An Enduring Connection to Life

Posted on April 10, 2012 by

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I once worked with an elderly man who had terminal cancer.  Bone mets left him in excruciating pain, and he was becoming more and more immobile.  It was an ugly cycle of too much pain leaving him with little motivation to move, then the lack of movement contributing to more pain.  His oncologist ordered physical therapy for him, obviously not for long-term rehab, but to see if increasing his activity level with some assistance might help his overall discomfort.  It worked.  He stuck with the walking and eventually used movement for some of his pain management.

During our walks and exercise he shared with me his restlessness about being terminal.

“How long?” I asked.

“Not sure,” he said. “I heard it can happen quick. Soon, I guess.”

Given he was in his late-eighties, I wondered if something was left undone,  if he struggled with losing control, or felt fearful of the unknown.

“I know it’s going to happen,” he said, “but I don’t want it to.”

I asked him if there was something he still needed to do – maybe connect with a loved one or personal business he had to get in order.

“No, Carol,” he said, “life is such a great adventure, and I just don’t want it to end.”  We stopped what we were doing and smiled at each other.  Several months later a colleague told me he died.

Through the years, many patients have shared with me their struggle with mortality.  Most speak of things that still require closure or their trouble leaving others behind.  If they do embrace dying it’s usually because they have little energy to press-on and feel they’ve accomplished enough.  It’s not often I meet someone who doesn’t want to die because of how much they genuinely enjoy the journey.

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