Dr. Leslie Blackhall, Head of Palliative Care at the University of Virginia, provides a wonderful look at our human tendency to pretend we aren’t going to die, and the challenge of clinging to “hope” while undergoing cancer treatment in this TEDxCharlottesville talk. She believes that accepting dying as a part of life allows us to achieve a fuller and richer life with the days that we live.
She says, “It is optional and unnecessary suffering, to believe that you are being singled out for punishment when you are dying – like all of us eventually will. It is optional and unnecessary suffering, to believe that you are quitting, or giving up, or losing, when you are reaching the natural end of an incurable illness….”
“Death is not a battle we have lost. Death is not a failure of will. Death is not something we let happen. Dying is living.”
“In fact, if you think about it, hope and fear are emotions, they’re thoughts we have about the future, about something that might happen to us. But that actually raises a question about the present — what should we do with the time we have?…”
“If we focus all our energy on our hope for the future, we might forget to live the life we actually have….”
“I don’t hope for us to live forever, because that’s not possible. I hope that we can fully live, together in this real and beautiful world, where all the dying people are living, right up to the last moment of their life.”
Watch her entire TEDx talk in this video:
Dr. Blackhall has had a career-long focus on the care of patients with life-limiting illnesses, starting in her residency when she published a ground-breaking paper on medical futility in the New England Journal of Medicine. Since then, her mission has been to promote the understanding of end of life as a developmental stage and part of the continuum of care for all patients, and to transform medical education and health care systems to ensure patients in this stage of life receive compassionate, mindful, inter-professional and clinically excellent care.
She was a program leader for a 2012 CMS Innovation Award, which integrates patient-reported outcomes into the electronic medical record as a guide to improving the quality of life, care coordination and end-of-life care planning for patients with incurable malignancies. She is the winner of the 2015 American Cancer Society Lane Adams Quality of Life Award for her work with cancer patients.