Hospice - When Cancer Leaves You No More Options

by GregP_WN

"Hospice " - A word that scares a lot of people, and a service that most of us never want to sign up for. But, when that time comes, when all other options have been exhausted, it is a valuable service. Sadly, I have experienced the services of a Hospice service twice, once with each Parent, only ten months apart. 

Hospice  When Cancer Leaves You No More Options

Taking care of a loved one through with Hospice during the last days of their life is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and one of the most rewarding.

While the term "Hospice" is terrifying to even say out loud, once you study, ask questions of the staff, learn exactly what they will do for your loved one, and your whole family, you will realize that it's not a bad thing. Nobody wants to die, but if they have to, I think most would say they would like to do it peacefully, quietly, and with as little grief on their family as possible. 

My families first experience with using a Hospice service came at the end of my Father's life. He had been fighting prostate cancer for some 15 years. I remember the day he was diagnosed, the young Doctor told Dad, "sir, don't worry too much about dying from prostate cancer because you'll die from something else long before prostate cancer will ever get you." I didn't quite know how to take that statement but soon learned that his meaning was that since prostate cancer grows so slow, he would most likely die from another issue before cancer got him. 

That might have been true if Dad had been taking his meds all those years that he was supposed to be taking. After his death we learned that he had boxes of medicine stacked up that the VA had been sending him, he never took it after the first couple of weeks because he said he didn't like the way it made him feel. So he just went about life without a worry, other than wondering when that prostate cancer was going to come calling. 

When it was finally time, Dad had been fighting it off for about 15 years. Then all of a sudden things started to happen. He couldn't urinate, he had to have a catheter. He started losing weight, some things made him nauseous to eat. He was losing weight at the rate of about 10# a month. While at one of his appointments at the VA I demanded that the young newly graduated Doctor do something other than say, "boy, you've lost a lot of weight", like all the others had done. 

I must have caught him at a moment of empathy. He scheduled Dad for some immediate tests to start finding out why he was on this downhill slide. But, those test only went one test deep. After a cat scan, the Doctor called me to tell me that they needn't go any farther. His cancer had spread to his pelvis, bladder, lungs and they thought most likely the brain also. We were told he may live three weeks to two months, but they really thought it would be more like a few weeks. 

How To Be A Friend To Someone At The End Of Life

Dad went downhill so fast it was unbelievable, he was walking the fences on his farm and three days later he was in the ER, and never went back home. I remember the Doctor calling me to tell me that there were no options, Dad's cancer had spread too far, and he had maybe a month to live, possibly only weeks. 

I had never been through the process of taking care of someone at the end of life before that. I had terrible visions of a slow, painful and agonizing death. I have never been so wrong. None of what I thought would happen, happened. 

After we contacted our local Hospice service, they came by and talked with us about what to expect. They explained the entire process from Dad's current condition all the way to what would happen in the end. And they hit everyone point right on the head. Dad was given whatever pain meds were necessary to keep him comfortable. Hospice's goal is to make the patient pain free, but not sedate them so much that they are unconscious. 

As this process started, Dad was still able to talk, eat, get up and go to the restroom, etc. Then slowly things started to change, he couldn't walk any longer, he started eating less and less, he began to sleep more. His body just basically slowed down and came to a stop like a car coming to a stop sign. 

Hospice Nurse

During this process there was one of the family sitting with him at all times, to get what he needed, be sure he was turned from side to side to prevent bed sores, and provide whatever small thing we could for him. There were none of the horrific things that I thought would be there at the end of life. My Brother was sitting with him as he took his last breath. Peacefully and quietly. 

While this process was going on, we talked about lots of things from our past and my childhood. Things we had never talked about before. Dad knew he was bad sick, and wouldn't be coming out of this one. That was one of the sad things about watching him slip away, knowing that he still had things he wanted to do, and he wouldn't be able to do them before his time was over. Dad passed away only three weeks after being admitted to the nursing home. 

Hospice, A Second Time

After this painful process was over, just two months later my Mother developed a cough that wouldn't go away. That cough turned out to be inoperable lung cancer. That painful process started over again. 

To Feel Loved At The End Of Life

The difference this time was that Mom had more time. The Doctors estimated maybe six months, she managed to squeak out 8 months. During the first part of this, she was as normal as any other time. We talked, we went places, we did whatever she wanted to do. Our goal was to make this last six months the best time of her life, as odd as that sounds. We cooked her favorite foods, ignored most of the usual rules about "eating healthy" and tried to help her get the most enjoyment out of life that we possibly could. We sat and looked through boxes of old pictures and Mom would tell me everyone in the picture, when and where it was. She was still sharp as a tack. I learned more about Mom during that eight months than I did the rest of my life. 

My Wife and I moved her into our house and again, at all times someone was there with her. I said this was one of the most rewarding things I had ever done. Some people have a funny look on their face when I say that. This is what I mean: During this time the roles are reversed. During your childhood your parents take care of you, they provide for your every need and will do anything for you. When it's time for Hospice, the roles are reversed. Then it's your turn to take care of them.

We took care of both Mom and Dad like they took care of us. We got them a drink when they couldn't get out of bed, we helped them to the bathroom, we put socks on their feet when they were cold or got an extra blanket. We cooked for them, went and got special treats that they might like, or anything they wanted. At this point in time, you will take care of every little need that they have. You may think that a sip of water is no big deal unless you have been unfortunate enough to be stuck in a bed, not able to get out and go get what you want. 

Mom lasted eight months and just like Dad, she just slowed down to a point of sleeping a lot, and simply drifted away. This was a far cry from a description one callous doctor gave me. He said she will "drown in her own blood when the blood vessels in her lungs start to rupture." Isn't that a lovely thing to hear about how your Mother will die, from her doctor? Thankfully, her actual act of dying was nothing like that. It was the hardest thing to watch we have ever been through. But, I am happy that my Wife and I, along with my two Brothers and their Wives were able to be there for both Mom and Dad.

We Cannot Change The Outcome

Nobody wants to have to call Hospice , but when cancer leaves you no more options, they are a blessing. They will allow you to take care of your loved one at home, or even at a Nursing Facility with their help. Being able to be there and provide Mom and Dad with anything that they needed during this time was an extremely rewarding thing. If this time comes for you, don't be afraid, it is the least you can do for your parents in this situation. They have spent their lives taking care of us, it's our time to take care of them. We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey. 

Have you had an experience using Hospice? How did it go for you and your family?

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