Can What You Love Add Years To Your Life?

Jun 30, 2014


by Karen Speerstra

I think about questions like this now that I’m in home hospice care. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer ten years ago, it seemed prudent to finally stop the chemo treatments that had kept me going, but were now, in many obvious ways, actually killing me.

The emergency room term, triage, takes on new meaning. What’s important now? Which things should take priority? How do I now spend my time, knowing there might be precious little of it left.

I’ve now exceeded the six month “common” expectation of how long one lives after stopping treatment. Some states have changed that hospice Medicare guideline, but it remains as a benchmark in many places. A person in hospice care (and you can opt out at any time) can “re-enlist” for more time after those six months, which is what I will be doing.  It’s important for me and for my family to have this safety net around us now…this caring, loving, quality team approach to living into one’s dying.

So, I find time now to read a lot. When the latest issue of Timemagazine hit our mailbox, I was intrigued by their “The Art of Living” article. Creative types apparently live longer lives. We all know about Grandma Moses, but  I hadn’t realized that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim when he was 76. Or that Ben Franklin signed the Constitution when he was 81.  Picasso died with paint under his fingernails when he was 91.

You’ll have to read the article to understand how the prefrontal cortex of our brains, the part that assimilates knowledge, affects the production of myelination and…well, that’s too technical for me. But I do understand that you have to work your brain (like any muscle) for any brain “repairs” to be made and actually enhance your creativity.  That means I have to actually sit down at my computer and write. Or, as is my current challenge, set up my easel and finish the painting I started months—maybe years—ago. I was inspired by Wayne Thiebaud, 92, who still paints every day. Sorry, I can’t hang around. A painting I’m calling my “Vermont Cloister” calls. Move over, Picasso.  I may even get some paint under my fingernails.