May 7, 2021
May 2, 2021 marked the third anniversary of my Stage III cancer diagnosis. May 2, 1925 was my dad’s birthday. So these two events, my cancerversary and my dad’s birthday, are inextricably linked (at least as long as I am alive😉).
On May 3, 2021, one of my awesome partners in Cancerland, who had been at war with his own Stage IV cancer for the past four years, enduring over 60 rounds of chemotherapy and the many side effects that entailed, peacefully departed this life after entering hospice care 2 weeks earlier.
The people that come into your life during the challenging times are a special breed. Danny was one of those people. I met Danny and his amazing wife Beth while I was out walking my dog one day. They live in the next neighborhood over and were out taking a walk together.
I happened to be wearing my silver tree of life necklace, a piece of jewelry I had chosen to wear every day after my own cancer diagnosis.
Danny and Beth stopped to pet my dog, and Danny immediately commented on my necklace.
I (as casually as possible) replied that I had been wearing it ever since my cancer diagnosis.
His eyes lit up and he smiled his trademark grin. “You have cancer too??” So do I!!”
As we compared notes, we immediately fell into a rhythm of humorously sharing all the things that most people don’t “get” about living with a cancer diagnosis. And from that moment on, a beautiful friendship with both of them emerged.
As it turned out, Beth is a talented jewelry artisan who handcrafts tree of life jewelry and sun catchers with wire and various polished stones. I have been the grateful recipient of her work, and have shared it with my other special supporters and partners in Cancerland.
I should add that I am old enough to be their mom. And that despite our cancer commonality, we were in very different life stages, and yet none of that mattered. That’s the thing about being partners in Cancerland.
Good humans find other good humans. And so, when treatment was no longer possible, when all options had been tried and all possibilities had been exhausted, Danny entered hospice care, and I unhesitatingly accepted their offer to join in as a caregiver and support person.
And I am so glad I did. It is as much of an honor to see someone out of this life as it is to welcome a new life in.
Yet it was an admittedly different experience being involved with a friend in hospice care since I am also a cancer patient who will likely be facing my own death from cancer eventually too.
Death with dignity. Such an inviting concept and so hard to operationalize as nature takes her time, and creates considerable personal helplessness and disability in the process.
I hope when my time comes that I have someone (like me☺️) at my side who will valiantly endure those unwanted features and assiduously preserve what little autonomy remains as death approaches.
I hope that Danny knew we were trying our hardest to do exactly that. One of his other amazing friends and I alternated spending nights at their home to help his wife have a chance of a solid three to four hour stretch of rest overnight. We always spoke to him and told him what we were doing before touching him or moving him or administering meds. We played his favorite songs. We made sure he was wearing his favorite t shirts, and that he was positioned for maximum comfort.
As hospice began, there were logistics—rearranging the living room to accommodate the hospital bed, getting single sheets, organizing supplies, medications, reviewing dosing intervals and amounts, etc.
It was therapeutic in its own way, with tasks requiring focus in a time filled with emotionally charged challenges.
His medications were four hours apart to begin with, but before long, due to increasing agitation and pain, he required more frequent dosing to remain comfortable. Dying was not on his agenda. It’s hard to turn off the fight switch. He was supposed to have been at Cape May for these two weeks, which turned out to be the last two weeks of his life instead.
The trip was to have also been a celebration of Beth’s 40th birthday. Instead, on what should have been a party day, she was keeping vigil at her dying husband’s side.
Nights were punctuated by every two hour comfort medication dosing and personal care. We got very good at juggling the timing to allow maximum rest for Beth. We needed to add an agency aide to our overnight shift since it often took three of us to reposition and care for him. She was fantastic, and made a difficult task really manageable.
Again, as Mr. Rogers so eloquently said, in times of adversity, “look for the helpers”.
The hospice nurses were accessible and reassuringly helpful every step of the way.
No one can do what is required for end of life care at home alone. It truly takes a team of committed individuals whose mission is focused solely on the patient and their family.
I got to meet and spend meaningful time with his sister, his niece, and two dear friends. Each of them brought their very best selves into the home. Even as he was leaving this life, Danny was doing what he does best: bringing people together.
Rest well, my friend. You fought the good fight. Your battle is over. And you will never ever be forgotten by your legions of fans.
Dedicated to Beth: