Quality of life for the terminally ill: Sen Ted Kennedy’s example

September 8, 2009 by  
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kennedyWhat would you do if you have less than a year to live?  This is a difficult question that many of us hope we don’t have to answer anytime soon.

Terminal conditions such as cancer are difficult to comprehend until you are there. And when you are there, you have the choice: how would you live the last few months of your life?

This article in msnbc about Sen. Ted Kennedy highlights the quality of life that a terminal cancer victim can have.

Sen Kennedy suffered from a seizure in May 2008. Initially thought to be a stroke, tests revealed he had a tumor in the brain – malignant glioma. Despite interventions – a brain surgery, radio- and chemotherapy,  Sen Kennedy knew he had just months to live. Yet, he continued to do the work he set out to do – help in the 2008 presidential campaign, co-authored health-related legislations and contributed to the ongoing health care reform struggle. He also spent time with his family and did things he enjoyed, including sailing.

According to Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS)

This is a man who had a serious and fatal illness and he knew that. Despite his illness, he carried on as best he could.”

Median survival for Kennedy’s condition is 12 to 15 months. True. He has could afford the best health care money can buy but even that couldn’t save him. The best that medicine is prolong life, alleviate pain and maintain quality of life up to the end. Kennedy lived for 15 months after his diagnosis. In his seventies, he could have sat back and do nothing during his last months. Yet, he chose to live life to the fullest – work, public service, family and leisure. It takes an extraordinary person with a strong spirit to remain positive in times of adversity. Kennedy has that indomitable spirit to go on living fully and productively, even though he knew he will lose the battle in the long run. In the process, he made his mark in US legislation and reforms. He also serves as a role model for those with terminal illness – that it’s not how long (or short) you have left. It’s what you make of it. After all, medicine can only do so much. In the end, quality of life largely depends on the patient.

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