Empowering People to be Independent

It has been way too long since I’ve written a post and this post will be different than most of my previous posts. During our spring break I had the privilege to travel to London, England with my husband in a tour group, Cancer Philosophy Clinic Tour in England. Not the typical tour or vacation most people would take.

Cancer Philosophy Clinic was started by my husband, Okio Hino. It began in 2008 at Juntendo University where my husband met with cancer patients one on one to talk about their condition, 5 times over a 3 month period. It was so well received by the patients that Okio decided to create “Cancer Philosophy Clinics and Medical Cafes.” This past fall the 5th anniversary of the Higashikurume Cancer Philosophy Clinic was held.

Higashikurume Cancer Philosophy Clinic 5th Anniversary

Higashikurume Cancer Philosophy Clinic 5th Anniversary

There are now about 40 Cancer Philosophy Clinics and Medical Cafes in Japan. Generally the Medical Cafes are run by volunteers and it is a place for cancer patients and their family members to come and find support and encouragement. The Cancer Philosophy Clinics are more one-to-one counseling for patients and or their families. Okio will meet with a patient for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, listening and often giving a thought or quote for the person to think about and helping the person to think about how they should live their life. All of this is free.

So, why did we go to London? Last fall Mari Nakamura came from London and was introduced to my husband. She arranged for a tour to be set up to visit St. Joseph’s Hospice, Maggie’s at Charing Cross Hospital, St. Christopher’s Hospice and to have a joint Death Cafe/Cancer Philosophy Clinic. Here is a 9 minute video with reflections by the Japanese members and photos of the various places and people.


One of the Japanese ladies who participated said that what impressed her most was the difference in hospice in England and Japan. I also found that it was very different even from my American perspective. Hospice care has always been associated in my mind with end of life support and care. But at St. Joseph’s and St. Christopher’s it is not just about end of life care. Although they do deal with patient’s in the final days or weeks of their life that is not their only emphasis. They desire to empower people with life limiting illnesses. They support patients and carers and desire to educate people in their community. They desire to meet with patients early in the process to build relationships and to help dispel myths. One of the things that impressed Okio was the multi-disciplinary teamwork which includes: doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, chaplains, occupational therapist, complementary therapies(various types of massage, acupuncture and relaxation), bereavement services and psychologists. These teams meet weekly to discuss patients. Both St. Joseph’s and St. Christopher’s also provide nurse specialists who work with patients at home, day services and respite care. One of their concerns is to change the perception of the public so they will not be afraid of hospice care. This is definitely an area that needs to improve in Japan.

Another difference that many of the Japanese saw was with the use of volunteers at the hospices. Both places have several hundred volunteers who do a variety of jobs. People sometimes say that Japan is not a “volunteering” society and yet, the 40 Cancer Philosophy Clinics/Medical Cafes are all staffed by volunteers. Maybe people just need an opportunity to volunteer and use their abilities and talents to help others?

Maggie’s Centres are free cancer support centers found throughout the UK. They also desire to empower people to take control of a situation that they often don’t feel in control of. Hospitals tend to take responsibility away from patients and do things for or to the patient. Maggie’s staff “walk along side of people” and help them to regain control of their situation. Seems a fitting analogy of an educator, to “walk beside the student” and help the students gain control of their learning.

Death Cafe, the name was a bit off putting to me, but it turned out to be another interesting and educational experience. The concept is really very simple and available for anyone to use. We spent about 45 minutes in table groups of 6-8 introducing ourselves and telling why we were attending. Then we went around the table sharing a story or thought about death and or dying. Jon Underwood, the creator of Death Cafe was at our table and also told us about the spread of this idea. Death seems to often be a taboo subject, but these cafes allow people to come and share their ideas and feelings. Often people will come once, they talk and leave, what impact it is having is difficult to measure as there is no follow up and many people don’t continue to come. The people who come are not necessarily patients or facing a life limiting illness. But even in our small group it allowed for various members to share feelings and ideas of death and dying that they had previously kept private.

So what does all this mean to me? As a Christian,  an educator and volunteer at Higashikurume Cancer Philosophy Clinic? I want to empower people(adults and children) to fully live the life they have been given. The Bible says: “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:4 New International Version(NIV)

Death is the great equalizer. Okio has shared many times about having performed autopsies. As he examined the body of a CEO of a company and the body of a baby who only lived a few hours, he began to ask the questions “How did this person live?” and “Why was this person born?” As he listens to cancer person patients and their families he also asks them to think about their own purpose in life.

As an educator I want to empower, encourage and equip my students to think about how they will live and for what purpose they were born.

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