I would be lying if I claimed I did not think about this daily. When I walk into my clinic, my pace is slow, deliberate and meditative.

I remember once walking at my usual pace, preparing for my clinic in my mind, sinking with each step into the depth of the struggles that I will face on my road that day. I remember seeing a colleague from a different discipline of medicine pass me, racing to get to the road that crossed into the hospital. He called hello and asked what I’m doing. I said “looking at the birds.” I got to the light before the crossing and there he was in his haste to get to the same spot I was. He looked at me and smiled “I should have just looked at the birds too.”


We don’t talk about it. We remove ourselves from any sort of discussion about it. It’s as real as the sun. Tell me, when could you hold your stare at the sun? It’s brief, often blinding and hard to maintain. You turn away because it’s just too much to bear. Is that why we don’t sit in circles, lecture rooms, or theatres to understand the meaning of death? Is it why we don’t talk about it, teach it to the young, and educate them about its vitality and its supremacy? I ask not about the meaning of life, for that is permissible, well-described and easily talked about. I ask about the nature of death; that paralyzing moment none of us want to face, share or discuss openly.


Are you a hole? Are you a spring, a waterfall, an avalanche, a bursting star, the string theory, gravity, or the sum of all of our acts in life?

Every living thing dies. What a mystery. What a powerful way to really see the world. To slow your pace, to “smell the roses,” to “see the birds,” to walk with deliberation, to reach your inevitable destination. While we cannot stare into the sun, can we acknowledge its singular beauty? We should find ways to stop denying this fact about humanity that all of us must die. Death might be beautiful.

Today, I saw several of my patients who circled death but continued to live. One witnessed the birth of a granddaughter and another returned back to life without even realizing that they were even in danger. I did not sit with them and reflect on the near-death experience. I just marveled at what they had accomplished by not dying the moment they could have.


You wonder why I preface each paragraph with one word? That word. I’ll tell you why. Death dictates the cadence of my walk. It’s a deliberate attempt to make you see each moment of life that passes you by, unique to each individual, your own experience with the one mystery that none of us know anything about. Would you share your experience? Would that bring you closer to the truth of our existence?

That sun never waivers, always there, always looking, always giving. Is that Death? The giver of life?


The ultimate paradox.

11 thoughts on “Paradox

  1. Dr. Mo, what can I say to the man who has been such a HUGE part of my Melanoma journey. A man who I have trusted with my life. A man who “tells it like it is”, doesn’t hold back, and shows so much compassion to his patients.

    I am beyond Blessed to have you and your team in my life!! I used to dread my trips to The Clinic; now I can’t wait to see you all again!! You’re not just my Oncologist, you’re truly My Friend; and that friendship is worth it’s weight in gold.

    Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your compassion. Thank you for your knowledge. Thank you, most of all, for being exactly who you are.

  2. Thank you Dr. Mo for always making us see “the birds”. Even in our stressed out modes of dealing w/ cancer, whether just diagnosed or years out like I am, it is important to recognize what can be down the road but also to witness what is right in front of our face. We tend not to do that in our daily lives. Thank you for the refresher.

  3. What a profound essay!! I could not agree more and find myself enjoying all the “little things” in life so much more these days. Death is not something to fear but just a natural part of the universe. I am so blessed to have you as a doctor and friend!! Blessings and love to you and all your extended family.

  4. What joy to open my mailbox this morning and see your blog! Still to this day,even 8 years after Amber’s “death”,(going home) we have great peace knowing she lived her life how she wanted to and that she is at peace now. Knowing your out there gives us great hope for the future. Praying for you!

  5. Mo, I enjoyed reading your blog. It’s been awhile, I was beginning to think you left this talent behind. This really is an amazing blog and I will share this with all my Melanomies out there. Your talent with writing is amazing and unforgettable. Boy it’s been almost 7 years since my diagnosis and living NED has been truly unbelievable. I’m so blessed to have you as my doctor and even though I don’t see you anymore in clinic I know your there if I ever need you. It took me a long time to trust anyone else with my health. The University of Iowa is a gift having you in it. Have a blessed holiday season my amazing doctor of science.
    Claire Barnhouse

  6. Dr.Mo
    I just wanted to let you know I was alerted by gmail of your latest blog post and thoughts! It begins as a “spark” of words that invite in many of us a “fire” to know more, live more, help more, listen more, cry more, miss more, have faith more!!!
    I cannot imagine walk-in in your shoes! You cannot begin to imagine walking in mine! Chondrosarcoma Cancer brought me to you! I’m forever indebted!! You brought me into a new way of surviving, living life! I was one of your very many patients with “Death” trying to run me out…We put our full trust in YOU a stranger….here I am 5 years celebrating “Life”, anniversaries, weddings, new grandma (Gammy ) professional crutcher in “unchartered waters! Thank you! Not a day goes by that I continue to appreciate being one of ur success stories! With success comes distance with you! I MISS YOU! your “Charlie Brown”

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