it, not the cancer, kills you.

For me, this all circles back to the original dilemma: Die old or exit early?

At first, I was surprised not to see the Manley story on the news. In my mind, it ties right into the Bloomberg piece. But beyond the connection I made in my head between the two, I'm afraid I can't take this conversation much farther than I have here. I simply had to get these thoughts on paper and in front of an audience. This lack of closure likely goes a long way to explaining why I haven't seen the matter covered on television.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a columnist and TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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