What Do You Say When She Is No Longer Living With Cancer?

JCO November 1, 2015 vol. 33 no. 31 3668-3669

Today, I held the hand of a 37-year-old woman who I knew was dying. Yesterday, we had spoken of second-line chemotherapy, weighing the risks against the chance that it might slow the malevolent progression of her sarcoma. Today, I entered her room knowing that I had to change my story, revise the plan, darken the prognosis, look in her eyes, hold her hand, probably cry. In the past 24 hours, the urine had stopped flowing and the jaundice had arrived. Her body had made that awful transition from living with cancer to dying of it. I entered the room, heavy with the burden of knowing too much.

“How do you do what you do?” People ask me this all of the time at dinner parties or school pick-up. There is no party-ready answer. It is no different than trying to explain the pathophysiology of multisystem organ failure to a layperson; trying to explain how oncologists willingly care for people who die is just too complicated. But, sometimes, a student or a fellow is candid and courageous enough to ask me, truly seeking an answer—how do you tell a patient that she is dying?

Carry on reading via What Do You Say When She Is No Longer Living With Cancer?.

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