April 10

Jay Rankin
Feb 22, 2015 - 6:26 PM EST
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2015 - 8:17 PM EST

Francis Ryall was in the final stages of liver cancer when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago.

He wasn’t just worried about his wife Amanda Ellard-Ryall, 45, but for his four children ages six to 10.

“It frightened me,” said Ryall, 57. “What’s going to happen to the children if we’re both gone?”

Since 2011, he’s been a patient with Windsor hospice, which has helped him not just deal with his illness, but with assisting his family.

On Saturday he spoke at Windsor’s LEAP training session about his experience as a palliative care patient.

“It has allowed me to live every day until I die — instead of dying every day until I die,” Francis told about 30 health care professionals.

The Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative and End-of-Life Care program is a two-day workshop organized by Pallium Canada and trains all forms of health care workers — doctors, nurses, support workers — across Canada to help patients dealing with death or chronic illness.

Francis, a nurse who worked at Henry Ford Hospital, was first diagnosed in March 2011. By the fall he was having trouble dealing with pain. Amanda got him into palliative care.

In 2013, Amanda was diagnosed with two different kinds of breast cancer. After undergoing two mastectomies and chemotherapy, she says she’s come out of it a cancer survivor.

Palliative care not only helped Francis overcome the pain of his illness, but it’s also helped support his family through services such as counselling for his children.

“When people think of hospice, they think of end-of-life and death, and that is not what hospice is about,” Amanda said. “It’s there for the families after the person has died.”

Amanda, a nurse with the Windsor-Essex health unit, had to take a short-term disability leave after her surgery. A community of friends, family and university students worked to help support and raise funds for the Ryalls.

Through the family’s crisis, Brianne Thompson has been involved since 2011 to help guide the children.

Thompson is a masters social worker. There’s a child-friendly place at hospice where children can come and talk to her, as well as take part in events and meet other children.

“I’ve seen those kids grow up and seen them go through quite a lot, but also what I have seen is the incredible love in that family,” she said.

“That’s why they bring them to one-on-one support,” said Thompson, who’s currently working with about 70 families. “They bring them to group activities, they come as a family to my family events — they do everything to try to have wonderful memories with the kids.”

Not only do parents bring their children to visit her, but she goes out to their schools and homes to provide support when they need it.

One of Francis’ greatest fears was not having his children remember him.

“My children are going to know who I was and, to me, that’s as important as the time I spent with them,” he said.

Francis is one of Darren Cargill’s patients with hospice.

“One of the mantras in palliative care is: ‘We can restore your autonomy, we can restore your dignity and we can help you to find joy in your life,’” Cargill said.

Cargill, one of the hospice’s three palliative physicians, said that recently there’s been some misconception with the idea of palliative care, especially brought up with advocacy for the right-to-die movement, where he says some people say the care does the opposite to the mantra.

The purpose of palliative care isn’t to keep patients in the hospital, but to let them be home with their family and enjoy life. Cargill says Hospice Windsor is currently treating around 150 patients, but they also have eight beds in house to provide a break for the families, the primary caregivers to patients.

As for training medical professionals with proper palliative skills, Cargill said that there is a huge demand for the training sessions, but it has been limited to about 30 workers to keep the learning interactive. He says due to recent government interest in the program and a $3-million cash influx, the program should expand in the future.



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tags: palliative, patient, cargill, hospice