Patient with Chronic Lung Cancer Becomes Hospice Caregiver

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Hospice patients usually have limited energy, as they're experiencing symptoms of a serious medical condition, said Ashburn. And if they are well enough, Ashburn said that those patients tend to focus on personal and family issues.

"They [may] want to complete a task that they are already engaged in," said Ashburn. "Therefore, what Mr. Stanicki is doing is truly unique."

Stanicki made it clear that he continues to "tie up loose ends" for his family. He has made sure bank accounts are intact and insurance is verified, and has even written specific instructions for each family member so as not to leave his wife and children with further hassles after his death.

Man With Terminal Cancer Becomes Hospice Counselor

When asked if he believes his hospice training was unique, Stanicki said, "Well, I don't know. I've always been somewhat strange. I just think living in the present is a pretty cool place to be."

Strange may be one way to describe it — just plain difficult may be another.

"Dealing with your own mortality and impending death can be frightening and overwhelming," said Ashburn. "One of the cornerstones of end-of-life care is to help provide the support the patient and their family needs to die with dignity and peace."

Stanicki wholeheartedly agreed.

"Facing your own mortality is a daunting task, there's no doubt about that," said Stanicki. "It is not to be done easily. It's work."

But Stanicki said he would look forward to supporting a hospice patient's journey to whatever extent they needed support. And he is quick to note that he would stay true to the hospice training he received.

"I'd just let them know that someone is there for them," said Stanicki. "I'd be a human. There is not a lot of human stuff going on right now. I think just someone sitting there, touching their hand and being there can be a lot."

Difference between Palliative Care and Hospice

Doctors said people often mistake palliative care for hospice care and vice versa. Hospice care provides palliative care, in a person's home, residential setting or hospital, for people in the last six months of the patient's life.

"Palliative care is not hospice," said Dr. Emily Chai, medical director of the palliative care program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "Palliative care can be provided at any time in the course of serious illness to address medical, social and spiritual distress."

Chai said palliative care helps patients with symptoms while undergoing curative treatment, assists in making sure the treatment meets the patient's and family's goals, and coordinates with decision making.

"Palliative care is not something that changes your care," said Karlekar. "It is additive to one's current care, and it is not about giving up, or not being a 'fighter.'"

"Palliative care is about doing everything possible to maximize someone's quality of life in a wholistic sense," said Karlekar.

That includes aggressive symptom control, advanced care planning and preparation for death while seeking curative and life-prolonging care, like chemotherapy. When thinking about how they would like to live or die, palliative-care patients talk with their doctors, families and society to seek answers and decisions.

"The truth is that people think about these things all the time," said Karlekar. "Having palliative care involved gives people who are already facing so many daunting issues enhanced support to face these challenges."

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