STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE THIRD-PLACE WINNER
By Maia Lauria
I first stumbled upon the issue of palliative care during a particularly hard time in my life. I was twenty years old, and for the first time having to confront the realities of watching a loved one die. Up until then, death had been a decently abstract concept to me. My grandmother had passed away when I was a child, but I was too young to be exposed to any part of the process. My uncle had also passed away when I was a teenager, but due to the suddenness of the death and geographical distance, I did not play a role in the event. I had never attended a funeral, let alone seen a corpse. The case of Monica was very different. For the first time, I became intimately involved in the dying process; and through this, became aware of the workings of the hospice and palliative care system that has become incredibly common throughout the country.
Monica was my mother’s best friend, and a pseudo-mother to my sister and I. In 2007, doctors found a malignant tumor in her colon, leading to multiple surgeries and the administration of rounds of chemotherapy. After some years of remission, the cancer returned in 2011, spreading to more of her internal organs. Once again, different treatments were administered, with waves of optimism and pessimism. Ultimately, in the summer of 2015, after attempting a failed experimental treatment, she was told that there was no more the doctors could do, and that she probably only had a couple more weeks to live. Receiving this news, she opted for in-home hospice care, to be able to spend her last days comfortably with family and friends.
Hospice care is becoming an increasingly common end of life plan in the United States. In the past decade, the number of hospice patients has more than doubled. In 2009, 42 percent of all deaths were under the care of a hospice program.1 According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, hospice care “ involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support” to help allow the patient to succumb to death in best way possible.2 The phrase they use is that they are shifting the focus from curing to caring. Typically, this involves a family member serving as the primary caregiver, with members of the hospice staff making regular visits and providing 24 hour on-call assistance.2 Central to hospice care is the idea of palliative care, which makes sure the patient is able to die in the most pain-free and dignified manner.