My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was 78 years old. Her doctor gently told her that she had 3 to 6 months to live and offered her radiation and chemotherapy. She said she’d ‘think about it’ and as she was discharged from the hospital, she told me she didn’t want to go back into the hospital and didn’t want to have chemo or radiation. I asked her if she was afraid of anything and she said she had lived a good life and wasn’t afraid to die but she didn’t want to suffer.
I reassured her that we would do everything in our power to honor her wishes and to prevent suffering – and that she could change her mind if she felt differently at any time. I, as a hospice nurse, appreciated the clarity with which she formed her thoughts and values about what was really important to her at this stage in her life. She wanted to be at home, see grandchildren and pets and eat, whenever and whatever she wanted.
Although my sister was adamant and wanted our mother to take chemo and radiation but didn’t want to talk with her about it, when I broached the subject in front of both of them, my mother told my sister the same things she had told me – her mantra had become…..’ don’t let me suffer.’
My sister was able to hear her and to learn that the treatments would cause her suffering and not offer any quality of life at a time when she knew her time was limited and she knew what was most important to her. She lived another 9 months, outliving her prognosis, and never going in the hospital again, her greatest wish.
Hospice services were brought in about 3 months before she died, peacefully at home with family around her. A hospice volunteer arrived within an hour after her death as did the hospice nurse to help with pronouncement, funeral details and to be present. She truly did not suffer and it was very healing for the family to know her wishes were honored.