March 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Making life or death decisions

by Dorian Martin

Who should have a say over how a person lives and dies when he or she is diagnosed with an advanced disease? I am sure that many of the readers who visit this website are facing this issue with a loved one. At this point, I am not one of them.

Maybe that’s why I was so intrigued when I read a new book, A Good Kind of Knowing by Kathy Lynn Harris. (For the sake of disclosure, I need to provide a disclaimer — Kathy is a friend of mine and sent me a copy of her new book so I could post a review on different book review sites. However, she didn’t send it to be to consider for inclusion as part of this blog.)

A tough diagnosis and a tough decision

The book tells the story of Sera, a shop owner in a small town. She often encourages other residents of the town, trying to help them make good decisions to reach their potential. Sera starts noticing some strange things in her body and goes to the doctor. The diagnosis — advanced stage pancreatic cancer. After consulting with doctors about her options and the potential consequences, Sera decides not to undergo chemotherapy. That decision, which she holds to steadfastly, causes friction in her marriage and friendships. Many characters can’t understand why Sera refuses to fight the disease, instead opting to use her time to savor relationships and trying to complete the items on her life’s bucket list.

I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens, but I haven’t been able to get the book out of my mind. Which character is right? Is it Sera, who is opting for quality of life? Or her husband and some of her friends, who want her to fight to live a longer life?

My “a-ha” moments

So here are some lessons I learned from the book:

  • Everyone has a different perspective of what they want from life. I believe it is beneficial if families have conversations about what they want in the aftermath of a serious diagnosis, at a time before any major health issue arises. Obviously, emotions play out in any difficult situation, along with the potential for second guessing. However, a clear road map could be laid out based on a loved one’s wishes and the situation at hand.
  • How early was the disease caught? And what is the prognosis? In early stages, a battle using drugs, treatments and surgery might be possible. However, a point may come where the intervention can cause other complications as well as suffering. In my opinion, it may sometimes be important to just think about the big picture as opposed to grasping at the first straw of medical treatment that is offered.
  • Death is part of life. It’s hard to accept that realization, thanks to the modern medical miracles we hear about in the media. But we’re all going to die. If we are fortunate to have a chance to make a decision about how we are going to die, we need to make it based on our individual values and what we want for our own life. And others need to respect that decision.

You can find more thoughts on this topic in a blog on videos that educate patients about end-of-life decisions, which talks about the medical interventions known as life-prolonging care. For more ideas, you can take a look at my blog post on respecting elder’s wishes to die at home. That blog also discusses when and how hospice care is being used for elders with conditions such as dementia and cancer. The common thread is how important it is for seniors to communicate about their end-of-life preferences with family, caregivers and health care providers.

Posted in Caregiving, Death | 1 Comment »
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One Response to “Making life or death decisions”

  1. Thank you, Dorian, for reading my work. I’m glad it prompted you to write this post and offer some solid things for families to think about. It’s important stuff. Thanks again.

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