Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

"That experiment has failed. If safety and protection were all we sought in life, perhaps we could conclude differently. But because we seek a life of worth and purpose, and yet are routinely denied the conditions that might make it possible, there is no other way to see what modern society has done." 

A few years back a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors did not give him a good prognosis. In fact, the doctors were not recommending treatment. He was almost eighty years old and the chances for survival were rather slim – even for a younger person. He, however, has always been a fighter and he wasn’t going to give up so easily. Fast forward nearly four years later and he is cancer-free.

I am glad he fought on and took the chemotherapy and the experimental treatments. I’m glad he won, but during this time I worried. I was worried about what his life would look like on the other side of these treatments if successful. I didn’t want him to endure years of painful chemotherapy to simply add another few years of existing. I wanted him to live and live the way he wants.

And so far he has. It has been amazing to see.

But it seemed like no one in my family wanted to talk about the quality of his life. They simply saw a problem named cancer and they wanted to beat it. But what if he beats it and can’t drive a car anymore? What if the chemotherapy works yet he can’t chew his own food? Doctors (and everyone else) are good at solving problems but not viewing the big picture.

Here’s the reality: death wins. It always has and always will. Yes, we have done a superb job delaying the inevitable, but what is the cost? Do I want to spend the last ten years of my life in a facility where I can’t eat without help? Does anyone want that?

Being Mortal provides a practical perspective on these questions. This is not out-of-touch philosophy but practical questions from a regard surgeon. I really enjoyed this book. It makes you think about the tough things in life.

Here are the questions we need to ask: What are your biggest fears and concerns? What goals are important? What trade-offs are you willing to make?

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