When is it time for hospice?

At which point should a person diagnosed with life-limiting cancer register as a hospice patient? This is just one of the many questions asked not just by the patient, but by his/her family members too.

With February 4th being World Cancer Day, a global initiative that originated in the year 2000 at the first ‘World Summit Against Cancer’ held in Paris, we thought it appropriate to raise this question with Sr Sheryl Newman, Clinical Services Manager at Stepping Stone Hospice & Care Services in New Market Park.

“While helping to relieve a person's symptoms and side effects from treatment is an important part of cancer care, many patients wait too long to register for hospice care because of preconceived fears that this means they have given up or that hospice care is only applicable in the final weeks or days of life,” says Sr Sheryl. “Palliative care is designed to relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life and can be used at any stage of a life-limiting illness if there are troubling symptoms such as pain,” she adds.

Hospice care should begin when life-limiting cancer is first diagnosed and it can continue regardless of whether or not the patient is still receiving treatment directed at the disease. This care can take place at home, where a patient is assigned a community nurse who conducts home visits and helps maintain a patient’s quality of life throughout the duration of their illness. A patient may also be admitted to Stepping Stone Hospice’s In-Patient Unit (IPU) in New Market Park when management of pain and difficult symptoms is not being relieved at home, for the terminal stage of illness or if family members of the patient require a short period of respite from caring for the patient at home.

While hospice’s emphasis is based on a ‘caring’ rather than a ‘curing’ philosophy, the focus is always on ensuring that a patient retains their dignity and enjoys an enhanced quality of life. “We also understand the enormous strain that both the patient and their family/caregivers are under and offer counselling and any other support which may be necessary,” says Sr Sheryl.

“It is very important for us to debunk the myths and preconceptions that still exist about palliative care. Hospice is not a place but a ‘philosophy of care’ for people facing a life-limiting illness. It addresses a patient’s, as well as their family/caregivers’ physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. Our motto at Stepping Stone Hospice is clear: ‘You are not alone.’

“We see many patients with cancer and we know from years of experience, from global statistics and from the testimonials we receive from the families of the patients we have looked after, that hospice care improves quality of life. We are not in the business of hastening or postponing death. We are in the business of providing effective pain control, offering relief from distressing symptoms and offering support. Hospice is about affirming life.”

For more information about hospice care and/or how to register with Stepping Stone Hospice, call 010 516 0033 or visit www.steppingstonehospice.co.za.

Caption: You are not alone – “Hospice is in the business of providing effective pain control, offering relief from distressing symptoms and offering support,” says Sr Sheryl Newman (left), Clinical Services Manager at Stepping Stone Hospice & Care Services in New Market Park.

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