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Donating My Body After Cancer: My Final Gift to the Science that Saved Me

Aside from controlling what happens leading up to my death, I've given a lot of thought and put the wheels in motion for what will happen to me after I die.
PUBLISHED August 28, 2019
Sarah DeBord was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer at age 34. In the years since, she has turned her diagnosis into a calling, and become an advocate for other young adults diagnosed with colorectal cancer and parents with young families facing cancer. She works as a communications and program manager for the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition , volunteers her time with the online patient-led support community COLONTOWN , and blogs about her often adventurous experiences of living with chronic cancer at ColonCancerChick.com.

I like the idea that I can have control over what happens to me at the end, through not only my health care directive, but in working with my hospice team when the time comes. I feel empowered enough as a patient to understand the role palliative care plays in my quality of life while living with metastatic colon cancer, and the role that hospice will play when the time comes to end treatment and enjoy the time that remains as comfortably as I can.

I've never felt the need to be buried. Partly because I'm a practical gal who understands the extreme expense, but also because I have no central place I call home. I have lived from sea to shining sea and have family scattered with the wind. Permanently leaving my physical body somewhere for the sake of having it somewhere just doesn't make sense for me. I also don't want to put the additional financial burden on my family or take up limited space in the ground for the sake of tradition. This made opting for cremation an easy choice.

Another easy choice for me was choosing to donate my body to science, or more specifically to my local university medical school. Like a last parting gift of gratitude to science for keeping me alive far longer than it should have, I want to return my body to science as a teaching tool for the next generation of providers who will go on to care for and save the lives of patients.

I'd like to think what's left of my underweight shell will be an eye-opening exploration into the ravaging beast known as cancer. There will be nothing beautiful or whole worth preserving, so in a final act of paying it forward, I want what's left of me to help advance understanding, and based on a few boxes I checked, potentially help research long after what remains has been turned into remains. I want this beaten body to open the eyes of youthful medical students to their own immortality, the indiscretion of a horrid disease, and the destructive power of cancer.

I've filled out the necessary forms from the university medical school website and included them in my health care directive. I've also discussed it with my immediate family so there will be no shock or disappointment when my final wishes come to be. My body will be cremated when it has served its purpose, and my ashes returned to my children in due time. From there, my boys know what to do.

It's a conversation we've had many times over, and one we all feel comfortable and free to talk about as if it was part of casual conversation. Not everyone will be comfortable talking about their death, even those living with metastatic cancer. And not everyone will understand how I can consider these discussions with my children to be casual. But that's what I want. I want the stigma and discomfort of death to be non-existent for them. They know it will be very sad for everyone and they will be devastated, but I want them to go on with life knowing in death I gave it one last effort to help others. It will be my final act in showing them that we can do good in life and in death.

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