MIKAEL'S LAST SUMMER - how to choose the end
This story is the first part of a longterm project on how we face death. It was done in collaboration with World Press Photo and NOOR and is presented here in a shortened version. For publishing requests please get in touch here. (Full story is available in Danish, English and French)
Mikael, a former sailor and warehouse worker, lives in a remote corner of Denmark, Lolland, a low-income and high-unemployment area with deep social challenges. Mikael however moved here because the housing prices here were his chance to get a house with a garden, like he always wanted. Mikael is also diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his doctors have given him a year to live.
This story follows Mikael and his family from the day of his diagnosis to the final farewell. It is a story of Mikael and his choices - and what it means to have these choices. Ultimately it is a personal story of waiting for the end to arrive.
69-year-old Mikael knows what he wants. It is how his brain has always been wired. He wants to be in control and he bends the world around his views. And you can like it or not - he wouldn’t really care. So when Mikael in December 2016 starts sensing something is off in his body, he flat out refuses it as a sign of something serious. Only after his wife Sigrid demands that he sees the doctor, does he go. Reluctantly and under protest of course!
January goes by with test after test. In February Mikael is called to the hospital to get the final results. The news is not good. There is a 13 cm. big tumour on his esophagus, just above the stomach. It is inoperable and Mikael is given 12 months to live. Mikael’s need for control is challenged and he gets angry. Very angry! “DAMN IT” he screams, slamming his fist on the doctor’s table before he leaves.
During the next eight weeks Mikael is starting a life-prolonging treatment of chemotherapy that the hospital is recommending. The drugs are strong and painful. Everything feels worse inside Mikael and he is not getting better. But in the middle of hair loss, vomiting and tiredness he sees a chance to take back the control he has lost. He does not want to go on living just for the sake of staying alive. He wants to live full and good, even if only for a short time. By the end of March, Mikael chooses to stop the life-prolonging treatment, and his last summer begins.