I recently had the pleasure of spending time with Laura Smith, the singer, songwriter and award-winning musician. And while her career in music is indeed something to celebrate and to talk about, Laura and I have come together for a different purpose.
If you read a recent article in the Chronicle Herald, you’d be aware that Laura has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. The article discussed the GoFundMe initiative started and supported by her friends and fans, the upcoming fundraiser featuring many of her musical colleagues, and the fact that Laura was in palliative care.
Laura saw this reference to palliative care as an opportunity to educate and inform people about what palliative care is and is not, and also saw this as her opportunity to use her voice to help others.
What is written here is in collaboration with Laura. Her words: “I’ve learned that people can easily get the impression palliative care places someone at death’s door. I’d like to help correct that impression. I’m at the end of a driveway — not a long driveway, but how long I don’t know — and time has become meaningless to me. What matters is that I have an excellent integrated team who are using oncological and palliative care to guide my body towards being able to eat — which keeps my weight and my spirits up — along with further treatments to calm the cancer growth and manage pain. It’s all about keeping me as comfortable as possible in the environment of my choice for as long as possible and achieving the minimum dip in the quality of my life.”
Palliative care is often misunderstood. It can help people, at any age, and at all stages of a life-limiting illness. It is an approach to health care that focuses on providing comfort and improving quality of life for both the patient and their caregivers.
Palliative care is holistic in its approach and involves treating physical symptoms as well as addressing emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. This care, provided by a team of specially trained individuals, supports patients in their homes or a setting of their choice. While the choice varies depending on the community one lives in, the palliative principles remain the same.
Laura speaks with great respect and gratitude for the palliative team now supporting her at home.
The South Shore Hospice Palliative Care Society is working to provide choice in this community as well as additional supports for the palliative team.
What Laura knows is that palliative care is not only for patients near the end of their lives. It can begin with the diagnosis of a life-limiting illness. It does not provide ’round-the-clock nursing care, but will help to co-ordinate support services available in the community.
Palliative care is not about imposing a set of beliefs and values on a patient; it is about listening — listening to the person, finding out what is important to them, what they value and what will comfort them, and then using this knowledge to help them on their care journey.
We are grateful for the opportunity to write this letter to the editor and we’d like to thank journalist Stephen Cooke and The Chronicle Herald for bringing palliative care to their readers’ attention.
A quote by Arthur Frank may sum up the palliative approach: “The opportunity to tell one’s own illness story as one wants to tell it — in one’s own voice — is a kind of grace.”
Trudy Johnson, South Shore Hospice Palliative Care Society, in collaboration with Laura Smith. Laura died at home on March 7, 2020.
Photo: Candace Berry / Borealis Records – Contributed