Why palliative care – the story of one patient
By: Maria Lorensen, Development Director, Hospice of the Panhandle
Cindy Schott was a gregarious woman, who loved her family, her adopted hometown of Shepherdstown, her co-workers and friends at the Bavarian Inn, where she had worked for the past 13 years.
Cindy, 65, had stage IV bladder cancer, and decided that she wanted to spent her final weeks with family and friends making the most of the time she had left. She became a Hospice of the Panhandle patient on May 20 and passed away on June 12.
On a late spring day, Cindy was lying in her hospital bed, located in the sitting room of a quaint cottage off of Engle Moler Road outside of Shepherdstown. Her son, Derek, and her sister, Susan Schott, were nearby.
Cindy talked about her diagnosis frankly, saying that while she shouldn’t be dying this young, she can’t go back.
“I can sit around and feel sorry for myself, or enjoy visits by people who stop by,” Cindy said.
Some of those who stopped by during a spring weekend were friends who helped celebrate the birthday of her 42-year-old daughter, Jennifer Knowles. They also celebrated Cindy’s life as well.
“Well, it wasn’t a death party, but could have been,” she said with a smile. Remnants of the party included colorful confetti sprinkled along the sidewalk and yard, all the way up to the entrance to the cottage.
“So I call it ‘death by humor,’” she added. “If you don’t have humor, you can’t do this.”
Cindy said she continued to question the ‘why’s’ surrounding her diagnosis, but received a lot of support from Hospice of the Panhandle’s entire team, especially Deanna Rudy, her social worker.
“She has been amazing, and helping me to wrap my head around this,” Cindy said at the time. “I wasn’t even aware that Hospice offered so much care.”
Cindy credits her entry into hospice care to her boss, David Asam, one of the owners at the Bavarian Inn who also sits on the Hospice Board of Directors. David urged her to check in to another program that started two years ago under the ‘hospice umbrella’ called Panhandle Palliative Services.
“If it wasn’t for David talking to me about palliative care, I wouldn’t have (gone this route),” she said.
Panhandle Palliative Services offers in-home nurse visits in Berkeley and Jefferson counties to those with serious illnesses. Patients enrolled in PPS still can receive aggressive treatments and home health services, as well as comfort care.
Cindy’s sister, Susan, is also familiar with Hospice of the Panhandle. Another employee of the Bavarian, Susan’s late husband passed away in the hospital – before Hospice had built its inpatient unit nine years ago – but under Hospice care there.
“When Hospice came in, everything changed,” Susan said. “It was so wonderful…he got the care he needed.”
And afterward, her then 13-year-old son got the support and counseling she needed. Hospice of the Panhandle offers grief support at no cost to families who have experienced a hospice death and to those in the community at large.
“Just overall, Hospice provides an easier time processing death,” Cindy added. “Sometimes Hospice can help you through the muck. (The death process) is not like a being in a Hallmark TV movie.”
Cindy’s family was so happy that she was able to enjoy visits from family and friends, as well as her hospice team.
“While she left a lot sooner than I was expecting, it couldn’t have been a more peaceful transition for her that day,” said her daughter, Jennifer. “Just how she wanted it – at home, surrounded by her family and not in pain. She was very scared of being in pain, and because of everyone with Hospice listening to her, she was not.”
Jennifer talked about how she was able to give her mom a manicure that day and recounted how the two of them were telling stories at dinnertime, right before she took her last breath.
“We were so grateful,” Jennifer said.