By Lynda Holler
To quote Dr. Adams, Kenny’s Palliative Care Physician at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, “I don’t think of anybody as a dying person, I think of him or her as a living person. We are all dying and we are all living people; that is true for everybody.”
Throughout my husband Kenny Holler’s twenty-one year battle with debilitating head and neck cancer, we chose to focus on life, not death. In over two decades of medical treatment, we witnessed major shifts in health care. So that during his last two years, Kenny, our two teenage sons, and I had access to quality palliative care services that supported all of us both physically and emotionally.
Both inpatient, at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, and at home, through VNA (Visiting Nurse Association) of Hudson Valley, we benefited from doctors, nurses, therapists, and social workers who were specifically trained to assist terminally ill patients and their families. Palliative care professionals are experts in evaluating and treating advanced disease, as well as assisting with all of the day-to-day issues like medical equipment and supplies, and emotional and spiritual support.
The current phenomenon of support for assisted suicide belies the truth: that life has value through the joys and the sorrows. Although Kenny’s last two years were especially challenging for our family, living out his life to its natural end empowered us and inspired innumerable people that knew us to live better lives, and to accept hardships of all kinds with courage and humility.
I now understand that the way that we die is the culminating statement of each our lives. Everything that we do from birth is building and developing to that final moment. If we have a life well lived no matter how long, if we have developed our spirituality so we are ready for the transition, if we are content with our relationships, if we have truly learned to love, we are teaching the rest of our world how to both live and how to die. What could be a more important, more powerful, or more fulfilling way to conclude our lives?