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'Nobody wants to talk about death:' Patients' stories inspire play about palliative care

'Nobody wants to talk about death:' Patients' stories inspire play about palliative care
From CBC - September 23, 2017

In a small dark room in North End Halifax, an audience sits in a circle, their chairs facing inwardas four actors move around them reciting lines. There's no set, no microphones, no costumes.

"The words the doctor had used were: 'You have advanced cancer. There's no hope for you.' Where do you go from there?" one performer says.

Another actor responds,"They do not know how to approach a person that's hurting."

"We did live," a third actor says. "For those six months, we did everything we could think of doing."

The PEACE Project (Palliative Education through Art, Communication, and Engagement)weaves together the experiencesof palliative care patients and their families ina theatre production, with everyline a direct quote from a patient or caregiver.

The play has toured to Montreal and Toronto, where it's been performed in nursing homes, hospitalsand health facilities, and was also part of the Halifax Fringe Festival.

Butthe play's main purpose is to serve as an educational tool. The creators tapped into personalstories with the goal ofteaching empathy to medical professionalsand to highlight the obstacles of navigating the palliative care system.

Teaching empathy

A play "can allow [medical] students to actually see themselves in their patients' shoes," Alexis Milligan, artisticproducer of The PEACE Project, told CBC News.

The play addresses what it's like to receive a terminal medical diagnosisand what it's like to talk about it. The production also delves into struggles faced by many patients and their families.

Audiences watch, for instance, a daughter describing the movie night in a palliative care unit she organized for her mother. In another scene,a woman recalls feeding herhusband pain pills with ice cream. And just when the depiction grows heavy, The PEACE Project pivots to a lighter note, with theStar Wars Theme heard alongside a segment depicting one patient's wish to have the tune played as her casket is wheeled away.

"The first time I saw this performed, I cried," said Dr. BrendaSabo, a nursingprofessor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the project's lead researcher.

Sabohas spent her life counselling people at the end of their lives, researching and teaching palliative care.But she became frustrated when her students were notconnecting with thematerial through lectures and other traditional teaching methods. She also kept hearingfrom patients and their families about the need for change in the palliative health-care system. Soshe turned to art for an innovative solution.

'Health-care professionals, patients and families want to have the conversations, but are notsure how to initiate them.' - Dr. Brenda Sabo

What areal people have gone through'

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