We’re all going to die

…but what you do before that happens is what matters most.

I am writing this for a friend whose mother was diagnosed to have cancer. The family wanted her to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After two cups of tea and a cup of tears, she asked my opinion.

I told her I had none.

I was sad. And wouldn’t want the same kind of situation where one would have to decide on matters where the heart and the mind collide.

As healers we want what is best for our patients. We offer the best treatment options, health care and assurance. Medicine, after all, is not a perfect science. We work with odds, weighing benefits over risk. We work against odds, with scarce resources and that will to survive.

I told my friend if she had asked her mother, what her wishes are. After all, her mother is educated and should be informed at the options available to her. Unlike many Filipinos, their family does not need to hurdle the financial obstacle. Cancer therapy today has made strides in not only minimizing side effects, but in improving survival rate as well. Cutting edge technology in medical science has altered the landscape on how we address diseases today.

She told me that her brothers and sisters wanted the best care and that the doctors had explained to them the outcome. In spite of the poor prognosis, her mother would probably have 6-12 months more. Or longer. The outcomes were unpredictable and based on various variables. She would have to contend with some side effects with treatment. Without treatment, the outcome was grim. But the children wanted their mother to receive the best treatment. And to be given that chance to battle her disease.

It would be another day before I saw the family. It was a somber meeting. Because I was the pediatrician of all her kids, her mother wanted to hear my opinion.

I told her I wasn’t sure of what to say except echo what the doctors already confirmed. Held her hand and asked her, what would you like to happen?

She smiled back and told me, she was ready.

The quality of life would be intolerable. She was tired. And she had seen other members of the family go through cancer treatment. She told me that she would just be procrastinating the inevitable. There would be time. To make amends. To enjoy life as life should be. To be able to finally fulfill her bucket list. To go with dignity and peace. Then she asked me, “if you were in my shoes, would you still pursue the treatment options”?

I smiled. Held her hands. Then hugged her. And she knew my answer.

That was a year ago. Without any treatment she lived another year. Battling pain and living life. They buried her a week ago. A celebration of life, love, and the choice to live …and die with dignity.

You see, we’re all going to die. But what you do before that, matters most.

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