Hospice and Stigma

When most people think of Hospice, it’s generally the worst thing they can imagine. If they experience the type of care hospice provides though, either as patient, worker or even a volunteer, that negative thought will oftentimes vanish. The fact is that hospice can be seen as a place of peace and hope, and also one of compassion and even active living (even for those suffering from serious illness). This positive view of hospice is often completely foreign to most people, since the initial images of hospice care are generally the complete opposite.

So why is there so much stigma attached to hospice? The stigma is due, in part, to people realizing that hospices specialize in caring for dying people. In general, we as a society avoid death—we don’t talk about it, we don’t visit with people who are dying, and we don’t visit their families after they have passed away. Because we have this sense of avoidance, this is one of the reasons that hospice has such a negative ring in people’s ears. 

Most do not know about the type of care that hospice gives to its patients even earlier in the illness in order to make sure they are able to be active and live without pain. Both hospice and palliative care (which is the relief of suffering—either physical, emotional, social, spiritual, or psychological) are focused on life and living. Hospice workers can’t change a diagnosis, but they can and do work alongside the doctor to see that a patient is able to live as active a life as possible while dealing with the illness. Palliative care is one type of approach in improving quality of life and there has been research to show that people can and do live long when palliative care is combined with oncology care too.

Another thing to note is that hospice care is not just for people who are imminently dying; rather it is provided over a long period of time, and palliative care should also be a part of a patient’s oncology care from the beginning. People are often in need of great emotional support when discovering they’re dealing with cancer and the treatments that go along with it; they need control over distressing symptoms like pain, nausea, shortness of breath. Any and all doctors and nurses, and oncologists too, should be trained in the ins and outs of palliative care so that the elements from it can also be given in the oncology unit. Hospice care is very important for when someone requires additional care and support in the home or when the oncology unit doesn’t have the capability (as in knowledge or skills) of palliative care.

Hospice and its focus may seem dark and dreary at first, but you can find hope in knowing that they aren’t just there in times of death and despair. They know that dealing with illnesses can be devastating to individuals and families, and the people who work in hospice care have made it their mission to see that you or your loved ones get the best possible care you can while still being able to live a dignified and active life.