PRAIRIE GROVE – Monday marked two months since Bernice Ferraro lost her 50-year-old son to kidney cancer.
“It’s the most painful experience to lose your child,” Ferraro, of Prairie Grove, said. “It doesn’t matter whether your child is a newborn or an adult.”
After visiting with her other son and his family in Oregon this week, Ferraro reflected on the support and guidance her family received through hospice care during the last five weeks of Mark Ferraro’s life.
Two years ago, he was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. There were surgeries, radiation therapy and countless hospital visits.
Then, confirming the cancer’s advanced stage and that Mark Ferraro’s illness was terminal, doctors suggested that the family place him in hospice care. The family accepted the agonizing reality that he had but weeks to live.
Bernice Ferraro, 73, choked back tears as she spoke about setting up a hospice in her living room. Mark’s wife, Antonia, moved in from Marengo.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure about hospice,” Bernice Ferraro said. “I thought they helped you set up your home and then you’re on your own.”
The family worked with Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, a nonprofit organization based in Barrington.
Mark Ferraro “was bedridden within a short time, and he needed constant care,” Bernice Ferraro said.
Looking back, she said she believes she wouldn’t have been able to withstand the emotional burden of letting go of her son during his final weeks had it not been for the hospice care team, the “angels.”
In memory of her son, Bernice Ferraro said she hopes to spread awareness about the invaluable benefits of hospice care and urge other families to consider it.
“Only until you need it is when you realize how much you needed them,” she said. “ ... They are there to carry you through. They guide everything, help organize the plans.”
Hospice provides care and support for people who are terminally ill. The service provides for medical care, pain management and emotional support to patients and their loved ones, tailoring end-of-life care to each family’s needs.
“Hospice aims to make dying a fully human, engaged process,” said Sarah Bealles, president and CEO of Hospice and Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois. “The focus of hospice care is on helping those with life-limiting illness have the best days possible and achieve their individual goals for their last phase of life, not on curing an illness.”
Because many patients prefer to be at home, surrounded by loved ones, most of hospice care is delivered in a family’s home. Less than 5 percent of hospice care nationwide is in an inpatient setting, Bealles said.
An estimated 1.58 million patients received hospice care in 2010, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Two-thirds received care at home, the rest in inpatient facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. hospitals.
U.S. hospice care began as a volunteer-driven movement in the 1970s, Bealles said, and today is rapidly growing.
“At the beginning of the hospice movement, there was no reimbursement for hospice care, access to hospice care was very limited and hospice care was generally synonymous with late-stage cancer care,” Bealles said.
Nowadays, hospice care in the U.S. extends beyond cancer – the primary diagnosis of less than 30 percent of patients. What’s more, Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance policies today pay for hospice care for people expected to live six months or less.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization said in 2001, 18.8 percent of Medicare decedents accessed hospice care for three or more days. By 2007, the had grown to 30.1 percent.
For a month, hospice staff and volunteers were available “around the clock” to administer medications, give baths and generally ensure Mark Ferraro’s comfort. “There wasn’t anything further they could do for Mark,” Bernice Ferraro said.
She also recalls the moments when she needed to step outside of the house for a break or to run an errand. Hospice care volunteers saw to it that someone stepped in.
“It’s little things like that,” Bernice Ferraro said. “It certainly helps with the process you’re dealing with. It’s an unknown that you’re dealing with.”