Palliative care doctor discusses end of life care on podcast

Palliative care doctor discusses end of life care on podcast


I’ve been a palliative care doctor for 30 years – here are the most common regrets people express before they die

  • Dr Patricia Sheahan appeared on the What a Woman podcast
  • READ MORE:  PODCAST PICK: The best audio show to listen to now

A leading palliative care doctor who has been working with terminally ill patients for more than 30 years has revealed the things people reflect on as they come close to death – including some of their biggest regrets.

Dr Patricia Sheahan, from Co Kerry, Ireland, told the What a Woman podcast that she takes the lessons she has learnt from her ailing patients and applies them in her life; particularly in raising her two sons.

Speaking to host Caroline Lyons, who created the podcast with her friend and producer Sarah Benner, Dr Sheahan said she is struck by the most common regrets held by people receiving palliative care.

According to the specialist, the two regrets she hears time and time again from her patients are that they wished they hadn’t been afraid to be themselves; and they wished they had chased their dreams.

What a Woman podcast was created by two friends, host Caroline Lyons (pictured) and producer Sarah Benner

She revealed that, from her experience, patients had reflected: ‘Why was I afraid to be who I wanted to be, and instead I was what people expected of me?’ 

Dr Sheahan added another common regret was: ‘I didn’t do something because I was worried about what people would think.’ 

She added that, taking on board such regrets, she now encourages her four sons, aged 25, 24, 21 and 19, to go after what they want, and tells them: ‘The only time I believe you haven’t succeeded in something is when you’ve failed to try.’

Elsewhere, the doctor added people expressed regrets over not spending enough time with friends and family. 

Another regret is: ‘Why didn’t I just enjoy the now?’ 

Dr Sheahan’s appearance on the podcast marked one of many impressive women invited to speak by the creators, who are based in Tralee, Ireland. 

Among the other interviewees are a number of well-known women including Kerry footballer and rugby player Louise Galvin, presenter Jacqui Hurley, and Irish Examiner columnist Annmarie O’Connor. 

The topics discussed on the podcast range from issues like body image and anxiety, to autism and postnatal depression.

One of the show’s standout episodes was with leading palliative care consultant Dr Patricia Sheahan (pictured)

Describing the show, the makers have said: ‘Health and wellbeing is a primary focus of the current series where we are addressing issues relating to female health on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level.’ 

Speaking to Traleetoday, about what they were trying to achieve with the podcast, Caroline and Sarah described themselves as ‘friends and mums looking for inspiration in our lives’.

They added that they were also seeking role models for their children – especially their daughters.

Caroline added: ‘These guests talk about how they’ve achieved their goals and dreams, the resilience they’ve needed and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are now and there is something inspiring to take from every conversation.

‘It is a podcast which celebrates women’s achievements, inspires listeners to try and get the best out of themselves and shows the younger generation of women there are no limits to what they can achieve in life.’

Dr Patricia Sheahan’s insight into what life is like as a palliative care doctor drew on the conversations she has had with people who are dying, and how she takes the lessons she has learnt with her in every day life. 

Show creators Caroline Lyons and producer Sarah Benner (pictured) wanted to do something creative, as well as show women that there are no limits to their achievements

Sarah (pictured) had been working in sales and marketing for a healthcare company before she pivoted her career and started podcast producing

According to Caroline (pictured), they have been astounded by the calibre of guest they have been able to attract to the first season of their podcast 

One of the main things she has learnt during her career is the importance of living in the moment and appreciating that there is something good in every single day.

Elsewhere in the interview, Dr Sheahan gave her thoughts on assisted dying from the things she has seen in her three-decade career.

Of all the terminally ill patients she has treated during that time, the palliative care doctor said ‘probably five people’ stick out in her mind who she believes would have chosen to end their own lives after they had received pain management and treatment to relieve their symptoms.

‘I’ve looked after an awful lot of people… thousands and thousands,’ she said.

‘I would feel the legislation would want to be very careful about it.’

Dr Sheahan added that her concerns over euthanasia relate to a properly staffed and resourced health and social care system, as she believes some people may consider choosing assisted dying because they don’t want to be a burden on their families, in the absence of proper palliative care in the community. 

She added she does not believe assisted dying should be carried out by palliative care doctors due to a ‘conflict of interest’.

The mother-of-four revealed one of the most common questions she is asked by patients is how it will feel to die. 

However, rather than shying away from this question, she said she sees it as a positive thing, because it means her patient accepts what is happening to them.

In a career that comes with many challenges, Dr Sheahan discussed in particular the difficulty of telling a patient their time is coming to an end.

‘You never like to hurt anybody and telling people time is short can be…’ she said, before Sarah chimed in and said it was a ‘tough thing to say.’

The medic also gave her advice to listeners who have a terminally-ill friend or family member.

‘There’ll be times they want to talk about [being ill], and times they won’t want to talk about it,’ said Dr Patricia.

‘Give them permission to talk when they do. But enable them to do whatever they want to do for themselves. Do not feel that you have to make it right. Because you know, you might be able to make it right. 

‘But for them to know that you’re there and that you listen and that you care is  what’s important.’ 

‘We discuss how they achieved their goals or childhood dreams, the sacrifices they made and the resilience they needed to get to where they are now to encourage us all to get the best out of ourselves.’ 

The podcast has been well-received since it was launched at the beginning of 2023, which may come as a surprise to its creators – neither of whom have a background in broadcasting. 

Caroline, a mother of three daughters, moved from London to Tralee in July 2021 when her husband’s job was relocated.

As someone with a creative streak, she saw the move as an opportunity to change careers away from her work in investment research – and that creative new opportunity came via podcasting.

Meanwhile, Tralee-born and bred Sarah had been working in sales for a healthcare company, and living with her husband and three children. 

Caroline says she has always been a huge fan of podcasts and loved the idea of starting her own. She had been working on one interviewing sea swimmers, but when she met Sarah (via one of her interviewees) the two decided to work together, and expand their interviewee base to women from different fields that were inspiring.

Sarah told Connect Publications that she travels a lot, and finds podcasts ‘great company’.

She continued: ‘Caroline interviewed my aunt Madeline for a podcast she had set up. When I was listening to it, I thought the interview was really engaging.’

Sarah, who has a daughter, added she wanted to highlight ‘ambitious, resilient, strong’ role models for her.

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