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From a Patient’s Perspective

Author: Tanny Nadon
14 November 2012

I could be seen as unlucky: I am a former cancer patient, suffer two other chronic diseases and am getting older. However, I live in a large Canadian city.

This means that, should I ever have need, I have good access to palliative, hospice and caregiver services. I have a good family Doctor. I have the time, money and literacy to understand and access all treatment options available to me. I do not worry about having a comfortable death.

This is not the case for all Canadians. In rural and remote areas, finding and travelling to this type of care is difficult. For Canadians in minority groups, it can be hard to find a healthcare team who speaks your language or understands your culture. As well, the financial and emotional burden on a patient's immediate community of caregivers can add to the struggle.

Accessing palliative services can sometimes be a challenge for Canadians. While access has improved markedly over the past ten years, many rural areas still lack quality hospice and caregiver services. As well, transportation to and from these facilities can be a challenge for patients and their families. While training for physicians and support staff is becoming an integrated part of medical training, many long-term care facilities still lack staff trained in long term care.

Navigating the the healthcare system can be difficult no matter where you live. For patients and their caregivers alike, the stress arising from all of the social and financial issues during end of life care can be a huge burden. While Canada's new Compassionate Care Benefits and leave have been a huge step forward in improving this situation, this program does not touch the self employed, or the estimated 36% of caregivers who are over the age of seventy.

As a former cancer patient, I believe the most crucial part of any patient's treatment team is family and community. Our health care system, while improving, still does not fully recognize the extent to which a patient's immediate community contributes to care. By finding a way to better integrate this element of a patient's care with existing health care services, as well as increasing access to care for all Canadians in a culturally-sensitive manner, we can all call ourselves lucky, even in the face of terminal illness.

Tanny Nadon
Director and Chair of patient issues for the Canadian Cancer Action Network a national organization that unites patient- centered work in the cancer care sector.
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