Cancer Can Break Bones and Caregivers

Along with the primary diagnosis of cancer, a hospice nurse quickly listed her patient’s other health issues at our team meeting. One of the patient’s concerns was a . . . “pathological fracture.”

To which I thought, “Huh? What?”

I first thought of pathological liar, a phrase I’ve read in novels and seen in films. Actor Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar from 1997 humorously came to mind. There he played a lawyer who frequently and thoughtlessly lied. Lying for Carrey’s character was no different than breathing. But did the familiar “pathological liar” have anything to do with “pathological fracture?”

In the realm of words, there’s a common ground because of “pathology,” or the study of diseases. Lying about everything, though funny for a movie’s plot, will hurt, and can be diagnosed as an illness. Lying can cripple a person and profoundly impact every relationship.

A pathological fracture literally cripples a patient. Read More →

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Speaking the Name, Among Friends and Strangers

Last week, at my hospice’s annual Lights of Love ceremony, music was played, candles became flamed reminders of deceased loved ones, a “holiday tree” was lighted in the midst of a busy outdoor mall, and nearly four hundred beloved names were read aloud.

Lights of Love is one of the simplest things we do for the year-end holidays.

Lights of Love is one of the best things we do, especially for grievers facing a holiday season that can seem . . . endless.

I was one of the readers, probably speaking close to a hundred names, one after the other, on a portable stage, surrounded by a crowd of “strangers.” And yet not strangers. With candles held aloft (real, drippy, cheap, wonderful, burn-to-a-nub wax candles), with kids crying and playing and wriggling, with shoppers scurrying from store to store, with a Santa’s Workshop plying its trade not far behind the stage, I read names written in large permanent ink on 3×5 cards.

In the California town where I live, there’s an abundance of ethnic groups. We have first and tenth generation folks here from lands afar. We have parents that dubbed their children with wondrous names that could be pronounced in a multitude of ways. The hospice volunteers filling out the 3×5 cards often ran out of paper real estate and squeezed vowels and consonants together.

In the dark, with barely enough light, reading was an adventure! Read More →

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In Praise of Words and Music for Patients

“I’m still praying the Lord’s Prayer with him,” one of our hospice chaplains said about her patient.

This person’s illness had made it difficult to communicate anymore. Most of his decisions were now made by his loved ones. Often it comes to this, where our beloved spouse or parent and grandparent can no longer effectively communicate. Sometimes it is because of cancer, and a “sudden” turn for the worse means a patient easily conversing in the morning transitions to someone incapable of talking by the evening. Or the patient slowly walks the darkening, years-long road of dementia, eventually unable to speak or comprehend words.

But with many of these folks, certain words, songs and memorabilia will trigger a positive, life-affirming response. As the chaplain reported the situation, when this patient was asked if he wanted to pray, he gave an affirmative nod and then, as the chaplain began, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” the patient joined in.

Did he fully understand the prayer? Probably not. Read More →

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