“You matter because of who you are. You matter to the last moment of your life, and we will do all we can , not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”
–Dame Cicely Saunders
What is hospice care?
Hospice care focuses on quality rather than length of life. It provides humane and compassionate care for people in the last phases of incurable disease so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.
The hospice philosophy accepts death as the final stage of life: it affirms life and neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice care treats the person rather than the disease, working to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. It’s also family-centered – it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.
Hospice care is used when you can no longer be helped by curative treatment, and you are expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. Hospice gives you supportive or palliative care, which is treatment to help relieve disease-related symptoms, but not cure the disease. Its main purpose is to improve your quality of life. You, your family, and your doctor decide together when hospice care should begin.
One of the problems with hospice is that it’s often not started soon enough. Sometimes the doctor, patient, or family member will resist hospice because he or she thinks it means you’re “giving up,” or that there’s no hope. This is not true. If you get better or the cancer goes into remission, you can leave hospice and go into active cancer treatment. But the hope that hospice brings is the hope of a quality life, making the best of each day during the last stages of advanced illness.
Some doctors don’t bring up hospice, so the patient or family member might decide to start the conversation. If your treatment isn’t working anymore, you can ask your doctor or a member of your treatment team about hospice – especially if you have discomfort or symptoms that need to be closely managed.
Last Medical Review: 04/30/2013
Last Revised: 04/30/2013