Introducing the Elephant in the Room

Randy Pausch was an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Pausch learned that he had pancreatic cancer in September 2006, and in August 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis: “3 to 6 months of good health left”. He gave an upbeat lecture titled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” on September 18, 2007, at Carnegie Mellon, which became a YouTube video sensation and led to other media appearances and a book on the same theme, The Last Lecture, a New York Times best-seller.  Pausch said:  “My dad always taught me that when there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it.”

Kimberly C. Paul, VP of Communications and Outreach at Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCareCenter, has made it her life mission to introduce a giant elephant.  She created an award-winning public education initiative called “Begin the Conversation: Facing the Elephant in the Room”.  The initiative consists of a series of videos, presentations, community workshops, billboards, commercials and other tools that have been designed to address end-of-life care issues that are often avoided because they are uncomfortable to talk about.  Begin the Conversation  has already reached more than 2 million people, many of them in the five area counties:  New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, Bladen, and Columbus counties.  Lower Cape Fear Hospice plans to continue to encourage people to start talking about their decisions with family and physicians and to put their plans in writing so their wishes can be honored.

The program is designed to encourage people to identify and communicate their health care choices.  It offers firsthand advice, perspective and humor on ways to use your time when your time is limited; create a meaningful life when you’re seriously ill; survive while caring for an aging parent; and ensure that one’s health care choices are honored.

Advance care planning encourages understanding and identifying possible health care choices, talking about decisions with loved ones and doctors, and putting plans in writing to be ready if needed. Having a plan is a gift to oneself and to one’s loved ones.  It makes it easier to ensure that wishes are honored.

I encourage you to take a look at the Begin the Conversation intro and website.  In coming weeks, I’ll share more highlights from my fascinating and enlightening interview with Kimberly C. Paul.  Meanwhile, consider these conversation-starting statements from Kimberly:

  • There is a misconception that Hospice is about dying; Hospice is actually about living well.
  • Approximately 60% of people who elect for Hospice Care have not even begun the conversation about what they want in their final days.
  • 85% of Hospice patients are in their homes; they never see the inside of a Hospice care center, nursing home, or hospital.
  • According to a study by Duke University, people who choose Hospice Care live 23 days longer than those who choose to remain in traditional treatment.
  • Hospice care can be used by residents to complement care already received on-site in assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.
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