The final days of the doctor who helped create our palliative care system
When Larry Librach was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer he knew it was bad news.
After all, Librach was a doctor. And most patients with his advanced stage of cancer survive only a few months.
In facing death, Librach had a unique perspective: in the world of medicine he championed palliative care, ensuring those with little chance of survival, and their families, meet what he called "a good death."
"People want to be at home, to have a choice in the setting where they’re going to die. They want to have some independence around decision making," Librach explained. "And I think we want to be free of pain and symptoms as much as possible."
With his cancer slowly robbing him of life, Larry Librach decided to share his final weeks and days with W5. In a series of interviews with Dr. Marla Shapiro, who Librach once taught, he recalled the first time a patient, abandoned by the medical system, died in front of his eyes as he tried to manage the pain of a man whose last six weeks were pure agony.
"Dying is as important as birthing, and we need to make sure that people are cared for at both ends of life," Librach said, "as well as the life in-between."
Librach reflected on his own experience with the health care system. He experienced a tremendous waste of the little time he had left. He was struck by the absurdity of a beautiful chemotherapy waiting room with insufficient seating for everyone waiting.
"People were lining up against the wall, sitting on floors, sitting on planters outside, clutching their number waiting to be called. No respect for their time," Librach lamented. "One clinic I waited three hours to find out I wasn’t going to get my chemo."
Librach was committed to making the system better at home and abroad. For 35 years, Larry trained hundreds of doctors in Canada and around the world. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, a new palliative care ward was named in his honour.
He co-wrote the textbooks for field of care that he helped pioneer: "Palliative Care: Core Skills and Clinical Competencies" and "The Pain Manual: Principles and Issues in Cancer Pain Management." The latter boasts a distribution of 150,000 copies.
Larry lived four months after his diagnosis. He started writing a book that will be completed posthumously. And he continues teaching, even after his death.
His message to fellow baby-boomers:
"Stop being so controlling for crying out loud. Stop thinking you can conquer death by taking a can of Boost every day, or you know that you can somehow use plastic surgery to avoid any aging. Or suddenly do things that are crazy… get a life."
A week before the funeral, Librach asked his cousin Morris to deliver a speech at his funeral, a eulogy he had written in his final days.
"You know that I could not resist getting the last word in, in this case quite literally. I know that it is unusual for the person being honored by the funeral to say a few words."
Librach wrote that he wanted "to thank you all for being part of my life, for helping to give my life meaning and for all the support you have shown me and my family over the last few months."
"May your journey through life be as meaningful as mine was. Cherish each day. Make sure your life has balance. Make sure your family always has a place in your hearts, but also reach out and carry out your social responsibilities to ensure your fellow man is cared for."
Those were Larry Librach’s final words.