Thursday, December 18, 2014

Living Between the Dates

By Sid Roberts, MD
Lufkin Radiation Oncologist

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published Dec. 2 at the Lufkin Daily News and on Dr. Roberts’ blog

As a cancer physician, reading obituaries is, unfortunately, part of my job description. I don't mean to be morbid about it. Not everyone who gets cancer dies from it — far from it. We cure two-thirds of cancer today. But we still have a long way to go.

I recently read my father's obituary. Oh, he hasn't died yet. My mother, you see, is nothing if not organized. So both of my parents' obituaries have pretty much been written for some time now.

Obituaries are fairly emotionless documents. They also don't often convey the true sense of who a person is. Usually, an obituary is a simple compendium of facts — dates — such as when a person was born and when they died. Others before me have said that what is important is not the date of birth or death, but the "dash" in between. That dash is what symbolizes who a person is, how they lived, what they accomplished.

My father just had his 81st birthday on Sunday. He has been working full time as a financial consultant at the same firm (RBC Wealth Management) in Midland, Texas, for more than 48 years. That is a remarkable accomplishment in a field where jumping between firms is not uncommon. But loyalty was important to my dad, and to his clients. They knew they could trust him. His honesty and integrity were natural, unspoken expressions of his Christian faith. But that won't be in his obituary.

My parents love to travel, and they have taken quite a few overseas trips since he reached retirement age, even though he didn't retire! In September, my wife and I were able to go with them to Ireland on a fantastic trip. At 80, their vigor and stamina was amazing. Those two weeks together were so precious, even more so now in retrospect.

Just weeks after we got home, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had the usual tests and meetings with specialists to determine what, if anything, to do. His liver is involved, and his prognosis is quite poor.

I consult often with patients who are bombarded by well-meaning friends and relatives who think they know what is best and are, frankly, a bit too vocal with their opinions. Thus, seeing my father have to deal with the "You ARE going to MD Anderson, aren't you?" pretentiousness was particularly difficult. Those of you who want to comfort someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis need to learn simply to listen. Don't give advice, because (1) your story or experience is almost always irrelevant, and (2) you unknowingly aggravate the situation by making the patient feel guilty or second guess their decision. Please remember: It's not about you!

Ultimately, after much deliberation, my father opted for comfort care only. I am incredibly proud of the strength it took to make that brave decision. His cancer is not curable and his prognosis is less than six months under the best of circumstances. He chose instead to share quality time with friends and colleagues, with each of his three sons' families, and with his wife of nearly 60 years. What a blessing that time has been!

The apostle Paul wrote that he has fought the good fight and finished the race well. Thank you, Dad, for finishing strong. For demonstrating integrity and commitment in your work for more than 50 years. For your quiet faith, service, and generosity. For your love of family. For filling that "dash" between birth and death with a life well lived and memories we will cherish. Maybe we can insert that into your obituary!

Dr. Sid Roberts’ father passed away on Dec. 11. Read his obituary.

Dr. Roberts is a radiation oncologist at the Arthur Temple, Sr. Regional Cancer Center in Lufkin. He is a contributing writer for the Lufkin Daily News and blogs at

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

All very true. He made a good decision.

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