By Jenny Smith
Over Thanksgiving, my 87-year-old father moved from assisted living into a hospice facility, where he died early December.
18 months prior, Dad had been diagnosed with Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer in which white blood cells that help protect the body from infection and disease behave abnormally. He also had Amyloidosis, a rare disease that occurs when a substance called amyloid (an abnormal protein) builds up in one’s organs.
His doctor’s prognosis: One to two years to live, perhaps longer with aggressive chemotherapy.
As a physician, Dad witnessed many patients’ cancer journey up front and personal. He knew the havoc chemo could wreak. He desperately wanted to extend his life. But only if the remaining time would allow him to enjoy family, friends, reading history, watching PBS dramas, the Met in HD opera performances and eating the foods he loved.
The chemotherapy regime he submitted to would have none of that.
After about six months of treatment that left him weak and non-functional after each dose, in late July 2013 Dad told his oncologist ‘no more.’
Dad knew that as the chemo’s effects wore off, his condition would deteriorate. So he did what anyone with limited time on the clock should do: He put his affairs in order. He saw his children. He had breakfasts with his sailing and ski club buddies. He pored over slides of his travels. He puttered around his shop. He read to me from his journal. And, with our dedicated mother’s help, he ate delicious home cooked (albeit salt-free) meals.
The amyloids were taking over his organs. His digestive system was failing. His lungs and legs were filling with fluid.
But every day, Dad found ways to enjoy life. Towards the end, my usually-introverted father was engaging in long, deep conversations with old friends. He used every ounce of his education, medical training and career discipline to stay engaged, willing his brain to focus on what he held dear.
As he entered hospice, and his breathing became difficult, Dad began on oxygen and received small doses of morphine to keep him comfortable. Dad wasn’t an easy patient – most doctors aren’t. The experienced hospice staff took his stubbornness in stride, applying equal doses of compassion and reality.
Two weeks later, his heart – weakened from the invasive amyloids – failed.
Dad died with an appreciation of how far he had traveled, learned, and lived. He had the courage and perspective to draw upon his knowledge and his relationships, even as his body was failing. That is how I will remember him. Experiencing life fully, even at the end.
About the Author
iNeedHomecareNow.com contributor Jenny Smith toggles her public relations, marketing and content development consultancy, Acuity Public Relations, with her evolving role as a daughter, daughter-in-law and Grandmom.