Redefining Hope

by Vickie S. Watson, Community Relations Specialist

HOPE CompassHere at Shepherd’s Cove Hospice, we come up against a lot of myths.  There are some real doozies out there.  One we hear often is, “Hospice means giving up hope.”  That is a completely understandable myth/misconception because hospice care is directly related to terminal illnesses.  But making a decision for hospice care does not mean you are giving up hope.  Hospice redefines hope and helps patients and their families reclaim the spirit of life.  Hospice care focuses on improving the patient’s quality of life, allowing them to make the most of the time they have remaining.

Hospice helps patients and families find new hope and meaning in their lives as care goals turn from cure to comfort.  Hope, therefore, is discovered in the journey.  It might be redefining your expectations day by day or even moment by moment.  Hope, for a moment, may be seeing a smile, sharing a hug, or hearing “I love you” one last time.

I recently happened upon an article written in the New York Times in 2009 entitled, “Talking Frankly at the End of Life.”  In this article, Dr. Pauline Chen discusses her personal journey through her mother-in-law’s terminal illness.  Throughout this journey, Dr. Chen explored how better end-of-life care doesn’t dash hope but restores it by ensuring the best possible quality of life for the patient.  The article mentions a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined how end-of-life care discussions with terminal patients affected their quality of life and that of their caregivers.  Chen spoke with Dr. Alexi Wright, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and one of the lead authors of the article, regarding interviews conducted with terminal patients and their caregivers.  Chen stated,

I asked Dr. Wright if telling patients that they were dying might take away hope. “In trying to emphasize only the positive, we can end up with a misguided sense of hope,” Dr. Wright responded. “I think it’s really important to define hope more broadly. Hope is in the life we live, in our families. When I meet patients with incurable cancer, I hope they live as long as they can and with the best quality of life they can have…”

For many terminally ill patients, hope can take on a new meaning, a renewed sense of appreciation of life and its simple pleasures. As hospice patients learn to live with dying, they are given the opportunity to become more fully alive in the present moment – their hope is redefined.  The time the patients and family/caregivers have remaining can be filled with deep love, grace, and a newfound definition of hope.