In a recent opinion post in The New York Times, columnist Ellen Goodman writes intimately about the loss of her parents. Decades after the death of her father, Goodman felt wholly unprepared for the decisions that needed to be made  as her mother’s health declined, assuming—like many caregivers and loved ones do—that death would be “natural” and guided by doctors. After her mother’s death, she began to speak to others that had an experience with a “good” or “hard” death, and ultimately co-founded the Conversation Project, an initiative dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.

“The difference between a good death and a hard death often seemed to hinge essentially on whether someone’s wishes were expressed and respected. Whether they’d had a conversation about how they wanted to live toward the end.”
Goodman notes a current cultural shift in the way that people talk about end-of-life care—with the Institute of Medicine’s “Dying in America” report and the work of Atul Gawande serving as examples of this change. Citing a recent survey conducted by the Conversation Project, she states that 90% of Americans now think it’s important to have the end-of-life conversation. For those seeking a resource to begin this process, the Conversation Project offers a free starter kit.

We are grateful for all of the groups and individuals working towards this shift in how we talk about death and dying. These conversations—as well as the processes of recognizing the medical and emotional wishes of people approaching end-of-life—are fundamental needs in our cancer care system. While the public discourse surrounding cancer often focuses on “winning the battle,” relative survival statistics confirm that about 34% of people diagnosed with cancer will not live 5 years. These individuals have unique needs and can often feel forgotten in a cancer care system focused on curative treatment. NCCS also offers a free audio program for cancer survivors nearing the end of life. Dying Well helps patients and their loved ones prepare to communicate with care teams and loved ones, manage hopes and expectations, make decisions about symptom management, and manage grief.