While we give considerable care and attention to specific milestones in life, such as one’s birth, we tend to view another part of life—our own or a loved one’s inevitable death—with considerable trepidation and fear. Dr. Philippa (Pippa) Hawley hopes to change how we look at living well with the possibility of dying, a field of medical and social-emotional support known as palliative care.
Dr. Hawley became a Palliative Medicine Specialist in Canada after moving from the United Kingdom via New Zealand. Shortly after settling in British Columbia Dr. Hawley gave birth to twins and her perspective on health care changed dramatically.
“I had twins; one died, the other was in the hospital for six months and was dependent on oxygen so that we couldn’t travel,” Dr. Hawley recalls. “That was my first experience of not just being a healthcare provider, but being on the other side, as a caregiver and also as a bereaved family member. I saw how little help there is out there for patients and their families to navigate through difficult times”
Dr. Hawley started BC Cancer’s Pain and Symptom Management/Palliative Care Program (PSMPC) in 1997, which continues to grow at the province’s 6 BC Cancer centres. Dr. Hawley is a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Head of the Division of Palliative Care at the University of British Columbia. She has published over 30 articles in medical journals, authored and edited chapters in a variety of textbooks focused on palliative care, as well as presented at numerous medical conferences.
In 2011 Dr. Hawley started holding ‘Bucket List Festivals’ to provide a safe space for patients, families and caregivers to learn some of the skills to navigate through serious illness. Though great for those who attended one, the one-time nature of the events could never meet the ongoing need for guidance that changes in nature throughout illness. Along with her co-author Gaby Eirew, a counselor and educator, Dr. Hawley has now published a book that aims to meet that need, entitled Lap of Honour: A No Fear Guide to Living Well with Dying.
“I became aware that in the limited interaction times I had with patients, there wasn’t enough time to give them the information I wanted to share with them, and also it was too overwhelming to provide them all the information they ultimately needed in a few clinic visits. I wanted to give my patients something that covers all their questions and addresses all their fears, they could look through in their own time. I soon realized there wasn’t anything remotely suitable available, so I was going to have to create it myself.”
The book takes readers through the course of their illness right from the time of diagnosis, including the path of recovery and survivorship as well as the path of preparing for end of life. In the book ’s introduction, it says, that its intention is “to offer practical help when one is learning to live with a potentially life-threatening illness. It is also intended to be of use to the family and caregivers of people in that situation.” Some of the topics (chapter titles) include: How can I face the unknown? Dealing with the Fear of Dying; How do I tell them? Breaking the news to children and adults; How to ensure, sustain, and appreciate the carers; Creating a legacy: Helpful ways to leave supportive, meaningful messages; and What happens to bodies? The science and practicalities of after death.
“I’ve always wanted to write a book that was broad in its applicability—for patients, for the people that love them, for caregivers, and for health care professionals trying to provide the best whole-person care they can,” Dr. Hawley concludes.
Lap of Honour: A No Fear Guide to Living Well with Dying is available in Kindle and paperback editions in leading Vancouver bookstores (Banyen Books, Odin Books, Indigo on Granville St.), through Lapofhonourbook.com, and on Amazon.