Patient with Chronic Lung Cancer Becomes Hospice Caregiver

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After several years of lung cancer treatments, surgeries and therapies that showed no progress, Jim Stanicki said he'd had enough.

Last year, Stanicki, a 60-year-old-man from Denmark, Maine, chose the option of palliative care, a form of medical treatment that concentrates on reducing pain and other effects of the disease, rather than attempting to reverse the progression of the disease itself.

"I realized that, for me, a day living on chemo is a day I'm not living," said Stanicki, who was diagnosed with bronchoalveolar cancer in 2007. "I'd rather walk outside, live a life, and breathe the air for as long as I can."

Stanicki has not only accepted his fate, but has become a leading voice on how to enjoy life, whether you know the end is coming or not.

"I seem to be able to deal with death a lot better than others, so it seemed like the work I am supposed to do right now," said Stanicki. "I'm not excited about dying, but I'm having a splendid end-of-life. I appreciate everything I have."

On Inspire.com, a health and wellness social network that covers a wide range of health conditions, Stanicki has been active in sharing the highs and lows of his chronic disease, while also becoming a voice of reason, comfort and wisdom, for other members in their end-of-life experience.

Now, Stanicki is on a new mission, a new "dying kind of work." He has finished nine three-hour hospice training sessions. With his own experience, Stanicki hopes to comfort others who are in their end-of-life.

"A lot of people, understandably, have problems with the end of their life," said Stanicki, "It seems to be something that I can handle well."

While Stanicki can't be sure when he will die, he said he feels healthy enough to make use of the hospice training while he can. But, still, hospice trainers were concerned when he entered the program.

"They were worried I'd die before the hospice patient," said Stanicki with a chuckle. "They figured that wouldn't be too good for morale."

End-of-Life Patient and Caregiver

But now, Stanicki said the team feels more comfortable with his participation in the program, even though he hasn't been matched with a patient yet.

"No one seems to be dying," said Stanicki. "I'm the only one I know who's dying."

Dr. Mohana Karlekar, medical director of the palliative care program at Vanderbilt University, said that it is important for end-of-life patients to connect with others in a similar situation.

"Having patients talk about their real stories is wonderful because one cannot argue that 'they do not understand,'" said Karlekar. "There are so many people afraid to talk about it, and leading by example is very powerful."

Karlekar cited a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated decreased mortality in those with advanced lung cancer in patients who chose palliative care and chemotherapy versus chemotherapy alone.

"I think as palliative care grows, one will see more patients volunteering in palliative care programs," said. "If we integrate palliative care as we should, we will see lot more patients undergoing, for example, chemotherapy and palliative care, and more patients being able to volunteer as Jim has."

But Dr. Michael Ashburn, director of pain medicine and palliative care at the Penn Pain Medicine Center in Philadelphia, said that, in his experience, it is not common for palliative care patients to volunteer as hospice caregivers, probably due to several reasons.

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