Coping with a life-threatening illness

Coping with life-threatening illnesses is different for every individual involved. It affects the patient, as well as the family. Those diagnosed with an illness are often faced with many emotions including anxiety and guilt.  In an attempt to deal with these emotions, people learn to cope. Some people develop defense mechanisms and others actually use coping strategies. In addition, there are various types of awareness.


The topic of dealing with life-threatening illness especially resonates with me because my uncle just went through this painful process. He died last week of cancer, and I was able to see the many aspects of this process we discussed in class.


            My uncle experienced an open awareness because his terminal diagnosis was acknowledged and discussed. Although it was difficult for the rest of the family, it wasn’t ignored. This is somewhat unusual because most people refuse to openly discuss the condition. The best known model of coping is Kubler-Ross’s five stage model. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This model is illustrated in the video above. Although this is a great representation of the process, I can say my uncle did not follow this model exactly. Although my uncle experienced anger and depression, he never denied his fate. He was accepting of his condition and decided to make the most of his time.


            Although dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult, the Kubler-Ross model focuses on the individual with the condition. I found this to be interesting because most of the time we tend to focus on how it affects others. At least I know I do. I think this is because when we come up with a hypothetical situation like this, we avoid putting ourselves in the patient’s shoes. For example, when we were learning about life-threatening illnesses in class, I would think about someone I know being diagnosed, not myself. This relates back to the idea that we are a death denying culture.



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Should We be responsible for death?



Taking responsibility for death is a crucial aspect in life today. Susan Jacoby addresses that concept from a first hand perspective in her New York Times article.  Susan discusses how the process of her mother’s death was less stressful because her mother made her wishes clear. In the article, Susan argues that too few Americans are taking on the responsibility of making end-of-life decisions. In my opinion, every American should have the responsibility to make these decisions. Each individual is accountable for his or her own destiny, and that includes his or her dying process. If a patient does not want to suffer through treatment, they shouldn’t have to. They need to make these decisions when they are right-minded and need to make their wishes known to their family. Susan shed light on an interesting aspect of end-of-life decisions. About 70% of Americans believe patients should be allowed to die when they want. However, only one-third of Americans have a living will, and only 69% have conversed with their spouse about it. I personally believe that it is important to express your wishes to your family members, so if something does happen, someone close to you would be able to make the right decisions. Also, I agree with Susan’s argument about the cost of treatment. Her mother did not want to continue staying at the hospital because of the extreme costs of treatment. This is an aspect of end-of-life decisions that people need to consider as well.  As mentioned in the article, the average hospital cost is $6,000 a day. In some cases, the cost is a burden to the family left behind, so it should be considered. When the family is well informed of the patient’s wishes, they can question a decision made by a healthcare provider. The healthcare provider would not know the patient personally like the family member would, thus the family member should intervene and question the healthcare provider when making important decisions.


Soul Leaving the body

I came across this article and immediately thought of this course. In one of the lectures we discussed the soul and the definition of death. Early definitions of death included the soul leaving the body. However, there were many problems with this definition. One, how can we measure when the soul leaves, and two, the belief in a soul. In this article, Russian scientists believe they have captured an image of the exact moment the soul leaves the body.

When Medicine Isn’t Saving Your Life


In history, death has typically been quick. Now, thanks to medical advances, the process of death is often prolonged. In certain circumstances, modern medicine is able to ward off the disease that is threatening life, and even improve the quality of someone’s last days on Earth. What should medicine do when it cannot save your life? It should prolong an individual’s life or it can improve the quality of those final days.

In the article, “Letting Go” a young woman named Sara finds out she has lung cancer during her pregnancy. After inducing labor, she began cancer treatment with a myriad of treatments and drugs. Once one drug failed, the doctors tried another and another and Sara grew sicker and sicker. So one might ask, why go through the agonizing process of medical treatment when ultimately you will die from the disease? Well, in this case, Sara probably wanted to prolong her life so she could spend some time with her newborn daughter. In her mind, the expensive medical treatments were worth it to see her daughter grow up, even if only for a short time.

In other instances, the patient may want to prolong their life for other reasons, such as saying goodbye or spending time with family before they pass. This can be a great gift. Car accident victims, for example, would not get the opportunity to say bye to their loved ones or leave any last wishes. Another gift medicine can provide when not saving your life is to give temporary relief. If a patient is terminally ill, there is a good chance they are in a great deal of pain. Medicine is a way to help relieve some of their suffering, so their last moments can be more comfortable.

The comic posted above brings up a very interesting point. I would agree that I would like to know when and where I will die. That way, I could do all the things I want to do before I go. Essentially, this is the gift medicine gives us. It allows those with an illness to prolong life, so they can say their final goodbyes. However, the comic brings up another noteworthy thought when he says, “ I can avoid it” Eventually everyone dies, so medicine does not prevent the death, it just holds it off for a later date.

Pay It Forward


When I think of a character’s death, my mind immediately goes to Pay It Forward. In this film, an eleven-year-old boy named Trevor is given a homework assignment to do something to change the world. Trevor devises a system in which you do a favor for three random people. However, these favors must be an act the people cannot perform themselves. When completing these favors, he asks the person to ‘pay it forward’ and to do the same for three strangers. The movement quickly spread in the area. At the end of the film, Trevor sees two boys beating up another kid, and decides to try and help. However, one of the bullies pulls out a knife and stabs Trevor.

In this case, Trevor’s death is sudden and traumatic. The reason I think of this film when thinking of death is because his death was so unexpected. Trevor’s death scene took only a little over two minutes, in a film that lasted 123 minutes. His death is the most memorable part of the movie for me, and that’s because of how the media chose to portray his death. In this case, media influences how we see death, because many times in films and television, a character’s death is traumatic. Very rarely does a person die from old age in movies or television.

In the hospital after Trevor was stabbed, you see the mom and her boyfriend waiting, when the doctor approaches, says a few words, and the mom collapses in tears. The word ‘dead’ was never used, or even any synonyms of the word. We knew Trevor died simply from the imagery used. This could be the fact that our culture does like talking about death. We use it to make a powerful movie, but to actually say it is too forward. Even though we could not hear what the doctor said, and even though we did not hear the word ‘dead’, there was no confusion that Trevor had died.

News of Trevor’s death was played on TV. The final scene of the film showed Trevor’s mom and her boyfriend watching home movies, when they look out the window to see thousands of people who were affected by the ‘pay it forward’ movement. All the people were holding candles as a tribute to Trevor. This final scene was visually powerful, because the audience was able to see the number of people who were affected by Trevor’s death. Still, the media did not show what happened to the boys who stabbed Trevor or their consequences. It was almost like the media chose to avoid the actual issues of his death, and left his death on a positive note because of the changes he made in his short life.