Thursday late morning Cassie said “see ya later” to the staff while the ambulance crew wheeled her to the elevator. Cassie smiled, the nurses returned the smiles amongst tears, we even snapped a quick group picture. Cass had written on one of the hospital’s white boards earlier that week, “Don’t be afraid, just believe. Mark 5:36.” She pointed to it as she rolled past. I tried to smile, but like a zombie, I slowly followed the gurney. Chris and the kids stayed back with our social worker Kathleen. She spent some time discussing the emotional side of hospice and the idea of “dumping circles”. She wanted to make it very clear to us that Cass was at the center of the circle, the rest of the Hines 5 were in the next circle, followed by Ashley’s almost fiancé, Jeff, along with the rest of our immediate family and close friends. The final circle was “everyone else”. Only support goes “in” and fear, whining, complaining etc. is dumped “out”. This simple concept was how we were to control what was about to happen at our house for what would be the next 40 days. Kathleen made it very clear that it is our job to protect each other.
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, our social worker was stopping by to see how we were all holding up, or so I thought. You see, our daughter Cassie had just had surgery to remove a large tumor on her spine, which was causing severe leg pain. Cassie had been a kidney cancer patient for the last four years so we were all pretty used to the scan, surgery, recovery life of a chronic cancer patient. Her last set of scans revealed several tumors on her spine so Cassie had decided to remove the largest of the tumors, causing leg pain, and join a trial to hopefully shrink the rest. The problem was, before she could join a trial, the pain and numbness in her arms was getting worse. The remaining tumors were growing fast.
In the cancer community, there are many people keen to talk about finding a cure, or about the experience of living with and/or surviving cancer. We try so hard to stay positive that we end up avoiding any discussion of death and loss…leaving those with metastatic and advanced cancer feeling deserted and isolated. At CKN we are looking to start publishing more on death, dying and “living while you’re dying”. We want to create a platform where people are free to explore the mysteries, fears and hopes surrounding death with the same enthusiasm and curiosity that we bring to all other aspects of life.
There has been considerable buzz around the issue of assisted death in Canada – and around the world – lately. CKN will be publishing a new series surrounding this issue. Stay tuned as we hear different perspectives from both professionals and patients in the coming weeks.
On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada made a unanimous decision that it is unconstitutional to prohibit physician-assisted death. Physician-assisted death includes both physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. In the past weeks, much has been said about end-of-life care and physician-assisted death being a “therapeutic service” for some Canadians, but critical elements have been lacking or clouding this discussion. In particular, little has been said about what palliative care is, and while much has been said about death, little has been said about the life stage of dying. Lastly, a myriad of confusing language has been used in this debate. Physician-assisted death is not “medically-aided dying,” nor should it be confused with palliative care.