Just prior to Thanksgiving, Nancy Hoganson Hannah, Director of Community Relations for HopeWest-Montrose, sent us a note of gratitude for our continued support for their organization. Their mission is to provide the best hospice and palliative care in our region. Their care is not limited to medical but emotional and spiritual support as well.
By the numbers for the Montrose, Olathe, Ridgway and Ouray area it is a far-reaching calling of love and compassion that they provide.
2014-2018 they cared for the following out of their Montrose office:
•2,141 hospice patients
•176 palliative patients
I don’t know how many degrees of separation there are between those in HopeWest’s care and the many who feel their comfort. Parents, spouses, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters and more all feel their impact.
Here is my family’s story:
In March of 2012 my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. It would prove to be terminal. I had pulled into the parking lot of the Montrose Daily Press to start my day when he called me with the news.
“Hey listen, we’re not going to get emotional about this. Everyone has an expiration date, and mine may be coming sooner than we thought,” he told me.
Quite frankly, I was lost. He wasn’t feeling well, and he was told at the VA hospital in Grand Junction he had pneumonia. He had an appointment with the VA when his regular physician was on vacation. The one he saw on this appointment wasn’t buying the diagnosis and decided to take tissue samples from his lungs. As usual with my Dad, he kept all of this to himself.
He explained to me what had happened and that the samples came back as cancerous.
“How am I supposed to not get emotional about this,” I thought. But I kept it together, and we talked about the next step which was meeting with an oncologist at St. Mary’s in Grand Junction.
At that appointment, the oncologist gave us the worst possible news. Any hope we had that he would survive was gone. It was in such a matter-of-fact way that I asked the doctor to back up and say it again.
“All we can do is chemotherapy and extend life by about six months,” he said.
While my sister Leone began to get the details of the process, I looked at my dad, and he never looked so lost. He stared out of the office window and didn’t say a word. Dad was always in control, but now he was lost.
The next several months would be trips to Grand Junction for chemo treatments. In August of that year he was told that the spots on his lungs had actually reduced and they would stop the treatments. But at his October appointment the cancer had spread. He was given the option to continue treatments, but he declined.
“This isn’t living,” he said.
He began hospice care that February at his home in Delta. The nurses were good to him. Dad was a one-liner, dry-humor kind of guy. They played along with him, giving it back to him as good as he gave.
Around February he began to change. He couldn’t remember simple things, and his frustrations would make him hard to be around. In early March he asked my sister and me to meet with him. Up to that point, he was still living on his own.
“I’m fully conscious of what I’m about to tell you. I’m starting to see things that I know are not real. I see your mother and talk to her as if she were really here. I no longer trust being alone,” he said. My mother had passed away 15 years earlier.
“Don’t feel obligated to care for me. Through the VA I have everything set up to move into San Juan Living Center in Montrose,” he would continue. Even in his final weeks, he was still in control.
My sister and I tried to care for him at his home. Through the VA and HopeWest, we set up his home to make him as comfortable as we could. Leone would stay with him during the days, and I would have the overnight shift. She would work at night, and I would work during the day. There wasn’t much happening as far as sleep. His hallucinations were taking over his mind. At night we could be anywhere from Vietnam to Australia. One night he thought his oxygen tubing was a feeding tube for giraffes at a zoo and that they needed to be repaired. We spent a good 20 minutes working on them.
Exhausted, Leone and I decided it was time to admit him into San Juan Living. It was time to let the professionals care for him. HopeWest was with us every step of the way. Every bit of care they gave him was explained to us. Although his mind wasn’t there, he was in much better spirits and much more comfortable.
I would visit him at each meal and then stroll him around the facility in his wheelchair. One day he thought he was in a Catholic hospital, and as we passed each female nurse he would say, “Good afternoon, sister.”
But he was losing strength rapidly, and it wasn’t long before he couldn’t get out of bed. He was sleeping more than he was awake.
In the category of “it’s a small world but I wouldn’t want to paint it,” our hospice nurse was Jeana Woody. Her husband Will and father-in-law Steve were one-time co-workers of mine at the Daily Press. I could not have hand picked a better person to walk us through our most difficult time.
One morning I came to visit Dad, and Jeana was with him. She showed me the physical signs that he wouldn’t be with us much longer. I slumped forward in my chair as reality hit and told myself those first words he told me when he was diagnosed. “Don’t get emotional.” Jeana explained it would be a matter of days. She was kind and supportive.
That afternoon, I came back for another visit. He was laying there wide awake for the first time in a few visits. I sat down by him and he said, “I want to sit up.” The morning visit was still weighing heavy on me, and I told him he just needed to rest. Then I heard a loud thud. He managed to move his leg off the bed, but with no strength his foot hit the floor heavy. I looked at his face, and he had that look I had seen a thousand times from him. It was that “do as I tell you” look.
I put both of his arms over my shoulders, lifted him with his full weight on me into a sitting position. Our heads were side by side and in a barely audible voice he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I love you but I just can’t.”
I told him I loved him too, then I gently laid him back down in his bed and waited until he fell asleep before I left. The words “I love you” weren’t something we said to each other regularly.
The next morning, with Leone and Jeana by his side, he passed. I was in route, and when I arrived Jeana asked if I wanted to be alone with him and talk to him. I told her there was nothing left unsaid between us. Thanks to Jeana walking me through what would be his final hours, I believe that the special final moments between my Dad and me happened. Through personal tragedy, there was relief and emotional support. I think he would have understood that we did get emotional and have learned to cope with losing him. I know we could not have made it through his loss without HopeWest and San Juan Living Center. Our family is eternally grateful to them and, in particular, Jeana.
If you would like to support HopeWest visit their website at HopeWest.org.
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org