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David Bowie Palliative Care

By Maria Brown, MBA, CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care Staff

Difficult decisions must surely have faced the rock star David Bowie after receiving his liver cancer diagnosis. Who should he tell? What changes should he make in his life?

David Bowie
David Bowie by Marilyn Huerta, CSUSM staffer, artist, and community-wide facilitator, using art as a healing medium.

While the details are not known to the rest of the world, his choice to continue to work, create music, and appear in public following the opening of Lazarus, a play he co-wrote, speaks to choices that clearly were aimed at maintaining, not changing, what he loved in life and living. Doing what we love to do, living life according to the way we choose, and having the physical and emotional resources to do so is having “quality of life.”

Bowie’s choices are bringing greater awareness to people about choices that are possible to be made and respected regarding their care. Dr. Mark Taubert in his Thank You Letter carried in the Huffington Post, muses that Bowie “chose death at home, and planned this in some detail.” Taubert hopes that through his choice, “others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled.” He tells Mr. Bowie, “I think if you were ever to return (as Lazarus did), you would be a firm advocate for good palliative care training being available everywhere.”

Surgeon, best-seller author and public opinion leader Dr. Atul Gawande re-tweeted Dr. Taubert’s post, and gave us even more to think about by linking to an article written by a climate scientist upon learning he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Piers J. Sellers wrote that, when making out his bucket list, he had no desire to pursue the usual exotic trips: “I concluded that all I really wanted to do was spend more time with the people I know and love, and get back to my office as quickly as possible.”

Although addressing his predictions for climate change, Sellers’ final comments could apply to many facing life-threatening illness as well: “History is replete with examples of us humans getting out of tight spots. The winners tended to be realistic, pragmatic and flexible; the losers were often in denial of the threat.”

Perhaps through their publicly shared writings, people like Bowie, Taubert, Gawande, Sellers, and we here at the CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care, can help spread the word that there are choices available to all of us when we face chronic or serious illness. Being willing to advocate for palliative care for themselves and those they love, they are illustrating that quality of life and lead the lives they want to lead is not denying the need for either treatment or the desire for cure, but rather about grabbing life and living it to the full.

Why would anyone want less?

Marilyn Huerta
Marilyn Huerta

About the artist:

Marilyn Huerta, who provided her original impression of David Bowie for this post, uses her artistic talents to facilitate healing for others. Marilyn has a special interest in using art as a healing process in many different settings. 

Learn more about Marilyn at:

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