'I could be in her place'

Mary DeMers, right, a hospice nurse, looks at a package of shoe taps with Cathy Querio, a terminally ill cancer patient from Poulsbo.  Querio was about to begin clog dancing classes in spite of her terminal prognosis with liver cancer. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Mary DeMers, right, a hospice nurse, looks at a package of shoe taps with Cathy Querio, a terminally ill cancer patient from Poulsbo. Querio was about to begin clog dancing classes in spite of her terminal prognosis with liver cancer.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

Cathy Querio of Poulsbo sits at her father’s kitchen table with registered nurse Mary DeMers. The women chat, laugh and exchange gardening tips.

They look out the window to the backyard blooms, a vibrant defiance to Querio’s initial prognosis.

“I wasn’t going to do any gardening this year because I wouldn’t be around to see it,” Querio said smiling.

In February the 46-year-old was diagnosed with liver cancer and told she had six months to live.

Her dry wit and boisterous words shatter the frail listless image of the terminally ill.

“I thought I was going to fall over and die,” she said remembering when she first got the news.

She laughs a little, “I’m still going to die.”

The doctor’s six-month estimate has passed and Querio, it seems, is back where she started.

“I wasn’t prepared for death and dying. I was scared of it. I didn’t want to think about it,” she said.

She is still scared, but her disease has forced her to think about it, plan around it and accept the eventual loss of everyone and everything she has ever known.

“I thought I was going to be out on a limb,” she clears her throat and pushes her emotions aside.

But there were already people on that limb waiting to help.

She found Hospice of Kitsap County, an intricate and intimate network of people including DeMers who have comforted and improved the quality of the life Querio has left.

Local Hospice’s volunteers and medical staff have been serving the terminally ill for the past 20 years. From deciphering doctor jargon to helping family members cope with the loss of a loved one, the organization covers all facets of life’s end.

Last year, Hospice served 320 patients — most diagnosed with cancer.

“You can’t meet a nicer bunch of people,” Querio said.

They have even fulfilled a few of her last wishes including a motorcycle ride through Kitsap County.

For the past 10 years Paul Murphey of Silverdale has been a Hospice volunteer providing respite care. He is one player in Hospice’s team approach to patient care.

Patients and their families can get support from social workers, spiritual counselors and respite care volunteers in addition to medical care. Some people just want the minimum physician and nursing care, others want more.

“You just provide a presence,” and develop a relationship based on the need of that family, Murphey said.

Sometimes it means doing chores around the house. Sometimes it means just sitting.

He remembers visiting a patient who had lost his ability to speak.

“He couldn’t say a word, but the conversation was so beautiful,” Murphey said.

“Each (person) is unique in what they gave to me and what I give to them,” Murphey said.

Querio’s father, Orval Cleveland, 80, sits in the living room watching a mid-morning game show. He says little, but did offer DeMers a cheery welcome.

There have been times since April when Querio has come close to her final breath. During these times DeMers spent all day, every day at Querio’s home. But there have also been times like this one when DeMers checks in once a week and Querio’s energy and humor are high.

“She’s wonderful, she is the best thing that’s ever come along,” said Demers’ neighbor Juanita Manker.

“You’ve extended her life,” Manker said to DeMers.

“I’ve been planning everything within six months,” Querio said, which means getting rid of her winter clothes, which she now laughs about.

“All of my friends have been really supportive. I didn’t know everybody loved me,” she said with a tearful smile.

Later in the day she planned to work in her garden and to attach metal taps to a pair of tennis shoes. She just enrolled in a clogging class at the Silverdale Community Center.

She has plans to visit her nephew in Hawaii.

“The longer they’re with us the more we can help,” Murphey said. But in order to get help, people have to admit they’re going to die.

Inevitable, yes. Easy, no.

“Who here is walking around today and the next day is contemplating me coming to their house?” DeMers asked.

She describes her relationship with Querio as one beggar showing another beggar where to look for food.

“I could be in her place,” she said.

(Since the interview Oct. 17, Querio’s condition remains the same. She has more good days than bad and she has not lost her sense of humor, Hospice workers said.)

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