It is hard to predict what the future will hold. Individuals will plan, work, and save with the intention of someday reaching a desired goal. For my parents, this goal was to spend their retirement at our family cabin in Terra Nova. Weeks before my mother’s retirement, there was a growing level of excitement in the air as they prepared to begin the next chapter of their lives together. However, as most of us well know, things don’t always turn out the way they were planned.
Days before their scheduled departure, my father received a call that changed everything. Doctors had found a tumor in his bowel and, while we hoped for the best, he was soon after diagnosed with bowel cancer. Without going into too much detail, after three surgeries, two rounds of chemotherapy, and a consultation in Toronto, the health team sat down with my parents to tell them that all treatments options had been exhausted.
While treatments for bowel cancer most often provide a positive outcome, my father was not one of those fortunate individuals. Needless to say, this was not the retirement my parents had prepared for, and it was certainly not the ending my father deserved. Yet, this was the hand he was dealt and the only thing left for us to do was to make this transition for him as easy as possible.
While it was a comfort to know we could always turn to the Palliative Care Unit within the hospital, it was my father’s wish, if possible, to spend his last days in the place where he raised his children and built his life.
We began to consider the alternative of Home Palliative Care, a department of Eastern Health that provides assistance to those looking to pass away at home. We had been informed that within recent years there had been significant improvements made within this sector and that more than ever it was a viable option. While we had some idea of what we were signing up for, nothing could have prepared us for the overwhelming support and kindness these people showed my family.
Jessica Peddle-Drover, the Home and Community Care nurse assigned to my father’s care, could not have been more sensitive to the situation, and, although she only knew my father for a short time, he quickly learned to trust and communicate with her. She provided my mother, brother and me with many of the skills required to assist in his care. Yet, I believe that the most powerful skill she imparted was effective communication.
She showed us that it was ok to talk about what was happening, and she aided in helping us remove some of the stigma we had built around the topics of death and cancer. It was within those few weeks that I got the chance to really talk to my father and in some way to understand what he was going through. The Palliative team provided us with a sense of control in a time when things felt beyond our control, allowing us to assist him in this journey.
I have not once regretted the choice we made regarding my father’s care, but I recognize that this may not be the most suitable option for everybody. There were days when even I had questioned if we could keep going, and without the overwhelming support we received from friends and family, I am not sure if we would have been able to.
What I do know is that there are many ways to care for the ones you love, and though my father has moved on from this life, it is thanks to the Home Palliative Care team that he left this world knowing he was loved and that after he was gone, we would continue to take care of one another.
It has been just over five months since his death and, although his presence is greatly missed, we are continuing to move forward. My mother still goes to our cabin, my eldest brother just married the love of his life and, after what has happened with my father I have decided to pursue a career in nursing.
This experience left us with many things; however, thanks to the assistance of Home Palliative Care, regret was not one of them. I would like to thank nurse Jessica and the rest of the Home Palliative Care team for everything they did for us.
You will never know the difference you made to our family and my father. ■
This story was written by John Follett, an undergraduate at Memorial University, studying Communication Studies and Business Administration.