Are you living the life that you want?

I’d like to start by thanking PCNOW for allowing me to participate in this year’s conference through the David Weissman scholarship. What a wonderful opportunity to continue my learning and network with others providing Palliative Care services to patients and their families.

When you are reading this, I will be on vacation with my family viewing the beautiful landscape and waters in the great state of Alaska. Family is one of the most cherished blessings I have in my life. Working in the palliative care field has taught me to take time with those you love.

Like most other conference participants, I worked part of the day on Thursday and then drove down to Lake Geneva. It was wonderful being able to gather and meet other members of our systems’ Palliative Care team as well as other conference attendees over snacks and dinner. The ability to network with others doing similar work is so valuable as it reminds me that we are part of a group of people working to improve the quality of life with those facing chronic and life ending illnesses. We don’t work in isolation, but rather as a team to support one another.

There were a couple of themes that I’d like to share as a framework that fit in with the name of our organization, PCNOW: Passion, Compassion, Now, Opportunity and Wisdom.

Passion is a word that came to mind when listening to a case study about a medical student that was diagnosed with a serious illness and was faced with now being patient vs the doctor that he was training to become. I left that session being reminded to live my life with passion. Live each day fully. Be present in the moment. We don’t know what life has in store for us, just as that young medical student didn’t, so whatever is most important, pursue it with passion.

Compassion is a word that was used by one of the speakers in regard to how we approach our work with patients. Compassion for others is a critical attribute to possess. When plans change, tapping into our compassion helps us to ease some of the stress and sometimes frustration that arises for staff in needing to make adjustments to the changes. Sometimes I struggle to show compassion for myself. I hope to have the words to make a difference in very difficult circumstances, but the truth is sometimes there are no right words, but just being present with compassion in what is most important. The journey we are on with our patients is a sacred journey and they need to figure it out at their pace and in their own way.

Now is the time for doing what’s most important. Life is a precious gift. We don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know what our future may bring, so taking each day and making the most of our time is important. Focusing in on what is the most important things to do can be hard when there are many “distractions” competing for our attention. Do we get caught up in these distractions or do we stay focused on what’s most important to do now? I know this can be a challenge in the midst of hectic days and competing priorities. The “someday” may never happen so living an authentic life. I have learned that living an authentic life can help do what’s most important now.

Opportunity knocks in a variety of ways. When standing at a crossroads, how do you assess that? In Palliative Care we talk about quality of life with our patients. What is important for them and how do they want to spend their time? They have an opportunity to make decisions between treatment options and sometimes are expected to make decisions very quickly when presented with what can be an overload of information during a very emotionally difficult time for them. How do we assist them in thinking through their options for care? How do we provide a sense of support when they choose a plan that is different than what staff and others see as the better options? There is much thought I’ve done about this since length of stays in hospitals are shorter and patients are faced with making difficult decisions. I continue to believe there is great opportunity for Palliative Care to be integrated into primary care and community settings. This provides more time for conversations with people as they journey through managing their health issues and helps to prepare them for decisions they may need to make ahead.

Wisdom is the last word that I have been pondering since being at the conference. I am struck with the amount of wisdom and experience that presenters possess. They share their wisdom in a topic area so we as participants can learn and increase our knowledge. Honestly, there are times that I feel a bit overwhelmed with the information shared as I have so much yet to learn. Each session attended provided me with more medical information and understanding that impacts my work as a Social Worker.

Periodically, something happens that triggers my thoughts back to the conference. The other day I was watching a tv program, “The Talk” while sewing. Oprah Winfrey was talking about the question she asks herself when there is negativity or an issue she’s dealing with. The question was “Are you living the life that you want?” It struck me that this fits right in to the discussions I heard in sessions at the Palliative Care conference.

For me, living an authentic life with a grateful heart helps me to continue to focus on the things that are most important. It brings meaning to what I do. Each day is a new beginning. Living life fully means taking one day at a time and being present in the moment. I tend to be a planner, so this can be a challenge for me.

I thank you for the opportunity to step out of the usual daily routine, meet with colleagues, feel refreshed and help me re-commit to living fully each day.


With gratitude and appreciation,
Susan Scheller Kirby, MSW CSW