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Choosing Hospice is an active choice

by Gail Hamm, program director

We can all think of words that have a positive meaning for one person and a negative meaning for another. For some people hospice means “I’m giving up” or “he’s giving up”. I have heard this over and over and just read it again in a journal article. But I believe that choosing hospice is a very active choice, not a passive one. It means taking charge of one’s life, and most of us would agree that is a positive thing.

I have vivid memories of working with a gentleman with lung cancer and his wife when I worked at a local hospice. “Matt” chose not to seek treatment. He went on disability and used his last year to be with his wife and grandkids, take care of his home, and spend time with his friends.

During the year I worked with Matt and his family, Matt continued to live. He no longer went to his former job, but he kept busy at home, doing the things he loved. His grandchildren were frequently in the home, and I was able to spend time with them.

Matt’s quality of life was good for a number of months, but gradually there were changes. He could no longer hoist bags of mulch into his truck. He mowed the small patch of grass by his home, over 2 days, not in an hour’s time. Eventually, his wife mowed the grass.

Matt had time to ponder life and death. I was privileged to be a witness as he was baptized by the hospice chaplain in his home before becoming bedfast. Eventually, Matt was able to communicate less and slept through many of my visits while I conversed with his wife, listening and supporting her in the final weeks.

I never thought Matt gave up when he opted for hospice. He chose to be in charge. And he remained in charge, directing his final days, living and dying by his terms.

Cancer Services works with our clients through every step of their diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and at times, end of life care. Sometimes, in spite of the best treatment, there comes a point when no further treatment will change the course of the disease. Cancer Services’ advocates work with clients and their families to understand their options and support them in their decisions to take charge of their lives.