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'People need to know what Hospice can do'

Hospice patient Tom White didn’t let his cancer diagnosis impede his love of baseball.  Recently, Hospice of Kitsap County made it possible for the North Kitsap resident to attend a recent Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field with his wife.  From left, Jean White, Tom White, and hospice nurse Mary DeMers. - Photo courtesy of Hospice of Kitsap County
Hospice patient Tom White didn’t let his cancer diagnosis impede his love of baseball. Recently, Hospice of Kitsap County made it possible for the North Kitsap resident to attend a recent Seattle Mariners game at Safeco Field with his wife. From left, Jean White, Tom White, and hospice nurse Mary DeMers.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Hospice of Kitsap County

Two months after Michael’s 70th birthday he noticed a dull, nagging pain in his hip. He brushed it off as arthritis. When the pain intensified, his wife, Beverly, insisted he visit his physician. It was cancer.

It had started in his lung and moved to his bones. It was diagnosed at stage four. There’s no stage five.

Mike followed an aggressive course of radiation and chemotherapy. Nine months later, Mike was convinced the treatments were causing as much pain as the cancer. At the suggestion of their daughter, Beverly called Hospice. It was only after her call that Mike’s physician acknowledged hospice as an option.

The focus on symptom control, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support seemed ideal for Mike and his family. Unfortunately, Mike died three days after his hospice admission — clearly, insufficient time to fully benefit from all that hospice has to offer.

“Why didn’t we call hospice earlier?” echoed in Beverly’s mind. Most hospice professionals will tell you this is one of the most frequently heard comments.

Like Mike, Tom White has cancer. His doctors tried various treatments but when a cure no longer seemed possible, they suggested hospice.

Tom, a retired Navy man who lives in North Kitsap, was apprehensive. Some friends bristled at the mention of hospice — they thought it was giving up. But in the past two months, White and his family have learned hospice care is anything but throwing in the towel.

When White started hospice care, the cancer had moved to his spine and he was in excruciating pain. But his hospice team tailored a plan of care and modified his medications.

“I just want people to know how wonderful hospice is,” White said. “I wasn’t sure I was ready for this. I was afraid having hospice care would mean I would be ‘drugged up’ and sleeping all day. But I have been able to do so much since being in the hospice program. The pain is under control and I’ve been able to get out, see my friends and family — I’m enjoying every day.”

Several weeks ago his granddaughter was born. Hospice volunteers were available so his family could attend the birth. Hospice arranged for White, a huge baseball fan, to attend a Seattle Mariners’ game with his wife. Accompanied by Mary DeMers, his hospice nurse, White went onto the field, ate garlic fries, and ran into some old Navy buddies.

White also looked forward to welcoming his son-in-law home from a long deployment on the USS Carl Vinson.

Predicting the amount of time left for a patient is difficult. No two people respond the same way to treatments or the illness itself. However, far too many are unaware of hospice care. Educating patients and families about the full scope of their illness and range of available options is critical to making informed decisions.

Hospice of Kitsap County serves nearly 400 patients and their families each year. Hospice is not a place but a philosophy of care that provides professional medical services, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support placing the patient and family at the center of care. Hospice care is a covered expense under Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans. Hospice is available anywhere: in the home, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care centers, and adult family homes.

“I would tell anyone with a terminal illness to get into the hospice program as soon as possible,” White said. “People need to know what hospice can do.”

(Valerie Youngren is community relations coordinator for Hospice of Kitsap County.)

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