NASW supported the Hospice Foundation of America’s 17th annual Living with Grief teleconference, “Cancer and End-of-Life Care.”
Each year, HFA hosts an expert panel teleconference that is observed by 100,000 social workers, nurses, physicians, therapists and clergy to discuss issues involving death, dying and bereavement.
Moderator Frank Sesno noted that 38 percent of hospice patients have cancer-related illnesses, a primary reason for hospice admission.
The teleconference included taped personal interviews with cancer survivors, family members and health and mental health professionals who assist clients and families with cancer and end-of-life care.
A primary concern among the panelists was the general lack of understanding — by both the public and primary care professionals — of how modern day hospices operate.
“Most people don’t have the knowledge of hospice and end-of-life decisions,” said panelist Sherri R. Schachter, director of bereavement services for Calvary Hospital/Hospice.
Panelist and social worker Yvette Colón, director of education and support at the American Pain Foundation and clinical instructor at the Smith College School for Social Work, said it is often difficult for people to face their own mortality and the experience can be emotionally threatening.
“We need to show them that we’re not afraid to have that conversation” with them, Colón said. This way, the client can feel more at ease to express his or her feelings, including spiritual and religious philosophies, she said.
Schachter said another thing to consider in hospice and palliative care is that each member of a family may cope differently when a loved one is facing end-of-life decisions.
It’s important that the family caregivers have a support system in place as well, the experts agreed.
Panelist Dr. Richard Payne, director of the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, said, “We need ways to support not only physical needs of the caregivers, but also their emotional needs.” Engaging with support groups and community care teams can make a big difference, he said.
Panelist Kenneth J. Doka, professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and senior consultant to HFA, said faith-based communities can play a large role in helping caregivers cope with their situation as well.
Another segment of the teleconference pointed out that a career in end-of-life care can be emotionally draining. Doka explained it is important that the workforce find and engage in coping skills. Using support systems at the workplace and having a sense of spirituality are two common ways to deal with the stress of the job, he said.
Panelists also discussed how friends and families can best cope with cancer deaths. One example focused on couples who are grieving the death of a child from cancer.
Payne said keeping couples focused on what they are experiencing can help. “Being present in the loss and grief is a foundation for moving on,” he said.
Colón said it is helpful for people experiencing grief to talk with someone who will not judge or blame them for their feelings.