Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Focus on Death Destroys a Patient's Will to Live

DEAR ABBY: I am a retired 80-year-old general surgeon. I am writing because I disagree with your response to "Grieving in L.A.," whose friend died of cancer and was never told that she was terminally ill. The writer felt guilty.

The greatest factor in living, and in recovery from any illness or injury, is the patient's determination to live and recover. It is more important by far than the best of medical advice, supervision and treatment. To destroy hope is to seed defeat. The focus at home and in the professional environment should be directed at encouragement and a positive attitude. Any emphasis on "you are going to die" is, therefore, totally counterproductive. -- EUGENE S. KILGORE JR., M.D., TIBURON, CALIF.

DEAR DR. KILGORE: Intelligent minds can differ. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Before my first wife died of cancer in 1960, her doctor called me into his office. He said he would tell her all the facts and how much time she had left. I told him it was my responsibility. The doctor said it was her right -- that she might want to say something to the family or have something done. He was right! When I gave her the facts, she told me to get our minister, as she wanted to be baptized.

Abby, my wife literally got out of her deathbed to be baptized at the hospital.

Every person who is dying has the right to know. I have never regretted doing what I did. Please tell your readers who are wrestling with this question not to hold back the truth. -- L.L. IN FORT SMITH, ARK.

DEAR L.L.: You have made a compelling argument. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: My husband was diagnosed with cancer early last year. Throughout his treatment, we were given optimistic scenarios which, one by one, proved to be unfounded. I pleaded with the doctors, hospital personnel and visiting nurses to give me honest answers about his chances for recovery. No one would.

My greatest sorrow is that we were never given the opportunity to properly say goodbye. There was much I wanted to say, and advice I needed to hear. The end came suddenly from cardiac arrest.

PLEASE TELL HEALTH CARE PERSONNEL TO TELL THE TRUTH WHEN PATIENTS OR FAMILY ASK FOR IT. Some people may not want to hear it -- that's their choice -- but when others seriously ask for it, please respond realistically. Had we been given honest answers, we could have expressed our heartfelt farewells, then enjoyed each remaining day as it came. -- GRIEVING IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR GRIEVING: My heart goes out to you. This is a question for which there is no one right answer. A Washington reader wrote that she and her husband joined a cancer support group. During one session, a surgeon asked if they would want to be told if they were terminal. To her surprise, all the patients said, "No."

Another reader's mother asked her, "Am I dying?" She replied: "I don't know. But let's do whatever we need to do as if you were. Let's talk and share; then if you don't die, we'll be all the richer." When her mother died two years later, her father said, "These were the happiest sad moments of my life." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: My message is for "Grieving in L.A.": You are going over in your mind (and heart) a thousand ways you could have handled your dear friend's pre-death days. Please stop beating yourself up. Hindsight is always 20/20. You were between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." You were handling the end of you and your friend's relationship from the perspective of her husband's wishes, her mother's and her doctor's. Obviously, you were the best friend your friend could ever have had. It sounds to me like you did an exemplary job of juggling a difficult life situation. Your letter brought back a thousand memories. -- BEEN THERE IN FAIRFIELD, IDAHO

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600