Chronicles of Care

Preserving My Mother’s Dignity at the End of Her Life

When my mother reached the end of her life she had only two requests: that she be able to die in her own home and that I be by her side. But I knew as well that it would be very important for her to retain her dignity, even as her physical health was declining. Mom had always been a beautiful woman and took pride in how she dressed and presented herself to the world. So I realized it would be important to her to feel she was at her best even in the worst of situations.
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My Autobiography is Still Being Written

“I’m not waiting to die. I’m living.”

I’m writing to share my story about why The Denver Hospice is so special and to demystify and encourage others to look into art or music therapy because it has meant the world to me.

When you walk into the Inpatient Care Center at Lowry, you’ll see two masks I created that now hang on the wall behind the nurses’ station. One is called “Pain and Hope,” and the other mask is called the “Unfinished Autobiography of a Hospice Patient.”  As the first patient to be involved with the Mask Project, I wanted to say that while we may be on hospice, we’re not dead yet.

You see, I’ve been on hospice before when my prognosis was grim. I’ve been near-death before – several times.

I was born with Gardner’s syndrome which is caused by changes (mutations) in the APC gene, a “tumor suppressor.”  Mutations in this gene lead to uncontrolled cell growth, polyps, tumors and cancer which I now have.  I was born with benign tumors. At 8, I was told I wouldn’t live past 12. At 14, I had tumors in my jaw preventing me from eating. Then, I was told I wouldn’t live past 18.

Life with this rare condition has been difficult and unpredictable.

Unfinished Autobiography of a Hospice Patient

In March of 2016, my kidneys were failing, and I was sent to The Denver Hospice’s Inpatient Care Center. Truly, the care and compassion I received from everyone at The Denver Hospice was surprising. Not many can say they’ve experienced hospice from different providers, so trust me when I say that the staff of The Denver Hospice are excellent. They take time and effort to know you. My care is personal, and I know my day to day life is better now because of my care team. 

This is another way The Denver Hospice is unique – the medical team wants us to provide input in our own treatment! 

Most of the time doctors or therapists say this, but they’ve already decided what needs to be done and they just want to make sure we will agree. These nurses and doctors acknowledged my 30 years of study, research and treatments and have true conversations with me! I feel part of my care. Only truly expert medical professionals are confident enough to engage patients in their own care. 

Not only did they understand the complexity of my disease and cancer, they helped me manage my pain AND gave me an outlet to express myself. 

While an inpatient, I saw a poster for their Mask Project fundraiser, and I asked if I could contribute. They were so helpful and encouraging! Friends and staff brought six bags of materials. Now, once a week, I receive a visit from Aga, an art therapist and bereavement counselor with The Denver Hospice.

Aga and Kimberly participate in Art Therapy

I probably wouldn’t pick up my paint brushes without Aga’s gentle encouragement, because I’m tired a lot.  It can be hard, but once I get started, it is the one area where I can process my life and what’s happening.

I believe that art or other creative therapies should be offered to every patient. It is the one part of my hospice team that is not about my constantly declining health. In my case at least, art therapy is equally important for my health care. I can’t even imagine where I’d be emotionally or mentally without Aga. 

Sometimes we sit and talk, or Aga gives me an art prompt or technique to try. I’ve become so isolated as my disease has progressed, and I have no family to count on. From day to day I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to move or go out. It is hard to keep up with friends. Art therapy gives me some of the control back that I’ve lost with this illness. It is something tangible that I can do that isn’t about death.

I’m not waiting to die. I’m living. I have inner peace and that is such a blessing. My autobiography is still being written.

Simple Questions to Start an End-of-Life Conversation with an Elderly Loved One

Statistics show that when people talk about their healthcare wishes long before they reach the end of life, they receive less unnecessary and expensive care when they are dying. An excellent example of this fact is La Crosse, Wisconsin, where, as a result of a 20-year old initiative to talk about end-of-life planning, 96% of people who die have completed paperwork to specify their wishes for care. Because of this preparation the community spends less on end-of-life healthcare than any other place in the country. 1
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How Family Movie Night Can Lead to a Conversation About Death

Recently there has been a growing focus for individuals in our society to look at their hopes and desires for the end-of-life and put those wishes into writing. The Five Wishes document and The Conversation Project Starter Kit have helped people think about that day when life will come to an end and put those thoughts and feelings into writing.

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How Being a Caregiver Helped Me With Grief

As a hospice doctor I have often worked with families caring for a dying loved one at home. But I have only once had the opportunity to switch places and be the caregiver myself when my mother died. That was a profound and educational experience for me as I suddenly understood personally what it was like to be with a dying loved one around-the-clock.

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How to Talk to Healthcare Providers About End-of-Life Wishes

One of the most important conversations you can have with your loved ones is to share your thoughts and feelings about the end of your life. The people closest to you need to know what you want for your last days so that they can advocate for your wishes, if you, for any reason, are unable to speak for yourself. This vital conversation could help you avoid receiving futile and expensive care that you don’t want.

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How I Helped My Mother Choose Hospice Care

As a hospice physician who has cared for thousands of patients at the end of their lives, I had always assumed that hospice care would be an obvious choice for my mother when it came time for her to die. We had talked openly about my work for many years so I was not prepared for the fear and resistance that came up for her when it was time to choose the next steps in her medical care.

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Why I’m Honored to be a Hospice CNA

When you think of the word hospice, what comes to mind?

You may feel uncomfortable if you associate it with death. You may feel grateful if someone you love has received hospice care. You may feel fearful if you’re not sure what hospice really involves.

Say the word to Ruby Staley, and she’ll tell you she feels honored. That’s because she is a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at The Denver Hospice. CNAs like Ruby provide some of the most personal care – from bathing and feeding patients to listening to and supporting families.

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Blindsided by the Diagnosis; the Story of Losing my Son

Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare.

Terry Hoag never saw it coming. He had enjoyed a successful career as a human resource executive and, more recently, as an artisan. But no role will ever be more important to him than that of being a father. Alongside his wife, Carolyn, he raised two beautiful, bright children – son Pete and daughter Jessica.

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34 Rewarding Years as a Hospice Nurse

After 34 years as a nurse with The Denver Hospice, Eileen Howerzyl is retiring. She leaves knowing her work has helped countless families navigate one of life’s most challenging passages. She leaves excited about the new adventures ahead. And she leaves deeply grateful to the family who has supported her all along the way.

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