Cancer patient Eileen Mulligan, 68, rests in the backyard of her Washington home on Thursday, June 12, 2008.[Agencies]
One look at Eileen Mulligan lying soberly on the exam table and Dr. John Marshall knew the time for the Big Talk had arrived.
He began gently. The chemotherapy is not helping. The cancer is advanced. There are no good options left to try. It would be good to look into hospice care.
"At first I was really shocked. But after, I thought it was a really good way of handling a situation like that," said Mulligan, who now is making a "bucket list" — things to do before she dies. Top priority: getting her busy sons to come for a weekend at her Washington, D.C., home.
Many people do not get such straight talk from doctors, who often think they are doing patients a favor by keeping hope alive.
New research shows they are wrong.
Only one-third of terminally ill cancer patients in a new, federally funded study said their doctors had discussed end-of-life care.
Surprisingly, patients who had these talks were no more likely to become depressed than those who did not, the study found. They were less likely to spend their final days in hospitals, tethered to machines. They avoided costly, futile care. And their loved ones were more at peace after they died.