A woman was just referred to me to discuss end of life issues. She was recently diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer and told that her case was hopeless.
According to her, the doctor said surgery was not an option. She was offered chemotherapy to buy a little time, but understood that it would make her sick until she died. She decided against it.
Her spirit shattered, she managed to find me to ask what the end would be like so that she could prepare her husband. She had been given very graphic details about the horrible death she would soon experience and she was seeking ways to minimize the trauma for her loving partner of several decades. It was, she believed, all that was left in her power to do.
"Have you had a second opinion?"
"Why aren’t they doing surgery?"
"I don’t know."
"How much time?"
"Soon . . . I’m not sure."
"How do you feel?"
"Like I’m already dead. I didn’t know what else to do but try to help my husband before . . ."
The woman who came in search of the unthinkable now has support from survivor volunteers offering information, treatment alternatives, referrals for second opinions, and friendship. Wherever her path leads, she will not be alone; she will move forward on her journey with companionship and heart and compassion. She will have her dignity.
Regardless of the situation, every patient is someone’s mother, brother, wife or lover - with a life outside of the disease that brought them to this moment in time. Each had dreams and desires, good years and bad hair days. And each has the right to kindness in the face of life-threatening illness.
Survival is not just about medicine. Sometimes, the best treatment is to treat with respect.