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How a doctor copes with his incurable lung cancer

A University of Washington family doctor reassessed his life after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He decided to collect the stories of patients living with similar diagnoses.

Three years ago, University of Washington doctor Morhaf Al Achkar was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. As a doctor, he had a unique experience from most of us, when it came to accessing the backrooms of health care.

"Just making appointments, I can page the oncologist team," he said, when he needed to get help. He also saw when talking with the doctors, "there's no sugar coating."

Dr. Achkar spoke with the host of KUOW's The Record, Bill Radke, about his diagnosis and how he thinks about death now.

"I do think about it when I hear that people in similar situations to me have not made it," he said. "I think about it when I experience bodily symptoms, when I start coughing more. I think about it when I take my medicine, twice a day."

Dr. Achkar and Bill Radke also talked about finding meaning in life before you die.

"It was urgent for me to find meaning," said Dr. Achkar. "I've been in school for all my life ... When I became ill and I knew that I may not live for very long, I wanted to know meaning -- what's life and what's beyond it and what's after it as well? And I wished there was one answer that would fall upon my hands."

Dr. Achkar interviewed other patients with lung cancer to find out how they found meaning in their lives. He's collected the stories into a book, "Roads to Meaning and Resilience with Cancer: 40 Stories of Coping, Finding Meaning, and Building Resilience While Living with Incurable Lung Cancer."

Morhaf Al Achkar, Roads to Meaning and Resilience with Cancer

Three years after he was given 6-10 months to live, Dr. Morhaf Al Achkar is still practicing medicine and still reassessing the meaning he finds in his life. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and has spoken to other lung cancer patients. Those stories are collected in a new book called Roads to Meaning and Resilience with Cancer: 40 Stories of Coping, Finding Meaning, and Building Resilience While Living with Incurable Lung Cancer.