Making moments matter: End of life care

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Wendy’s 42nd birthday fell on a bright, warm Monday. That September afternoon, Wendy Almeida breathed her last breath, succumbing to her long battle with cancer. She felt secure and loved. Friends and family gathered to celebrate with her the previous day. Later that week, friends and family gathered once again in Wendy’s honour – only this time, for a very different reason.

There is little we can be grateful for when a loved one succumbs to disease. Still, when he or she finds relief from pain in a comfortable environment so that precious time can be spent with family and friends, there are blessings to be counted. That is, essentially, what hospice palliative care provides.

Palliative care ensures patients with life-limiting illness, receive the care that considers a range of needs from spiritual to practical and is dedicated to valuing quality of life while supporting families as well. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough palliative care beds available to support the number of families requiring the specialized level of care. In fact, only three in 10 patients in Ontario will gain access to a palliative care bed when they need one.

The Healing Cycle Foundation, through an annual bike ride and year-round information campaign, strives to increase awareness and raise the much needed funds to support palliative care initiatives in Ontario. The foundation recently surpassed its goal to raise $1 million for palliative care at The Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga and has now broadened its scope to also support hospices throughout Ontario. Through a grant process, hospices are invited to apply to the foundation for funding to support expenses related to practical needs as well as programs.

Carpenter Hospice, affectionately referred to as ‘the most special home in Burlington’ receives government funding for nurses and personal care workers only. All other operational costs rely on the $1.3 million raised annually to support programs, food, and maintenance of the hospice itself.

Wendy spent the final months of her life at Carpenter Hospice. The hospice offers patients comfort and support through specialized programs, including bereavement groups to support families. Adrienne Pringle, music therapist helps patients and families access the emotions and words they may not otherwise find. “We value music therapy as a part of the support system atCarpenter Hospice and we hope to expand the program if we can secure the funds to do so,” says Lesley. “Wendy really had a connection with Adrienne through the music – it was lovely,” her mother, Betty adds.

The essence of palliative care is to embrace the entire family. Programs are designed to ease the burden on family during the illness and to provide the peace of mind for families who can know they provided the best care for their loved ones in their final days.

In the months since Wendy passed away, her children and their father continue to seek support through grief counseling. Wendy’s parents, Betty and Wayne are very supportive, keeping their grandchildren overnight and helping with extracurricular activities. “It’s been difficult but we are taking it one day at a time,” says Roger. “We obviously miss Wendy, but we talk about her a lot, and I think that helps,” says Roger. He’s proud of Grant and Emily and is confident they are going to be okay. He acknowledges this first year is proving difficult but that they will get through it together.

Grant recently made a pasta dinner for his family, all by himself. Roger can already see that Grant has his mother’s flare for cuisine can already see so much of Wendy in her daughter Emily who just celebrated her 13th birthday.

Carpenter Hospice is one of the hospices that registered a team to raise funds for their own hospice in the annual ride on June 24, 2012. Every dollar raised by Carpenter’s team, the ‘Pedaling Philanthropists for Carpenter House’ goes directly back to the hospice. As well, hospices are invited to apply for financial grants through the foundation to support programs and services. For more information about palliative care, the bike ride or to learn how your hospice can secure funds, please contact Heather Campbell, executive director, The Healing Cycle Foundation at 905-820-6081 or visit www.thehealingcycle.ca.

Live. Love. Ride.