From Experiencing Loss to Giving Back

 In Patient & Family Stories, Staff, Volunteer

For 12 years, Sheri and Gene were unstoppable.

Gene built a successful career as a senior officer at a Fortune 500 company before retiring at age 60. The couple traveled the world’s most beautiful wine regions in Italy, Spain, Argentina and France. For their 10th wedding anniversary they enjoyed a trip to South Africa and the special wine region of Stellenbosch. Sheri said their life together was “truly happy”.

But the shocking diagnosis of bile duct cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, in fall of 2014 made their world come to a screeching halt. After months of ongoing treatment, Gene required emergency surgery. At the same time, Sheri had an accidental fall and ruptured her hamstring. Both were in different hospitals when Gene learned that the cancer had spread to his liver and abdomen lining.

And the prognosis was terminal.

“I was just in shock,” Sheri said. With barely any time to process what was happening, she didn’t contact The Denver Hospice right away, as his doctor suggested. “It’s my one regret.”

The hesitation to contact hospice is not unusual. It’s a difficult, often disorienting transition from fighting the disease to accepting the reality that the person you love will soon be gone.

“I wish I had called as soon as we knew.”

Once Sheri called, The Denver Hospice’s interdisciplinary care team visited their home and assessed Gene and Sheri’s needs to create an individualized care plan just for them. This included access to medical equipment, medications and other services. They also had access to a care team — including a nurse, physician, social worker, spiritual care provider, certified nursing assistants, therapists and volunteers – to visit their home.

They were given moments to lay in bed next to each other, cry together and express their love. In the end, Sheri said “I was very lucky to be with him. He had his hand on my chest, just looking at me, and I just saw him go away.”

The Denver Hospice chaplain had prepared her for that final transition, and in the weeks and months following his beautiful memorial at Denver Botanic Gardens, Sheri found solace in bereavement group classes offered by The Denver Hospice.

Ultimately, Sheri’s gratitude for the care they received was so great, she wanted to give back. She went through hospice volunteer training and learned how to provide pet therapy to bring special moments of comfort to those at The Denver Hospice’s Inpatient Care Center at Lowry.

After her difficult journey through loss, Sheri found joy in giving back. The love she shared with Gene was immense and everlasting, and now the love she feels when caring for others is gratifying and therapeutic.

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