Is it wise for a 90 year-old with metastatic cancer to pursue aggressive treatment? I respectfully suggest former President Jimmy Carter consider hospice or palliative care over chemotherapy or surgery. He can set an example from which the public can benefit.
President Carter revealed on August 12 he has cancer that has spread to other parts of his body and he plans to pursue treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. A more complete public statement will be made later this week when more facts are known about his situation.
A new study recently published in JAMA Oncology (the Journal of the American Medical Association dedicated to cancer studies) indicates treating metastatic cancer patients with chemotherapy in the months or weeks before death doesn’t improve quality of life and may actually do more harm than good.
Other studies indicate those advanced cancer patients who choose hospice or palliative care actually live longer, better lives than those who choose chemotherapy. In vowing to fight this cancer at age 90, President Carter perpetuates the myth that humans are immortal, if we just keep pushing medicine to fix our bodies.
Wouldn’t he set a better example if, like Betty Ford made the topic of breast cancer discussable in the 1970s, he announced he would embrace palliative or hospice care? He can avoid the debilitating effects of cancer treatment and make the most of his time left on earth with the people he loves.
Jimmy Carter was the first president I was eligible to vote for, and I supported him in 1976. I admire everything he has gone on to achieve since he left the White House.
In his Nobel Lecture, quoted at The Carter Center website, he said, “We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes — and we must.”
At age 90, he can choose to provide leadership in alleviating suffering and working for peace in one more area: to help Americans admit to our mortality and embrace a graceful end-of-life. Hospice or palliative care is not “giving up.” It offers comfort, pain relief, and the time to create a peaceful, loving, good goodbye to family and friends.