Nfld. & Labrador

Tedwalks: Dr. Susan MacDonald on what the dying can teach the living

In a series of original podcasts from CBC N.L., On The Go host Ted Blades hits the trails around St. John's with a guest in tow to talk about the world today and our place in it.

Palliative care should be introduced at the start of the illness — not the end

Dr. Susan MacDonald has been working in palliative care for decades. She took up writing as a hobby, and has since won two awards for her trilogy of fantasy novels. (Submitted)

The dying can teach the living a lot about what is truly important in this world, according to Dr. Susan MacDonald.

As the medical director of palliative care for Eastern Health, she says her work has taught her to be more mindful and to live in the moment without letting the trivial stuff get in the way. 

"In the end, we're all mortal and we all go," she told CBC radio host Ted Blades during a walk around Octagon Pond for an episode of the podcast Tedwalks.

MacDonald said people often don't understand what palliative care actually is and think it is a place of care — when actually it is a philosophy of care.

"It's a philosophy about the physical symptoms that somebody experiences when they have an illness that will eventually take their life, but also the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of whatever kind of suffering they're having," she said.

"Good palliative care is focused on helping people live as well as they possibly can for as long as they possibly can."

Don't wait until the end

Sometimes people don't consider palliative care early enough, MacDonald said, and assume it is a negative thing that is only for the end-of-life scenario.

"When people have palliative care right from the diagnosis of their incurable illness, not only do they have better symptom control, they live longer," she said.

"Most of the time we're really helping people, and that's worth its weight in gold."

To listen to the full episode of Tedwalks with Dr. Susan MacDonald, click here.

Listen to the entire Tedwalks series here at