A friend recommended this TED talk presented by Lucy Kalanithi, “What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death.” It’s a thoughtful discussion of medical care, end-of-life issues and choices. Lucy Kalanithi is the widow of neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36. She’s also an internist at Stanford.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Paul wrote about his transformation from doctor to patient, and explored what makes life worth living in the face of death in his poignant memoir When Breath Becomes Air. After Paul died in 2015, Lucy completed his memoir and wrote its powerful epilogue.
Among my favorite quotes from this video:
“Tasks like making a will or completing our advance directives, tasks that I had always avoided, were not as daunting as they once seemed. I realized completing an advance directive is an act of love… That paperwork became a tangible part of our love story.”
“We were learning that living fully meant accepting suffering.” (not that I’m a fan of suffering)
Regarding trade-offs her husband was willing to make in regard to his treatment and abilities, she said, “Those conversations are the best way to ensure that your healthcare matches your values. Paul joked that it’s not like that birds and bees talk you have with your parents where you all get it over as quickly as possible and pretend it never happened. You revisit the conversation as things change. You keep saying things out loud.”
Of Paul’s oncologist, she said, “She supported his goals and she helped him weigh his choices. She knew that living means more than just staying alive.”
“Doctors can’t make sure your wishes are respected until they know what they are.”
There are many wise words here on facing mortality and living fully with mortality staring you in the face. Here is Lucy Kalanithi’s talk in its entirety: