HEALTH AND FITNESS
Yvonne See was reluctant when her physician, Dr. Nicholas Gemma, suggested that hospice might be able to help her. She had recently been diagnosed with a bile duct tumor after a trip to the emergency room for what she thought was heartburn. When the ER doctor started talking about her liver, she thought he was in the wrong room. After going through, in her words, every test known to man, See was told that she likely had less than a year to live.
Dr. Gemma suggested that they try chemotherapy which could give See a little more time. The treatments made her very ill. In a very candid conversation with her doctor, See told him that six more months wasn’t worth it to her if she was going to be deathly sick. That’s when he suggested hospice care.
See’s initial response was, “I don’t feel bad enough for that.”
The retired paramedic had the same impression many have of what hospice is–care for the last few days or weeks of life. Her mom, who had breast cancer, had been under hospice care for 30 days. See had also been in the homes of hospice patients during her 12 years as a Hardy County paramedic and had seen the struggle that sometimes played out when a patient has elected hospice care and does not want to go to the hospital when family members call 911. She would respond to the call and be caught between the two.
See also couldn’t accept that they were talking about hospice care for her. Other than arthritis, she’d been very healthy, so to go from healthy to hospice with very little in-between felt so foreign. She felt like she didn’t have any adjustment time and was suddenly expected to make important decisions regarding tests and treatments and then hospice care. It was too much.
She is thankful that Dr. Gemma was persistent. She finally agreed to let a hospice nurse visit with her and her family.
In late January, hospice nurse Pam Francis met with See and her family at the dining room table in her lovely home. There were times during the visit that See said she had to get up and leave the room because it was all so surreal to her, but Francis continued to explain how See could benefit from hospice. Despite her hesitation and assured that she could change her mind at any time, See decided to trust her doctor and chose to start receiving hospice care.
She’s never regretted it.
Now she says that hospice isn’t at all what she had in mind or pictured it to be, and it’s just what she needed.
See loves her hospice team. She feels comfortable to be herself–good days, bad days, laughter, sarcasm and tears. She can share it all with her hospice team and not feel like she’s burdening her family when she’s having a bad day.
She has discovered that hospice has helped her remain independent. The care helps her feel well enough to do the things she enjoys, and the medical equipment like the oxygen and shower chair provided helps her continue to care for herself. She still goes grocery shopping and to the movies. She loves to go out to eat and really enjoys ordering whatever she wants off the menu since her doctor said that it’s very important that she keep eating. She loves to spend time with her grandson and is, as her daughter calls her, his “Granny Nanny.”
Her family threw a surprise birthday party for her in March at the Wardensville Memorial Building to celebrate her 67th birthday.
“I didn’t realize I knew that many people,” See said, “There were people I hadn’t seen in 30 years. They told funny stories, and I had the opportunity to hear things that mostly aren’t said until after a person’s gone. My feet didn’t touch the ground for three days.”
Her hospice team also gives See’s daughter peace of mind as she commutes to work every day knowing that someone is visiting regularly with her mom and is just a phone call away if there should be an emergency.
See is impressed with how quickly hospice staff answer and return phone calls and follow up with her. One night she was having difficulty breathing, and called to speak with a nurse at 5 a.m. Hospice nurse Tamitha Myers suggested that oxygen would help her breathe easier and ordered oxygen to be delivered to her home. See was surprised when it had been delivered by 7 a.m. that same morning.
See’s favorite service provided by hospice that helps control her pain is massage therapy. She enjoys the therapy because she’s not being “poked or prodded.” Nor does she have to answer any questions. The massage therapist comes to her home, which means that she doesn’t have to go somewhere on days when she’s not feeling her best.
When asked what others should know when their doctor suggests hospice, See answered, “Do not go through it alone when all this is here for you. You don’t have to. Give yourself a break.”
She advises others that even if someone is unsure, they should check out the service anyway.
“Let a hospice nurse come to your home and visit with you. Have your questions ready and trust your doctor,” she said.
See is glad that she decided to start hospice care when she did. She can’t imagine trying to establish the ‘team’ relationship later. Starting hospice care before she even believed she needed it has allowed her to get to know the people caring for her
“This is my cancer and this is my team,” she says.
During this time, See’s motto has been “Eat the cake.”
“Even though you’ve been given a diagnosis, you don’t know. You never know.” she says. “In the meantime, eat the cake. Do what you want to do. Have fun and, for God’s sake, stop worrying. You can’t get that time back.”
Ashley Horst is the marketing and fundraising coordinator for Hospice of the Panhandle. She can be reached at 304-264-0406, ext. 1223, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Hospice is a not-for-profit agency that has cared for patients and families in Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Jefferson counties since 1980. For more information on services hospice provides, call 304-264-0406 or visit on-line at www.hospiceotp.org