By Daniel B. Hinshaw, MD, and Timothy J. Moynihan, MD
For a second year in a row, as part of the ASCO Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium, a Death Cafe event was held. The Death Cafe consists of individuals informally sitting around a table and talking about their own experiences with death and their feelings about their own mortality. Cookies and refreshments were served and the room was packed to capacity. The attendees were highly engaged based on the level of participation within the room and the immediate feedback from attendees.
The Death Cafe phenomenon began as an effort to bring strangers together in a safe, non-threatening environment to share questions, anxieties, and concerns about their own mortality. For attendees of the Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium, it presents a unique opportunity to share and reflect with peers who commonly encounter difficult experiences as they attempt to help their patients and families negotiate the last phase of life and how those experiences shape their views of their own mortality.
We facilitated the Death Cafe, but the actual experience and its success were very much dependent on each individual attendee’s active participation. Peer-to-peer support and sharing of experiences, thoughts, and beliefs were the major goals of this event, which were fully achieved. Based on feedback from these events, plans are being made to continue and perhaps expand this session at upcoming annual Palliative Care in Oncology Symposia.
Dr. Hinshaw, of the University of Michigan, has served as founding director of the Palliative Care Consultation Service at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, and his primary clinical research interests focus on end-of-life care, spiritual distress in advanced illness, and the use of massage in the relief of pain and suffering. He also serves as a visiting professor of palliative care at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, where he published Suffering and the Nature of Healing. He is a member of the 2015 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium Program and Steering Committees.
Dr. Moynihan is Chair of the Inpatient Medical Oncology Program, Chair of the Brain Tumor Clinic, and the Hospice Medical Director at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester. His major focus of research is symptom management, palliative care, and end-of-life care. Dr. Moynihan is a member of the 2015 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium Program Committee.