Our Family’s Next Feeding Tube Experience

When Daddy was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer, one of his doctors mentioned that at some point the cancer would close off Daddy’s esophagus, and he would be unable to eat.  At that point we would need to make a decision about whether or not to insert a feeding tube into Daddy’s stomach to keep him alive.

After Daddy made it through two rounds of chemo and it became evident that the cancer was still growing, we decided not to do any more chemo.  Because Daddy’s mind was still clear, I determined that  It was time to talk to him about the feeding tube.  I reminded him about the doctor’s comments several weeks earlier.  I told Daddy that he didn’t need to make a decision right then, but just think about what he wanted to do when the time came.

Daddy’s pastor came to see him on a regular basis, and we always looked forward to his visits.  Bro. Burtis was always very perceptive to Daddy’s moods and never stayed long unless he felt like Daddy wanted to talk.  During one particular visit, Daddy asked Bro. Burtis to pull up a chair which meant “I have some things on my mind, and need to talk to you”.

After Bro. Burtis was seated near Daddy’s bed, Daddy began to talk about the feeding tube dilemma, stating that though he wasn’t sure what to do, but felt like he would probably refuse it because he didn’t want to be just kept alive.  Daddy then asked Bro. Burtis to share his opinion of should be done.

Bro. Burtis so wisely and gently shared that flatly deciding to refuse it at this point was not wise, because there were really many aspects of the results of having or not having a feeding tube to take into account.  For example, if the cancer closed off his esophagus, but otherwise he was still feeling good and felt like he would have more time to live with a reasonable quality of life, the perhaps accepting the feeding tube would be a wise choice.  Hmmmmmmm.  I know Daddy had not thought of it in that respect and I hadn’t either.

As it turned out, we never had to make the decision because in the end Daddy had a stoke which ended his life.

From this experience I learned that refusing or accepting a feeding tube for myself or a precious loved one, needs to be based on several aspects of the situation.  If a person will have a reasonably good quality of life and be able to have pleasure from being with people, then perhaps a feeding tube is appropriate.  If that person wants a feeding tube, then their wishes should be granted.

If, on the other hand, that person is already past the point of knowing anyone, or is not conscious and will never be conscious, if that person is no more than a person lying in a bed, or if that person has expressed the desire to never have a feeding tube, no matter what, then I believe that inserting that tube is cruel.

One of the most important lessons I learned from this experience and from Bro. Burtis’ wisdom, was that this type of decision can not be made ahead of time in most cases.  It is best to make that decision and cross that bridge when you come to it.