My name is John Briand. It is with great regret that I write this letter because it means that I am fulfilling a dying wish of my loving wife of 37 years. Jennifer’s last request was for me to help in my small way to improve palliative care services in our area.
To all who knew her, Jennifer was a compassionate person with an infectious smile. Although she didn’t tell people she lived with cancer for the last 18 years, she was aware that at some point her cancer or complications due to the disease would end her life. Instead, she quietly went about helping others, as she always did.
She volunteered supporting others in need, with the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke and the Alzheimer society and worked tirelessly in her job with Caregivers Nova Scotia, advising people caring for loved ones at home dealing with illness and end of life.
As the Western Region Care coordinator for Caregivers Nova Scotia, Jennifer served from Kentville to Yarmouth and Yarmouth to Hubbards. She became aware of a shortage of services for those caring for loved ones and worked tirelessly to promote palliative care to those who needed their services.
She knew the plight of many families at the end of life, having no alternative but to admit their loved ones into hospital. This is the situation in Lunenburg and Queens counties where there is neither a hospice nor designated palliative care beds in hospitals. The final hours or days for some are spent in the emergency room, sometimes alone or on a gurney in the hall as there is no other space to support them. Jennifer was aware this could happen to her.
Many of us hope to die peacefully while asleep in our own bed but the reality is many have complications that make that scenario unlikely to happen. Her job with Caregivers Nova Scotia gave Jennifer insights into the dying process, so as an experienced caregiver she spoke with me about what the end could look like for her.
Jennifer said her cancer would likely cause complications that would require her to need medical help. This prompted us to look into options for palliative care and help to able to die at home. Meeting with the local palliative care team was “a wonderful experience” to make sure arrangements were made and to have professional health advice.
As Jennifer was dying, she was passionate about others not having to worry about end of life dignity. She requested donations in her memory be directed towards the efforts of the South Shore Hospice Palliative Care Society, an organization close to her heart.
I have since learned that Nova Scotia Health must provide approval for a hospice to be built or for beds to be designated in hospitals. One of their criteria is a population of 100,000. While Lunenburg / Queens counties fall short with only 67,000, we do have one of the oldest populations in Nova Scotia with 25-27% of residents currently over 65. That percentage is expected to rise to almost 30% within 5 years. From 2012 to 2019 palliative care referrals have climbed from about 190 to over 300. If this trend continues the need will be even greater. I think these numbers adequately demonstrate our need.
Please take a minute of your time to imagine that your loved one is dying and needs medical support and the only option is to go to a full emergency room in your local hospital. Then imagine you are not allowed to go with them due to Covid-19 protocols, or if you can enter, standing next to a gurney in a hall with no private place to deal with the situation.
I invite you to join with me in working towards a better solution for our loved ones and our families.