“There are about thirty patients in our hospice and the number’s always about the same. New patients arrive regularly and as old patients die. About ten die every month here.”
When the nurse showing me around the hospice said that, I was kind of shocked. If ten patients die a month, that means one every three days. To be honest, I have very rarely seen someone die near me. When I do, it is very sad and scary. I cannot imagine how the people here live with it.
U Hla Tun’s cancer hospice is a well-known place in Myanmar where cancer patients have been looked after for many years. It was founded in 1998 by U Hla Tun, who despite his wealth couldn’t save his young daughter from deadly cancer. His hospice only accepts cancer patients in the terminal stage, those who have already been given up on by the government hospitals’ cancer wards. “We accept only the hopeless and the helpless,” says Naw Lar Htoo Aye, the head nurse.
Naw Lar Htoo Aye has seen countless deaths since starting at the hospice in 1998. At first she felt strange when a patient expired in front of her. Now she’s used to it. “I just want to help them die as comfortably as possible,” she says.
The aim of the hospice is to provide relief from distressing symptoms, so the patient and their family can preserve the quality of life during their last moments together. But only the very few who still have a family get this. Many don’t.