Stay, Breathe with Me:

The Gift of Compassionate Medicine

by Helen Allison with Irene Allison

Foreword by Dr. Rev. David Skelton

About the Book

Illness is a drama of body, mind, and soul where symptoms and suffering cannot be separated from the person who is ill.  But often that is what happens because our modern medical system, so focused on technology and procedures, loses sight of the humanity of the patient. Yet a person who is ill is an injured storyteller with precious wisdom that is crucial to their care.


Just as we all need care when we enter life and at its end, we need care when we are ill. One simple humanitarian shift, one that removes the false barriers separating caregivers from patients, has the power to ease fear and suffering. If we listen deeply to the story of the person who is ill, if we fully embrace the human side of illness, we can connect to a place of universal human needs, void of labels or preconceived notions, a place where healing hands can be guided by the wisdom of the patient.


Through real-life stories from one of Canada's early pioneers in palliative care comes an appeal to humanize health care with heart and compassion by reviving the Art of Care.


I'd rather know the person who has a disease than the disease that a person has.


Stay, Breathe with Me... Book Cover

Book Of  The Month!

Selected by the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC)

“... a remarkable book ... stories and vignettes that emphasize what palliative care is really all about — a combination of of art and science, 'to comfort, support, understand, and relieve suffering.' And on just about every page there were little pearls of sound clinical wisdom. Truths about ways that we, who believe in and practice palliative care, might be able to do it better. And harsher truths about 'the inadequacy of a health care system so focused on technology and cure that it has lost sight of the person who is ill'. Anybody who works in palliative care will enjoy and benefit from reading this book.”

Dr. Roger Woodruff, IAHPC Reviews Editor 


Endorsed as a resource by the Canadian Virtual Hospice

Available at:

In digital format (eBook) or paperback 

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The Author

Scottish highlander by birth, Canadian by home, the late Helen Allison (RN, BA, BSW, MSW) was blessed with healing hands and a caregiving heart.


During the deadly outbreaks of tubercular meningitis, diphtheria, and whooping cough, Helen specialized in infectious disease at Scotland's Dunbarton Joint Hospital. 


Advocating for patients and dedicated to easing suffering, Helen was invited to coordinate as head nurse Canada’s first palliative care unit. Throughout her life, Helen treated patients as injured storytellers with precious wisdom crucial to their care. 

 1927 - 2017

The Co-Author

Irene, a former technical communicator, author and teacher, practiced for years in France, Italy, the UK, and Canada, and taught in the Writing and Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University, a program from which she also graduated. 


Today Irene writes stories about healing from the heart. She has a Post Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from  Humber College (Toronto) and has attended both the Arvon Institute (Scotland) and UBC's Booming Ground (Vancouver). 

What others are saying...

A collection of reviews for Stay, Breathe with Me: The Gift of Compassionate Medicine.

“Palliative care emphasizes the artistic side of medical treatment [where] hope and compassion should always be present. Unfortunately, many medical practitioners are not trained in palliation. Others become more focused on the science rather than the art of the field. Allison recounts scenarios that exemplify both best and worst practices, making a strong case for palliative care through clear and descriptive language. ­Medical professionals can use Allison’s experience to enhance their understanding of palliative care, while caregivers will be encouraged to provide a noble service.”

— Library Journal

“A wonderful book [for] palliative care workers, doctors, patients, families, anyone interested in learning how to treat a human being nearing the end of life. While some language describing trigger points of pain or the care required, may not be understood by everyone, stick with it as the book will fill you with admiration for [these] hard-working caregivers and a better understanding of palliative care. It may also give you hope that when our time comes, we will be taken care of just as well as the people who have shared their stories here.” 


— San Francisco Book Review

“Unlike much of medical literature, even in the area of death and dying, this volume by Helen and Irene Allison is written from the heart and speaks to the heart. Therein lies its transformative power. As a former palliative care physician and future dying human, I am profoundly grateful.” 

— Gabor Maté, MD

Physician and advocate for the vulnerable, speaker and international bestselling author of numerous books, including “When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress”

“I hope this deeply compassionate, wise and enchanting book will be widely read by those who work in ‘mainstream’ medicine, and not just palliative care. We forget that suffering is often the cause and not just the result of illness. Palliative care, with its focus on the alleviation of suffering and the healing power of compassion, has so much to teach modern medicine. The best lessons in this wonderful book are the stories of what went wrong: with deep humanity the authors lead us through loss and confusion to places of love, wisdom and healing. So many health professionals need this understanding and healing in their own lives.” 

— Robin Youngson, MD

Co-founder of Hearts in Healthcare, author of “Time to Care: How to Love Your Patients and Your Job”

“It is a privilege to recommend this book to doctors, nurses, social workers, and other practitioners of the healing arts as they try to improve their skills at treating the chronically and terminally ill. Others interested in how best to approach such patients will find it a wonderful read.” 

— Lawrence P. Levitt, MD

Professor of Clinical Medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, Senior Consultant, Neurology Emeritus, Lehigh Valley Hospital, USA, and co-author, Uncommon Wisdom: True Tales of What Our Lives as Doctors Have Taught Us About Love, Faith, and Healing

“Compelling reading for families of persons with life-threatening illnesses and their healthcare professionals. Many people back away from living with death as one's constant companion. This book permits us to envision living with dying in a humane, compassionate manner.” 

— Mary Valentich, PhD

Professor Emerita, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, Canada

“Stay, Breathe with Me is a passionate, heartfelt plea for medicine to return to the practice of compassion and empathy. It’s an antidote to the over-medicalization of medicine, particularly when it comes to end-of life care. Irene and Helen Allison seek our thoughtful consideration — through a number of touching case-studies — and demonstrate how palliative care can ease dying. This book is an important contribution to the growing discussion on how we die today. I hope its wisdom influences current and future generations of physicians, nurses and caregivers.” 

— Phil Dwyer

Author: Conversations On Dying

“… beautifully and tenderly written … the gentle weaving of your stories reminds us to mix equal parts of technology, love and compassion throughout our lives to the end.  … for all caregivers your stories underline the need for technology to be wedded to love and compassion at the end of life. 

— Carol McVeigh, RN

Palliative Care Nurse, Canada (1943-2015)

“Helen Allison, a compassionate, caring nurse with a special insight into the feelings of patients in pain and a nurse who must have been loved and respected by patients and peers. This book is a 'must read' for all health care professionals.” 

— Rhoda Anderson

President, Lakes District Unit, Canadian Cancer Society, Hospice Volunteer, Canada

“… In some ways I know much more than I knew when I first started at St. Paul's Palliative Care Unit, and in other ways there is so much I don't know, and don't have the skills or wisdom to address, and those are the issues that you particularly address, namely, suffering, the relief of suffering and meaning - meaning of the illness, and meaning of one's life, particularly if life is seen to be in jeopardy. Your stories/vignettes take us to the places where we (feel) uncomfortable, and where we fear to go, but where we do need to go, particularly if we do more than just lip service to the concept of true, holistic palliative care.” 

— Millie Cumming-Chalmers, MD

Palliative Care Physician, Canada

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