Thoughts from the dying: perspectives of patients in palliative care

Ilene shares her thoughts

Part of palliative care is trying to meet whatever needs are most important to patients. For the patient in this vignette, returning home to family in Jamaica was her priority and all efforts were made to help that be possible.

What brought you to the palliative unit at Sunnybrook?

I was over at the hospital because I was bleeding for a period of time. They discovered that I had cancer of the cervix. They ruled surgery out and from what they were seeing, and said radiation wouldn’t help much either. But while my mind and heart were listening to what was being said, I still do think that what is being said is not true. I will not accept that there is no hope. There has to be something that can do away with this. And that something else has got to be God. God is my strength and my life and my creator. He’s known me since the day I was born, so I’m going to take this to him and leave it with him and he will have to bring me through all of this.

Have you been religious your whole life?


Is it hard to put your hope in someone else’s hands?

It’s not hard to put it in God’s hands. For a time, it was in the doctor’s hands. But once the doctors are unable to do anything, than it’s easy to let God take over.

What is your hope?

Will all my heart, I’m going to be well.

Is it difficult being in the palliative unit, knowing what you believe?

Yes. When I first came here, it was very hard to absorb it. I shouldn’t be here, but I’m not really sorry I’m here because being here shows me what’s going on with a lot of patients. The sickness they are facing and looking over and realizing it that I’m not alone in this. I came here and I said to myself, I’m here to get better, not worse. I’m here to live, and I’m going to be walking out of here a living, healthy person.

I hear you are flying home soon?

Yes, to Jamaica next week.

Are you feeling well for the trip?

I’m hoping by then I’ll feel stronger. Day by day, I’m getting a bit more energetic.

Ilene, not everyone will have the chance to leave this unit in the way you hope to. Can you offer some guidance on how people can manage this stage in their lives?

They might be thinking, if I’m here at this stage, that means there is no hope for me. But they say a drowning man will catch a straw just to survive. If you know you are drowning, and you can kick a little harder, you’ll kick a little harder and grab onto the straw.

Do you fear dying, or do you see it as a form of going home to God?

I don’t fear dying because I know we all have to die. But I know it’s not my time yet.

I have so much to do before I go home to God.

Has the process of being in the palliative unit given you pause about living your life well? Do you have advice for others?

I was never the party girl, and spent a lot of time with my mother. I know you have your own life to live, but do as much as you can for your parents. You don’t know what’s ahead of you, but you want to know you were always there for your parents. You don’t want to look back and think you should have done more and you can’t.

Do you have any regrets in your life?

I probably didn’t do too much bird watching. I didn’t take too many trips into the islands and go down to the resorts and lay down on the beach. Occasionally my mother and I would go to Jamaica and we would sit on the beach and jump in the water. But all the things I did with her make up for the [other things] I should have done. Now that’s she passed on, I can do more. So that’s the reason I have to leave and I must get better. Now I’d like to go and drink some tequila and some pina coladas because I’ve never had those things.

You’ve never had a pina colada?

No! And I feel I’m missing something. So now I have to get better so I can enjoy those little things I didn’t get to enjoy. Have some fun. I deserve that. I want to have my pina colada, my coconut water and some drink with rum in it that tastes nice. I want to go down to the beach and spread out and look at the glorious sunshine and feel that nice cool breeze. I want to go do some living. I don’t have time to sit around and die. I want to live.

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