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How should you live when you know you’re going to die?

It is perhaps the ultimate, eternal question — one we all have to grapple with, but mercifully, don’t have to, until the end is crystallized by our own illness or that of a loved one. Humans may be the only animal capable of grasping mortality, but it’s usually not something on our minds — until it is.

It’s a question I confront frequently as a physician caring for seriously ill patients. One morning some months ago, I met an older man with an aggressive cancer that had turned an avid runner into a voracious reader. He glanced up from his newspaper as I entered the hospital room.