JESSICA NUTIK ZITTER
“I think it was the stories that did it,” she
writes in her memoir, Extreme Measures:
Finding a Better Path to the End of Life,
“the ones that celebrated the diagnostic
acumen of quick thinkers, the extensive
knowledge gleaned from the study of
medical texts, and the confidence my
forebears inspired in those around them.
And the heroism of it all.”
But reality sets in as Zitter trains to become
a doctor. With candor, the would-be heroine
chronicles her missteps as she comes to
realize lifesaving measures that are the
tools of her trade can prolong suffering in
many cases. “A growing number of people,
especially with so many baby boomers
aging, are having experiences with death,
and frankly, a lot of them are having experi-
ences with bad death,” she says. “If you
go through an experience like this with a
family member, it’s a defining moment in
your life that can be traumatizing.”
This realization prompted Zitter to focus
on palliative care—a specialty that aims
to guide and support patients by manag-
ing the physical symptoms and emotional
aspects of a serious illness.
She recently spoke with Cancer Today
about how understanding patients’ values
can help to guide treatment decisions,
enrich life and ease end-of-life suffering.
C T: Do you think most oncologists are
taking the patient’s values and goals into
account when discussing treatment options?
ZIT TER: I think oncologists, like most
doctors, are trying, but it’s not yet where
it needs to be. The American Society of
Clinical Oncology has recommended that
patients with advanced cancer receive
palliative care as soon as they are diagnosed and no matter their treatment. So,
it’s starting to happen slowly. But we won’t
pass the tipping point until all doctors take
Jessica Nutik Zitter, a pulmonary and critical care physician whose parents, grandfather and other relatives were doctors, never doubted that she would one day enter the field of medicine.
PALLIATIVE CARE SPECIALIST JESSICA NUTIK ZITTER
OFFERS TIPS TO HELP ENSURE THAT PATIENTS’ VALUES
GUIDE END-OF-LIFE DECISIONS.
PHOTO B Y LUIGI SEMENZATO