Jim Stanicki: An Online Inspiration on Dying Well

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Kimberly Van Haitsma, a clinical health psychologist at the Polisher Research Institute in North Wales, Pa., said that patients who make the personal decision for palliative care often become the source of support to others facing the same challenges.

"What is different now, given the advent of social media mechanisms, is the use of social media as a means of providing such support," said Van Haitsma. "Of course, the number of potential persons that any given individual may touch in this new medium is also greatly enhanced."

Stanicki said his end-of-life experience hasn't been as difficult for him as it seems to be for other people.

"Reasoned logic seems to work for me," Stanicki said. "What's behind you is behind you and what's in the future is doubtful."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm open for a chance to get better," Stanicki said. "In case anyone's listening, I just want to say that I'm willing to go with that if they want to heal me."

But the reality is that Stanicki, his wife and children are getting ready for his death. No one pretends that it isn't going to happen.

And in turn, Stanicki, who describes himself as an ordinary man, has turned to helping others.

"You're living burden-free, and that's a real gift if you're able to look at it in that way," he said. "I try to tell people that this can really make life delightful."

When End-of-Life Care Starts

According to the National Cancer Institute, end-of-life care begins when a patient's health care team determines that the cancer can no longer be controlled. Testing and treatments stop, and the focus turns to keeping the patient as comfortable as possible.

Nancy Hodgson, a research scientist at the Jefferson Center for Applied Research on Aging and Health, said Stanicki reminds her of Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor of computer science and human-computer interaction. He was best known for his "Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."

After learning that he was dying of pancreatic cancer, Pausch encouraged people to live the lives they imagined for themselves.

"[Pausch was] someone who eloquently was able to nurture and comfort others in the face of his own death," said Hodgson. "In our palliative care practice, we commonly see individuals who are facing their own mortality take on the role of the nurturer."

Much like Pausch, Stanicki discusses his end-of-life experiences with ease to his Inspire friends. He continues to post discussions with a William Carlos Williams-type of poetic sparseness.

On Sunday, November 14, he posted a note titled "Enjoying the end of life experience:"

"I had a great day today/ I realized I am enjoying my End of life experience/ I am one fortunate fella/ I just abandon any expectations/ And enjoy all that is."

The Power of Social Media

Danielle Leach, Inspire's director of Partnership, said that she is not surprised that a person like Stanicki has taken on the nurturing role.

"Jim is talking about tough stuff on the website, and it really provides an outlet for these patients and caregivers that maybe can't communicate the same thing with their families," said Leach. "These communities create powerful meaningful connections for practical stuff that people are dealing with."

Leach said social networks and forums have leaders and followers, just like any other community. There are people like Stanicki all over the Inspire website.

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