Susan Johnson didn’t intend to become involved in hospice care. The 56-year old, who is the patient care coordinator for Liberty Hospice in Lumberton, NC, didn’t even start nursing school until she was 44 years old.
But 13 years ago, when it appeared she would be in hospice care herself, Susan started to understand how much value hospice could bring.
Susan had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and it had spread to her lymph nodes. Her doctor said she likely had less than 18 months to live. She was given round after round of radiation treatment, and wasn’t expected to make it through her chemotherapy. She prayed about her plight, and said that helped her find an answer.
“At one point I said I couldn’t take any more,” she said. “But that’s when I started to get better. I really think God led me to hospice. Maybe it was part of His formula. He knew I could deal with it after what I had been through. I’ve really found that there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.”
Susan made a complete recovery in the next few years, and her daughter first inspired her to look into helping others – particularly after the care she had received. Six years ago, Susan joined the Liberty hospice staff in North Carolina, and said her experience has been valuable as hospice patients and their caregivers cope.
“I tell them I don’t know if you are going to get over this, but I understand where you have been,” she said. “I think I can relate to those in hospice more than some others. Any time you have cancer, it is so terrifying. You are afraid to die. You may not have anyone to talk to, but hospice can help with that.”
Johnson said that hospice providers’ philosophy is that every day is an opportunity for a patient to have a great day, and that the quality of the end of life is most important. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times backs up that claim about hospice care.
The article stated that caregivers of cancer patients who die in an ICU are almost five times more likely to get post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients’ quality of life was considered to be at least 25 percent higher in hospice care as opposed to a hospital, and 30 percent better than in an ICU.
“We want them to concentrate on having those special moments and being able to say the things they need to say,” she said. “That peace of mind is something that all hospice patients need. That’s why hospice is such a wonderful service.”
Susan said she has really been able to bond with hospice patients, and would like to be even more involved in their lives.
“Those hospice patients just remind me of why I got started in this,” she said. “I have learned so much. This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”