My Cancer Advisor > Breast Cancer > Facing Death from Breast Cancer > Study Shows Cancer Patients Greatly Benefit from “End of Life Discussions”

Study Shows Cancer Patients Greatly Benefit from “End of Life Discussions”

Expert Analysis Highlights:

  • Study that finds it is important that the patient, doctor, and familymembers have “end of life discussions.”
  • These discussions are about how long the patient has to live, what the options are to prolong life, pain management, preferences for the final week of life, etc.
  • Bringing these issues out into the open is an important strategy for facing death on your own terms
  • “You don’t conquer the anxiety about dying, you meet it with courage.”

For cancer patients, their loved ones, and caregivers, facing end of life issues and the prospects of death can be a very difficult process to work through. Watch the video above about a study that finds it is important that the patient, doctor, and family members have “end of life discussions.” The study compared people who did and did not report having these discussions and found that, in their last week of life, the patients who did were 3 times less likely to be admitted to the ICU, 4 times less likely to be put on breathing machines, and 6 times less likely to be resuscitated. Also, patient’s family members reported improvements in their quality of life and the grieving process.

“End of life discussions” is about how long the patient has to live, what the options are to prolong life and keep the patient comfortable, what kind of care the patient wants to receive in the final week of life, and other end of life issues. For example, talk to your doctor about whether or not you want to be on breathing machines, whether or not you want to be resuscitated or put on artificial nutrition and antibiotics to prolong life, and so forth. Bringing these issues out into the open can be therapeutic and makes for a more structured approach to the last moments of life based on your own preferences.

Cancer patients are thrust into this world of fear and anxiety about death and mortality from the first day of diagnosis, and it seems that bringing these issues out into the open is an important strategy for facing death on your own terms. It takes courage to do this. With our capacity for deep reflection and an awareness of the inevitability of death, human beings carry a unique burden of anxiety that no other species carries. Since the beginning of recorded history, people have feared death and reflected on our mortal condition. In fact, one of the oldest literary works in existence is called The Epic of Gilgamesh written around 2000 BCE, and death is a central theme in the story. It’s about an ancient Sumerian king who loses a close friend to death and tirelessly searches the world to find the secret to immortality. The king does not find what he was looking for, but he does find peace in his own mind to accept death and appreciate life despite our mortality. As the great theologian Paul Tillich said, “You don’t conquer the anxiety about dying, you meet it with courage.”

That we are here is a miracle. Whatever your ideology, it’s simply amazing that we became self-aware and dominated a tiny planet in the endless void of space. We yearn to hold on to this experience. Even if we lived 1000 years, we’d still yearn for more time. Embracing death is a difficult aspect of life that we all face, and it can be a process. Talk to your doctor and your loved ones about this process.

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