I’ve taken care of cancer patients for several decades and they’ve taught me something about life.
1. A job is just a job. I often get into discussions about life and living with my cancer patients who have a unique outlook because they are face to face with their mortality.
Not one single patient has told me that they wished they had worked more. I’ve taken it to heart and have made it a point to be there for important events for family and friends and to take vacation days.
2. I’m reminded daily to have a big picture view of life and to understand what is a real problem. It’s so easy to be caught up in day to day dramas that we lose sight of what is a real problem.
A real problem is finding a big lump in your neck, getting a scan, then a biopsy, and being told that it’s cancer. Virtually every other problem then goes away.
3. True wealth is measured in family and friends. I’m not talking about numbers. What I’m talking about is the small group of people that will really be with you when the shit hits the fan. I’ve had very wealthy patients with big families and a large group of friends that all disappeared when things went south. Nothing could be sadder to see. And I’ve had other patients who had 2 or 3 people in their lives that made incredible personal sacrifices of time and effort to help them through. I think of it as proof of a life well lived.
4. A corollary to #1 is that we never have as much time as we think. I’m reminded of a patient who was a young and very successful executive with pancreas cancer. He wasn’t curable and it was poorly treatable given his situation. His life expectancy went from 40 years to 6 months within the week of his diagnosis.
He’d never taken a vacation with his family; his wife and 3 school-aged kids.
We reviewed the pros and cons of treatment and he decided to forego treatment, rented a sailboat and took his family through the Caribbean Islands for about 3 weeks. Because of his cancer, he didn’t feel physically great but he told me that it was the best 3 weeks of his life.
I’m grateful for the lesson he and many other patients have taught me.
This question originally appeared on Quora: If you’re a medical practitioner, what revelations have you had about health and mortality since you’ve been working in this field?
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