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Patients and Caregiver Stories

Four keys to living well - From the terminally ill

Palliative care physician Ira Byock suggests how we might fill a loved one's final days with joy and forgiveness.

My father, Seymour, was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in 1980, while I was in my medical residency training to be a family doctor. I had been taught to see illness through the lens of medicine. Cancer, dementia, and heart, kidney, liver, and lung failure were all problems to be solved. Death was the enemy to be fought at all costs.

Dad's diagnosis shook me. My mother, my sister Molly, and I were sad and worried and did everything we could to bolster his strength and spirits. The months during which he fought and gradually succumbed to cancer were awful. But it would be wrong to say that those months were only awful. Woven within the fabric of our experience of his illness were gifts I treasure to this day.

Dad was able to meet his first grandchild, my eldest daughter, Lila. His condition pushed us to talk about the events, places, and people of our shared past and express our hopes for the future. We apologized for past angers, disappointments, and misdeeds. We asked for and were granted forgiveness. We celebrated our family and our lives, and all of us grew, individually and together.

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