Celebrating the gift of time

Having our final memories at Hospice has brought great comfort

I am Katie, daughter of the late Louane McFadden and I am honoured to share our story with the hospice community. I am sharing our story to not only bring awareness to this amazing organization but to honour my beautiful Mom. May 5th is the 3rd anniversary of her passing and I really see no better way to honour her then to share our experience.

My beautiful mother was in her 45th year when she was diagnosed with stage 2, triple negative breast cancer. As you would expect, the diagnosis came as a huge shock to our family, but my Mom’s positive outlook and perseverance set the tone for our family. She had the upmost confidence in the doctors and the proposed treatment plan, and she was determined to fight this disease, and did she ever.  Mom’s treatment plan consisted of a lumpectomy, a second surgery to remove additional lymph nodes, multiple chemotherapy treatments and a full month of radiation treatments.  Mom was beyond brave, so brave she even shaved her own head as her hair began to fall out. She never complained and trusted in God’s plan, whatever it may be.  I truly believe her positive outlook accelerated her recovery.  After one very intense year of treatment Mom returned to her corporate role at Union Gas, and our family continued living the life we always knew.

As we transitioned into what I now refer to as the “bonus years”, Mom’s dreams as a mother, wife and dedicated professional continued to unfold.  Over the next 10 years Mom experienced so many monumental moments. She watched my brother and I graduate post-secondary, accept our dream jobs, and she was by my side as we planned my fairy-tale wedding. She and Dad traveled the world which was her biggest passion, while she worked full-time, attained a professional designation and even became a certified travel agent where she started a part-time business from home.  She was full of drive and would never let her history with cancer interfere with her future. She moved forward, she didn’t dwell on the past and we followed her lead.

In 2016 Mom began experiencing some health issues. After months of tests and misdiagnoses it was confirmed that the cancer had returned, but this time with a vengeance. Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. The cancer was everywhere, it was confirmed that treatment would assist in prolonging her life, but in the end the disease was going to take her from us. We were beyond shocked and devastated by this news, but we immediately jumped into action. It became my personal mission to save my Mom from this disease. My father, brother, husband, family and friends rallied together. I put Mom on a strict diet, she juiced multiple times a day and ate the healthiest foods possible. Mom followed my lead without hesitation. She would drink the most horrid veggie smoothies with a smile. But unfortunately, the strict diet and chemo treatments were not helping. At times we would receive positive results, but as time progressed the results became less positive.

Mom began to slowly deteriorate over the months and my and father and I became her main caregivers.  She continued with treatment which resulted in the depletion of her mobility and strength which led me taking a leave from work to care for her full-time, with the help of some amazing home care support workers.  As Mom’s illness progressed, she would often tell us that hospice is where she wanted to be in her final days.  We would disregard her comments as the thought of hospice made our nightmare feel more like a reality. Overtime our perception of hospice began to change as the doctors and home care providers continued to educate our family about hospice and how it could support us. They could see the stress we were under, the unconditional love we had for Mom, but they could see our exhaustion and I know Mom of all people could see it more than anyone.

As a family we attended a treatment and follow up with one of Mom’s doctors. During this follow up he confirmed the treatments were unnecessary, there was nothing further he could do and asked us to begin preparing for end of life. At that moment he offered to call Chatham hospice to arrange a tour. We graciously accepted, wiped our tears and immediately left the hospital and drove to hospice.

This moment was a turning point for all of us.

We were greeted by Bridget, a walking ray of sunshine, who toured us around the beautiful facility. It was more then we ever expected. The peaceful, tranquil environment captivated all of us, we knew this would become our new home. Mom viewed hospice as a beautiful resort and asked if she could stay. At that time there weren’t any beds available, which was a relief to me because I was still not as prepared as she was. We went home that day, finalized details and prepared for the move. Within 3 days we moved Mom to hospice.  We stayed at hospice a total of 9 days, I personally stayed for 6 consecutive nights, so I believe I was able to experience everything hospice has to offer and more.

I vividly remember witnessing my Mom’s relief the moment she laid her head on her new pillow. She was comfortable, relaxed and smiling. She wanted our family to be a family again. The nursing staff, volunteers and doctors began caring for Mom the moment we entered hospice. The kitchen staff asked Mom to confirm her meal preferences and apparently the sky was the limit, so we jokingly encouraged Mom to order steak and lobster, but her sensitive pallet led her in the direction of more simple meal options. Throughout our stay the kitchen volunteers ensured Mom was fed and satisfied. We enjoyed the soups and baked goods and would often share our take-out meals with other families in the dining room.  There was an unspeakable bond I felt with the other families, we seemed to understand each other without having to say very much. Just sharing a meal was our way of saying “we are here for you”.

We can’t say enough about the doctors and nursing staff who cared for my Mom.  They ensured she was comfortable by providing the best support and medications. The nursing staff thoroughly communicated what medications they were offering my Mom to ensure we were comfortable and confident in their abilities. It didn’t take much time for us to finally let go and put our trust in the medical team. I am confident that my Mom was the most comfortable she had ever been in the 9 months she battled the disease.  Her comfort allowed her to have proper visits with family and friends who would stop in for a visit.

One activity we would enjoy during our stay was pushing Mom in her bed around the halls. We would even push her bed outside to the courtyard for some fresh air. It was amazing to have the option to have a change in scenery and have access to the outdoors.

During our stay we planned a surprise 25th service anniversary party in one of the conference rooms. We decorated the space, brought in cake and coffee and invited Moms closest colleagues who recognized her efforts and professional accomplishments. The hospice staff accommodated us and did their best to ensure the surprise went off without a hitch. Mom was beyond surprised and it turned out to be a beautiful celebration none of us will ever forget.

The day after the celebration is when Mom took a turn. The staff began to explain they were seeing signs that end of life was approaching. They were gentle in their delivery but wanted us to be well informed so we can begin to prepare ourselves. The staff did everything they could to ensure we were all comfortable. We remained by Mom’s side throughout the days and on the evening of May 5th my Mom peacefully passed with the four of us by her side.

We held a small service in the reflection room that evening.  We had the opportunity to read poems, pray and float memorial candles in the reflection pond. Together as a family we were able to have our own personal service, to pay our respects and say goodbye. This service and intimate moment we shared brought us so much peace and still does to this day.

I have to say nothing can prepare you for a loss of this magnitude, even though we knew cancer would take my Mom, we were not prepared to live the following days, week and years without her. But having our final memories at hospice has brought us great comfort knowing we did what was best not only for her, but for our family.

We are so thankful for hospice and everything it offered and continues to offer our community. I have personally been inspired to give back any way I can, and we have through local hospice event participation and I recently accepted a volunteer family advisor position at hospice. We are so grateful to have hospice as part of our community and I encourage all families to seek hospice support if you are caring for a terminally ill loved one.