Volunteering Is Good for You!

I’ve often said that volunteers are the lifeblood of hospice. Even a few hours a month can make a big difference. Best of all, volunteering is a win-win for both the giver and the receiver! If you have a caring, compassionate heart and enjoy helping others, I strongly encourage you to become a hospice volunteer. It will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make!

Help Yourself While Helping Others!

Hospice Volunteers Reap Many Benefits

By Shari Diebold, Volunteer Coordinator, Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care

Becoming a hospice volunteer is a great way to spread joy and cheer to patients and their family caregivers, but did you know that volunteering also yields some big benefits for you? Selflessly “giving back” to others in need in your community can, in turn, boost your own health, career, social life and mental outlook. Consider the following rewards.

A Wellness Formula: According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, a strong relationship exists between volunteering and health. Specifically, researchers found that those who volunteered have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain and heart disease.

Jumpstart Job Skills: In a 2011 article “Why Volunteering is Good for Your Career,” author Nicole Williams points out that volunteering allows for opportunities to showcase talents and experiences, demonstrate passion and commitment, and build meaningful relationships, connections and referrals. She further references research from LinkedIn that shows that one of every five hiring managers in the United States agrees that they have hired a candidate because of volunteer work experience.

Shot of Self Esteem: Helping others brings a sense of accomplishment. As you master new skills and navigate difficult conversations, you naturally bolster your self confidence and develop a sense of pride and satisfaction. Volunteering can be a fun and rewarding way to escape from your day-to-day routine. Hospice volunteers often tell us that in the end, they feel that they get more than they give.

Make New Friends: If you are new to an area or would like to enlarge your social circle, volunteering can be a wonderful way to meet new people who share your interests. In addition, volunteering strengthens ties to your local community and broadens your support network.

A Family Affair: Children pay more attention to what you do than what you say! What better way to connect with your kids than to work alongside them as a volunteer! High school and college students are welcome to join the ranks of hospice volunteers. You can even bring along your certified pet therapy dog!

The Happiness Effect: Researchers at the London School of Economics have discovered that the more people volunteer, the happier they are. In comparison to people who never volunteer, the odds of being “very happy” were seven percent higher among those who volunteered monthly and 12 percent higher among people who volunteered every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16 percent said they felt “very happy.”

At Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care, volunteers come from all walks of life and from throughout the greater Las Vegas area. Every effort is made to match volunteers with patients based on geographic proximity and on their mutual needs and interests. Schedules are flexible. No previous experience is necessary and all training is free.

To learn more about the many hospice volunteer opportunities available at Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care, call 702-870-0000 or e-mail me at SDiebold@solarihospicelv.com.

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What Does Hospice Mean to You?

“Senior Discounts Las Vegas” recently invited hospice experts in Las Vegas to share their thoughts during National Home Care and Hospice Month. Steve Lodesky, a chaplain at Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care, wrote about how he helps Solari patients and families cope with end-of-life issues. His piece so eloquently expresses our Solari philosophy of care that I asked him if I could share his words on my blog. I hope Steve’s message will inspire you as much as it did me!

Hope, Dignity and Love

By Steve Lodesky

Chaplain, Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care

Being born into life is already a huge miracle — we’ve won the lottery, you might say. And then we grow into unique human persons; each of us is one-of-a-kind. Most of us learn to treasure life and love and our loved ones. But if we live long enough we also know we need to come to grips with the flip side of the coin — with the inevitable losses, the decline of our health, and the decline of pretty much everything else that’s precious to us. It’s been said that, “No one gets out of here alive!” For me, the beauty and dignity and wonder of our lives only come to full expression when combined with hope. We hope there is more than this. We hope we’ll see our departed loved ones again. We hope the sound and fury of our lives signify something, and not nothing.

No matter how we understand “God” or “life after death,” such beliefs are critical to real hope. As a hospice chaplain, I don’t spend time trying to define such mysteries. But I always encourage people to have hope. “Yes, your life matters!” I’m part of a team of professionals that responds to the needs of the patient and family with the best care we can provide. At times, however, the only thing we can do is to be with a patient and family — to be present, to keep vigil. There have been times when I was the only person present for a patient’s transition. And there have been times when I was the only one keeping vigil for hope, dignity and love. But that’s okay. It’s my job. It’s also a privilege and an honor: “Yes, you do matter. And it’s gonna be okay!”

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Do You Know the Warning Signs of Ovarian Cancer?

Throughout my three decades of working in healthcare, I have become a strong advocate for regular cancer screenings and early detection. I hope you will enjoy this blog by my colleague and friend, Candis Armour, and encourage you to share it with all of the special women in your life to prevent unnecessary pain, suffering and deaths due to ovarian cancer.

 

Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care Recognizes National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

 By Candis Armour, R.N., Executive Director, Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care

 

I’m a big fan of watching the Olympics! I can’t help but marvel at the amazing feats of the world’s most talented athletes, and always enjoy cheering for our U.S. competitors to take home the gold! Sometimes, looking at these young people – in top physical condition – you almost think they are invincible.

That’s why I was a bit jarred when I picked up a newspaper a couple of years ago and read that Shannon Miller, a gold medal-winning gymnast, had been diagnosed with a malignant germ cell tumor, a form of ovarian cancer. At that time, she was only 33 years old. Once again, I was reminded that cancer doesn’t play favorites. It can strike anyone at any time. As Miller has said, “Cancer doesn’t care how many gold medals you have.”

During September, Las Vegas Solari Hospice Care joins with hundreds of organizations around the country in recognizing National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. We are also excited to be a first-time participant in the Owareness Bowl-O-Thon to be held this Sunday, Sept. 15, at the South Point Bowling Alley. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Women’s Cancer Center Foundation for Research. I hope you will come out and join us!

Unfortunately, by the time that I meet ovarian cancer patients in our hospice service, their disease has progressed to its final stages. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year and that more than 15,000 women with ovarian cancer will die this year.  In women age 35-74, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. An estimated one woman in 71 will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime.

Having heard the stories of so many brave women who have battled this disease, I feel compelled to be their voice and take up their fight to remind others that early detection saves lives! Potential signs of ovarian cancer can include: bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and feeling the need to urinate urgently or often. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include: fatigue, upset stomach or heartburn, back pain, pain during sex, and constipation or menstrual changes.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please see your physician. When diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is over 90%.

Shannon Miller is one of the lucky ones. After surgery to remove a baseball-size tumor and an aggressive nine-week chemotherapy regimen, Miller is now cancer free.

“The good news was that my cancer was caught early,” notes Miller. “We know that no matter what type of cancer we are dealing with, the earlier we catch it, the better our chance of survival. I look back now, and realize I likely did have two or three of the warning signs, however, like many, I either ignored them completely or chalked up my issues to being a busy mom.”

Remember that you are your own best health advocate. Pay attention to your body and what it is telling you. Don’t be a victim. Be a survivor!

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Make April 16 Your Healthcare Decisions Day!

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Woody’s quip captures in a few short words how many people feel about death.  Despite the fact that we all know it’s inevitable, we like to think of death as something that happens to someone else. Not me. Not my family. Not my loved ones. So you avoid having “the conversation.” As a result, when the end of life is near, or when an accident or illness strikes and you become unable to speak for yourself, those closest to you are left second guessing what your wishes would be.

April 16 has been declared National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. It’s an initiative to encourage patients to express their wishes regarding healthcare and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be.

Your decisions can be written down in advance directives so that others know what they are.  Advance directives come in two main forms. A “healthcare power of attorney” (or “proxy” or “agent” or “surrogate”) documents the person you select to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself. A “living will” documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life. You can choose to have every conceivable medical intervention known to humankind or have only minimal invention and pain control. It’s your call.

Throughout my career of working first in hospitals, and then in hospice, I’ve seen family members struggle and agonize over what actions to take for their seriously ill loved ones. Sometimes, opinions differ among relatives and arguments break out. What are the patient’s values? What would he or she want? Would he want to be resuscitated? Where would she prefer to die?

In business and in life, I always like to have a plan – that includes a roadmap for how I want to live my life and how I’d want to end it. So, several years ago, I put my wishes in writing. My wife, Joyce, knows where these documents are kept, and she and I have talked at length about our preferences. My daughters also know how I feel about end-of-life care and what choices I would make. I feel confident that should something happen to me, they would serve as my advocates and honor my choices.

Without making your wishes known, you leave others in an emotional and ethical quandary. Thinking about what would be important to you in a medical crisis and making your wishes known to loved ones is actually an incredible gift. So, regardless of age or health status, I encourage you to write advance directives and take time to have thoughtful conversations about those decisions. It will give all of you guidance, reassurance, comfort and peace of mind.

For more information about National Healthcare Decisions Day and the many resources available on end-of-life planning, go to www.nhdd.org.

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Scoring a Home Run for Hospice Patients

Play ball! It’s “Spring Training” season here in Arizona, a time when 15 Major League Baseball teams from around the country converge on the Valley of the Sun for a series of practices and exhibition games preceding the start of the regular season. It’s always fun to watch new players hustling to earn roster and position spots, and to get an up-close look at some of baseball’s most familiar faces as they return for another season of competitive play.

Every year, I reward the hard work of my staff at Solari’s central support office in Scottsdale by taking them to a Spring Training game. As we sit in the stands with our peanuts and hot dogs, reveling in the game that’s been termed “America’s favorite pastime,” I always marvel at the teamwork of the nine players on the diamond. They are each specialists in their own right, and yet they rely heavily on each other to make the right plays at the right time. Baseball is a game of intelligence, skill, practice and cooperation. No one player can do it alone. Games are won with teamwork.

A few years ago, I read an article titled “The Ballet of Baseball: Lessons of the Game for Hospice” in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. In it, authors Linda Norlander and Thomas Grimmer compare the three fundamentals of baseball – pitching, batting and fielding – to the three fundamentals of organizational teamwork – clinical, operational and financial. Their premise is that the best clinicians (pitchers) are of no use if the office operations (batting) keep the patients (fans) out of the stadium and that no program can survive without the financial resources (fielding). I agree wholeheartedly.

When I hear the crack of the bat at the ballpark or the thud of the ball as it’s ensnared in a player’s glove, I can’t help but think about how heavily hospice relies on this same kind of intricate, well-orchestrated teamwork. At Solari Hospice Care, our highly qualified interdisciplinary team of hospice professionals and volunteers must work together to address the physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and economic concerns of hospice patients and families. And, we need every player on that team in order to be successful – physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, social workers, counselors, chaplains, pharmacists as well as accountants, administrators, secretaries, billing clerks, marketing liaisons, information systems analysts and human resource professionals.

When one of my favorite Diamondbacks players, left-handed hurler Randy Johnson, pitched a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves in 2004, he didn’t talk about his own amazing talent at serving up strikeouts, but instead repeatedly credited his teammates for their efforts. In describing the event he said, “Everybody was battling today and made great defensive plays out there.” He talked about the great catches in the outfield and the quick pickups in the infield.  As great a talent as Randy is, he knew it took the whole team for him to be perfect!

Every day at Solari, we strive for that same perfection in delivery of dignified, compassionate patient care – drawing upon our individual talents as we work together as a team to give the collective best of ourselves in all that we do. To that end, we collaborate and communicate, rally and cheer, challenge each other and praise each other, and hopefully serve as each other’s best coaches, fans, supporters and advocates.

I am so proud of Solari Hospice Care and our many accomplishments! Go team!

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February Is “National Heart Month”: Can You Feel the Love?

Love is all around this month, especially on Valentine’s Day when we take time to turn to those closest to us and say those three magical words.

However, if you have a loved one who suffers from advanced cardiac disease, one of the best ways to show how much you care may not come in a sentimental card or a box filled with chocolates. Instead, it may come from calling hospice.

Oftentimes, people don’t realize that hospice care is an option for people who suffer from a weakened heart condition. Instead, patients with end-stage cardiovascular disease spend their final days and months in and out of the hospital, receiving treatments that do little to improve the course of the disease. Hospice offers a supportive program of holistic care designed to help patients manage pain symptoms, forego emergency room visits and receive convenient, compassionate care right in their places of residence.

During hospice care, cardiac patients are monitored by a team of physicians and nurses, who administer medications and treatments to keep them as comfortable as possible. Social workers help tap into valuable community resources. Chaplains and counselors provide emotional and spiritual care for the patient and family. Volunteers can sit with patients, read to them or help them with light household chores, and allow caregivers to get some much-needed respite.

In addition to doing everything we can to increase a cardiac patient’s quality of life, we’re finding that hospice often increases the cardiac patient’s quantity of life as well. In a study reported in the March 2007 Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, congestive heart failure patients who chose hospice survived 81 days longer than those who did not.

Heart disease is usually a long-term chronic illness that has lots of ups and downs over the years. Patients should check with their physician to see whether they are eligible for hospice based on their history of congestive heart failure, arrhythmias or heart attacks. Late-stage heart disease symptoms may include shortness of breath; debilitating fatigue; swelling in the feet, legs or abdomen; chest pains; or weight gain from fluid buildup. Advanced heart disease patients may not respond to standard therapies, like nitrates. The doctor also considers any coexisting diseases like HIV, diabetes, respiratory illness or kidney disease.

Even when modern-day technology or surgery can no longer offer hope, patients with late-stage cardiac disease need to know that help is always available. Hospice allows these patients to squeeze as much joy as possible out of their remaining days and to minimize their discomfort and pain.

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Living a Life of Service: Saluting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the third Monday in January, I will join with other citizens around our great nation in celebrating the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

I grew up in the 1960s and spent part of my childhood living in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. King died after being fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside of his room at the Lorraine Motel. He was only 39 years old. I was horrified at the violence of such a tragic, senseless and unjust act toward such a peaceful man.

Even as a young boy, I remember watching Dr. King on television. What resonated with me most was his tremendous passion and vision. He was a man who moved people with his words and inspired them with his actions.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King remains, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Throughout my career, I’ve felt a strong call to serve. That’s what led me to get out of hospital administration and pursue my dream of working in hospice.

Many of us at Solari Hospice Care feel like we have been called to serve the terminally ill. We want to assure that patients don’t suffer at the end of their lives, but are able to die with dignity, without pain and within an environment of comfort and love. And, we want to serve the families and caregivers who are left behind, helping them cope with their grief and sadness.

It takes a special kind of person and “heart full of grace” – as Dr. King so eloquently puts it – to help guide patients along their final leg of life’s journey, enabling them reap as much joy and fulfillment as they can in their precious remaining days. Each person brings a unique set of strengths and talents to our hospice team – from our skilled nurses and doctors to our resourceful social workers to our compassionate bereavement counselors to our dedicated volunteers – making sure that our patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs are fully addressed.

What area of service speaks to your heart? What are your unique gifts? How can you be of assistance to your neighbors and communities? How can you brighten someone’s day?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once asked, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Whether it’s volunteering to help hospice patients, working at a food bank, cleaning up a local park or donating clothes to a shelter, I encourage you to honor Dr. King’s memory on January 21 by finding a way to serve. I think he’d enjoy seeing that from his view on the mountaintop.

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