Wednesday, August 01, 2007

8 Year Old Boy with Cancer on Hospice: An Example Why Hospice is Not Giving Up



I received the phone call from a fellow hockey fan, I refer to her as "Hockey-mom." Hockey-mom tearfully said , "They're signing up for hospice. I think they need someone to help them understand that they are not giving up on their son. They also need some 'outside' the family spiritual help, but they're too hurt and angry to deal with it. Can you meet me at..."


For the last couple of weeks, I've been keeping track of young boy's life, a hockey player, who is struggling with cancer. I watched from the side lines over the last two years as David (not his real name) and his family went through the roller-coaster ride of fighting a cancerous demon desperate to eat away his body. The treatments went on and on, trying this and trying that.

I gladly attended fund-raiser hockey games with the St. Louis Blues "old-timers" to help with the cost of medical treatment. I could remember when he was still vibrant and, well, a 6 year old wound up boy. His teammates were always asking about him. His friends and family constantly tried to assist, but, what can you really do when a 6 yr. old boy has cancer?

His coached kept me informed of what was going on with David. A year ago, he he asked me if I would get involved as a friend, a lover of hockey, and someone who is Christian with hospice experience. Of course I would. Pastor's live for these opportunities to serve the Lord through the suffering.

The family decided this past Sunday that there would be no more transfusions, no more "treatment."

The Trip Westward into the Countryside

I jumped into my air-conditionless van on a hot and sweaty July Monday night and drove out an hour west of St. Louis. I met Hockey-mom at a gas station so she could guide me to their home. We drove another 20 minutes along isolated country roads, up and down hills, finally turning down a dirt and stone road.

Hockey-mom took me inside the house and the four beautiful Labrador Retrievers greeted me at the door. We walked through the door and I watched aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends. They wandered about, trying to be useful in various degrees of hurt, anger, hatred, tears, and dazed moments of confusion. At first, I couldn't figure out who was mom and dad and the older sister of David. So, I waited, observed, and prayed as I figured that someone would begin to wonder who this chubby stranger was standing at the edges of the downcast action.

Finally, as I later learned who she was, the aunt of David said "Hi." Ah, there was my "in" to start talking. So I began to introduce myself to people.

"Hi, I'm Mark Sell, I'm a friend of Hockey-mom and I've been following David's heroic struggle for the last couple of years. I told his coach (my neighbor and we attend the same church) that I'd be glad to help anyway I can." I explained to them my hospice background. Suddenly their eyes opened a bit wider and the quizzical expressions spread across their faces.

Just that morning, they decided to sign up for hospice. They were experiencing the common emotions facing a loved one who agrees to their family member's sign up to hospice. The guilt and anger about "giving up" was in the air, along with a bitterness toward hospice. As if they were thinking, "Those so and so people who will walk my son to his grave. How can we do such a thing? I don't want to give up!"

To shorten the story about the 2 hours I was at their home, here is a summary. I ended up having in-depth conversations about hospice and Christ with David's grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and friends of the family.


Then, as I was talking to David's mother, suddenly the baby monitor thundered and with a lightning strike effect with crying, moaning, and whimpering that lead up to David's cry, "Daaaaad!"

David was in his parents bedroom and everyone was by and around the kitchen. Once the painful sounds of the 8 year old boy pierced the soft toned discussions of the home, his dad jumped up and ran back to the bedroom. David's mom hustled over to the cupboard, grabbed the painkiller, and began mixing the potion that would relieve David of the "break-through" pain. The family stopped chewing their pizza. Everyone was tense as they sat back and watched (while trying not to stare) the "emergency pain team" go to work.

Of course, like everyone in hearing distance of the monitor, my heart was viciously ripped out of my chest and I couldn't stop thinking about my son and daughter. I couldn't bear hearing David's suffering so audibly ringing in every one's ears. AND, I'M NOT DAVID'S DAD!! I wanted to take his place. It is just against everything we experience that parents should bury their 8 year old.

After years of sitting, listening, and ministering to people suffering with many diseases and terminal illnesses, there is nothing like the suffering of a child and then to watch his parents emotionally destroyed by what they are hearing.

Suffering is the heart and soul of true Christianity. It is God Himself, who took on human nature, became a man to obey, suffer, and die. "Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." With so much hurt, emotion, confusion, and questions, this is what Christ brings to the moment. Christ brings the comfort and security of truth. We don't know the future, but the future is ours by faith in Christ. It is with this message in mind that I made my way back to the where David was with his dad.


(to be continued...)