My name is Marlene and it was about five years ago that Midwest Palliative and Hospice Center was introduced to me. My husband, Tom, had been battling terminal cancer ― a glioblastoma located in his spine ― for a year. Surgery, radiation, physical therapy, hospital stays, blood tests, and numerous cycles of various chemotherapies defined that year but the cancer kept winning. During that year I was fortunate enough to be his full- time caregiver.
It all started thanks to the power of suggestion.
Jeffrey Dodd, an RN at Midwest Care Center's Hospice Suite at Northwest Community Hospital, discovered an article in the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Quarterly, which theorized that 55 word stories could "help clinicians note, reflect, and heal from their daily experiences in caring for seriously ill patients."
I recall a particular late morning in my garden, one of those late fall days when the sky is vivid blue and cloudless; the air holds the crispness of impending winter around the envelope of sunny warmth. The image still so vivid in my mind was a rose bud—still tight in its emergence with the petal tips deeply blushed with pink. With more warmth and sun, this bud was so full of potential to be a fragrant blossom.
I am so incredibly blessed to have had all four of my grandparents in my life for seventeen years. I couldn't imagine losing one of them until my grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
The one thing I remember best about my grandfather is that he could tell stories like he was reading a book. He used such detail and was indescribably passionate about what he did. He was a physician and the number one rule he always followed was to make sure his patients were comfortable and peaceful.
Recently I had a young patient assigned to me who had a beautiful two-year-old son. Sadly, this patient was not in our care long. Caring for this patient and her family was difficult, and it reminded me of how life can change in an instant. After I left her home for the last time, I found myself at home charting clinical notes on my sofa with my 16-year-old daughter sitting next to me telling me about her day, excited by life and wanting to share every detail of her day with me. At that moment, I felt so blessed that I was able to be with my daughter the last 16 years and God willing many more years ahead.
Anyone who has lost a loved one or is caring for the dying knows that support and connecting with people who “get it” are the keys to finding strength.
My father was the strongest man I ever knew. A WWII hero, he rarely talked about his plane going down in the Philippines but when I moved him out of his apartment into the first of many nursing homes, I found the NY Times article from 1942 that told about the accident. “Henry G. Jackson is credited with saving the lives of the whole crew,” it said. Next to the article is a picture of him, 18 years old, beaming in his Marine uniform.
I learned to celebrate life on my brother’s last day on earth. He had pancreatic and colon cancer. I walked into his room at the hospice suite in the hospital and there was someone sitting with him. I had no idea who this man was, but his presence and peacefulness told me all would be well.
I so often hear the question asked, "And WHY are you doing this volunteering? It must be so sad!" I suspect if you are reading this blog, it happens to you also.