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Anya H

Brad G.

As a psychotherapist for more than 20 years, Anya H. had a professional’s knowledge of death, dying and grief. But nothing could have prepared her for the personal reality of losing both her husband, Fred, and her son, Ted, to cancer within 4 years of each other.

As profoundly difficult as those experiences were, Fred’s passing was made even worse by the lack of palliative support her family received. Although Fred had received a terminal prognosis on the day he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, no one on his healthcare team ever again acknowledged that he was dying. When his treatment options ran out, he and Anya left the cancer centre “with no goodbyes, no consultation, no transition, no discharge, no sense of what would come next,” she says. The local palliative care team—a series of strangers to Fred and Anya—arrived just 3 weeks before he died.

As a member of Cancer Care Ontario’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, Anya has advocated for discussions about palliative care to begin as soon as a life-limiting diagnosis is made. “Evidence shows that people actually live longer with palliative care,” she says.

She emphasizes that she shares her story not to complain about the healthcare system but to help make the journey better for the next person. And she encourages others to be more proactive in speaking out. “Those of us who have had a bad experience have an obligation to speak, otherwise nothing will change. We need to articulate our own needs, rather than leaving well-intentioned people to imagine what we need and risk getting it wrong.”