In the face of death what makes life worth living?

In this very moving TED talk, following the loss of her neurosurgeon husband Paul to terminal lung cancer, Lucy Kalanithi discusses life and purpose. As a physician herself, she shares her experience, both personal and professional on the end of life process and how Paul made the transition from doctor to patient.

She discusses how important it is to be able to say things out loud, how one’s impending end of life dismisses conversational taboos and gets right to the heart of issues. Planning is incredibly important for someone in their final weeks and months, and how for them , the dying process is made up of a number of important decisions to be made carefully and how important the role of your oncologist is as your treatment and care progresses through the different stages of your condition.

“Paul’s oncologist tailored his chemo so he could continue working as a neurosurgeon, which initially we thought was totally impossible. When the cancer advanced and Paul shifted from surgery to writing, his palliative care doctor prescribed a stimulant medication so he could be more focused. They asked Paul about his priorities and his worries. They asked him what trade-offs he was willing to make. Those conversations are the best way to ensure that your health care matches your values.”

Following Paul’s death, Lucy relates to one of her patients who explained how much she loves her palliative care team and how they taught her that it’s ok to say ‘no.’ Many of us don’t believe we have a choice on our treatment and often receive unwanted or excessive medical treatment, but we do have a choice and the answer is often ‘it depends.’ By knowing the potential outcomes of your condition and learning to choose your own path through to the end, this allows patients to get on with the living aspect of their lives rather than focusing on the dying.

This is a deeply touching TED talk and I will leave you with a poem by W.S.Merwin, only 2 sentences long, that Lucy says captures how she feels now.

“Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.”

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