Facing the End of Life: A Conversation between a Patient and her Doctor

VIDEO | 04:52

Eight days before she died from stage IV colon cancer, 28-year-old Christine Cohen talked with her oncologist, Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes, about death, dying, and living a life undefined by cancer. Hear the rest of Christine’s story and other honest conversations about cancer in the podcast series Cancer Straight Talk from MSK.

Show transcript

Christine: I’m not really afraid of dying. I’m afraid of what happens between now and then. You know they don’t make it easy to die. You’re in the hospital and they’re telling you it’s time to switch to hospice, which I don’t know there’s is too many choices, I don’t understand the choices and I think that was the very scary part because it really feels like oh, my God, I’m really out here floating like what am I supposed to do.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes:  I want to take a little step back in time to share a little of you and who you are.

Christine: Okay.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes:  Four months ago, you gave one of the most powerful speeches at the Cycle for Survival event.

Christine: “It’s been quite a long couple of years, no one thought I would see 27, but here I am at 28 working, living and rolling.”

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes: It seems like yesterday and also seems like an eternity ago. Can you just tell us a little bit about what that felt like for you?

Christine: To have so many people be able to relate to you and relate to what you’re saying to basically a room full of strangers, it’s something I’ve never experienced before, the overwhelming support.

Christine: “Even though I’m not yet cancer free, although that would be pretty cool, I believe I’m a lucky patient because of everyone riding in my corner. Let's get rollin’ for the colon. [clapping]”

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes: Do you worry about all those caregivers that were part of team Christine?

Christine: I worry about what’s going to happen to them when I’m gone. I don’t want them to not be able to move forward or be stuck in some kind of weird place because of what happened to me. I also feel like those that have gone through every step of the way understand that there isn’t anything left to do and that there isn’t any fight left.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes: Yeah. Did you think that it was a mutual decision when we did decide to stop chemo and is there any advice that you’d give to other patients?

Christine: Number one advice to give other patients is to be open about it from the beginning. Don’t wait ‘til it’s too late and too uncomfortable to have those conversations because that’s when it boils up to a point where you as a patient might not be able to face it and then I think it does become an oncologist decision.  And that’s not really what you want.  It’s your body, you want to make the decision yourself. And I really feel like we were open enough in the beginning that by the time we got to this point, it was something we were sort of both saying.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes: What’s the hardest part of all of this?

Christine: I feel like the hardest part is finding a way to not let it define you while also finding a way through whatever is left of your time. Like, yes, my last few years have been very defined by cancer, but I am not defined by cancer. To be honest, everyday is different today I woke up in pain. Some days I don’t. Some days I wake up and I’m like, “ooh, I had a good night.” Some days I wake up and go, “ooh, had a bad night, I didn’t sleep well, everything hurts.” And so, I think it’s you know for me right now it’s taking it day by day and just starting to work with the hospice team and what they can help offer me symptom wise so that hopefully I have more good days than bad days. And it’s coming to the realization that there will be fewer days than I expected, that’s okay.

Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes: What would you like the world to know about Christine Cohen?

Christine: Just that I hope that people put in situations like mine can focus on finding their way through it with grace and poise and finding whatever bit of happiness pushes you through that’s what I’d like the world to know that you can find ways to make a cancer diagnosis something more than just the bombshell that ruined your life. It can be something more than that and I hope that you find that.