Sunday, June 18, 2017

Month 6.6 of 48: The Heart of Hospice

Jacki and my dear friend, Tracie Hansen, wrote a guest post for us this month about what Hospice has meant to her.  Tracie lost her beloved mother, Joy Duprey, to pancreatic cancer in March 2005.  I know how difficult it can be to examine wounds that even so many years later can feel fresh when least expected.  Thank you, Tracie. -- Cristy

VISTA HOSPICE by, Tracie Hansen

I was 33 years old when I discovered Vista Hospice. My mom had recently started volunteering for the organization—which was then called Northland Hospice—and she spoke lovingly about the people she met and the work that they did.

Tracie, Natalie and Joy
I hadn’t really grasped the role Hospice plays in our community. I certainly didn’t realize it would
soon become one of the most important resources I never knew I needed.

At the time, I was enjoying the joys and challenges of being a mom to two personality-packed kiddos. Our four-year-old Lego-building, reading-machine was wise beyond his years and soaking in every bit of the world around him, while his little sister toddled around, a goofy, wide-eyed chatterbox stealing the hearts of all she met. These two were my world and life was glorious.

Except it wasn’t, actually.

At the same time that I was still learning how to be a mother, I was also coming to grips the horrible reality that my own mother’s life was coming to an end. After three years in remission, her pancreatic cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her doctors estimated she had about four months left to live.

My unhealthy fear of death left me paralyzed by the thought of my life without my rock. My mom was the strongest person I knew, and she had already overcome so much hardship in her life. I knew for a fact she would still beat this. And if for some reason she wouldn’t survive…well then, how would I?

Mom accepted the prognosis long before I could. In her infinite wisdom and grace, she turned to Hospice for help transitioning out of this life, knowing it would provide the sense of control she was desperately craving and allow her to die with dignity. She also knew how much I was going to need Hospice, too.

So we met with a Hospice counselor around my dining room table to put my mom’s end-of-life wishes down on paper. It was uncomfortable and surreal. It was also one of the most significant moments of our lives. Not only were we capturing my mom’s dying preferences and developing a plan during a time when she was feeling scared and vulnerable, but little did I know we also were taking the uncertainty and pressure off of me from having to make decisions on her behalf when she no longer could.

Tracie at the Run for Hospice
First and foremost, mom wanted to remain in the comfort of her own home. As a vibrant, 57-year-old woman, the idea of spending her last days in a dreary nursing home was unbearable. Hospice provided regular home visits from an entire care team, including nurses, social workers, and even a chaplain. These angels on earth treated her with compassion, honesty, and respect at every step.

They were equally concerned about my wellbeing. I had taken a leave from my job to come live with mom and be her caregiver, and the Hospice care team helped prepare me for both the physical symptoms of dying as well as the psychological issues that accompany the dying process. And they did this in a way that respected my own fears and doubts, revealing just as much as I could handle while also helping me accept the reality I was facing.

One of mom’s biggest fears was the pain and discomfort she anticipated as the cancer progressed. She was already taking quite a lot of medication, but it was hard to stay ahead of the pain, and she didn’t want to spend her last weeks heavily sedated in a fuzzy haze. The palliative care we received from Hospice was a tremendous blessing. Together we prepared a treatment plan for pain management and symptom control that ensured she was as comfortable and mentally present as possible. It also meant we didn’t have to cope with these additional stresses and fears in the moment.

Tracie and her friend Dee at the Run for Hospice
Throughout mom’s last weeks, we had a steady stream of friends, family, and colleagues stopping in for meals and bedside visits. And despite the circumstances, there was an abundance of laughter in addition to the tears.

Early one morning when I knew that her time was nearing, I woke my brother and the three of us cuddled up in her bed together. We told her we loved her and that we would be ok. We held her hands as she left us. I know in my heart it was exactly as she would have wanted. It was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.

It’s a gift I would never have known to ask for. And amazingly, it’s what Vista Hospice gives to people in this community each and every day.

Please help us honor Tracie and Joy and join us for the Run for Life this coming Saturday, June 24.  Sign up information can be found here:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Month 6 of 48: Vista (Northland) Hospice

Death. Dying. No, we haven’t lost all hope in month 6 of this blog. But, we’re turning our focus to a topic that most people want to avoid. So many of us are actively thinking about how we want to LIVE, but when it comes to the business of dying, or facing the death of our loved ones, we tend to shut down and not apply those same principles.

This is where organizations like Northland Hospice & Palliative Care (dba) Vista Hospice (Northland) step in – to lighten the financial and emotional burden throughout the final journey of life for those in need. For 34 years, Northland has been delivering end-of-life care to northern Arizona residents, regardless of their ability to pay. They are rooted in the belief that everyone has the right to experience the best quality of life, and they will provide hospice care where AND how the patient desires. They have gone so far as to delivery hospice care to a homeless individual living in the woods who did not want to come into town for services.

Available Grief/Caregiver Services
In speaking with Kathy Simmons, Northland’s Community Development Director, what struck me (Jacki) the most was the breadth and depth of this organization. As with many of the multiple-hat-wearing non-profit organizations in Flagstaff, Northland is about SO much more than hospice care. The ongoing support and grief counseling that families receive lasts for more than a year. Northland also offers a suicide support group for those who have lost a loved one in this manner, an especially important resource in our local schools. As we all age, there is a high probability that we will eventually become caretakers for the people who once took care of us. Northland’s Caregiver’s Support Group allows those filling this role to rely on others in the community for support and understanding.

The most visible parts of Northland are the actual hospice facilities – the beautiful Olivia White Hospice Home, and the soon-to-be-opened Forest House. Most of their fundraising activities go to operation of these facilities, with their biggest one being the Run for Life. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve participated in this race, but I do know that it’s one of my favorite of the Flagstaff Summer Running Series for the simple fact that the course is FLAT. As in, not a single hill. My kind of course. This year’s event is on June 24, and we’d love to have a huge #48Months contingency out there. If running/walking a 5K or 10K isn’t your thing, they need hundreds of volunteers (details below).

As Kathy told me, people don’t want to talk about hospice, but we need to talk about hospice sooner. And while hospice care isn’t something you want to think about using, I am comforted to know that Flagstaff has an organization like Northland to provide these valuable services.

How can you help? 

Run for Life! It's flat and on pavement!
Events: The Run for Life on June 24 is Northland’s primary fundraiser. The best thing you can do is register to participate! There are 5K and 10K options, and the course takes you through downtown Flagstaff and through the Coconino Estates neighborhood. Have I mentioned there are no hills? If you have a group that wants to participate, but the registration fee is too steep, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Kathy. Running isn’t your thing? They need TONS of volunteers to put on a race of this magnitude. You can register for the race here: If you’re interested in volunteering, call Kathy Simmons at 928.779.1227. Proceeds from this race go straight into the new Forest House.

Cash: There is an easy donation section right on the home page of the Northland website, helping them get to their $250,000 fundraising goal for the Forest House. Donations provide patient financial assistance for those who are uninsured and under-insured, as well as help furnish the house.

Volunteer: Northland relies on a strong network of volunteers to accomplish its mission. Volunteer opportunities range from cooking family dinners at the hospice facilities to providing administrative support in the main office. Applications and information:

Donations: One of Northland’s ongoing fundraising endeavors is the Hodgepodge Thrift Store, located at 452 N. Switzer Canyon. They accept donations of clothing, furniture, d├ęcor, etc. and volunteers keep the store open to the public.

For those who don’t live in Flagstaff, most communities have a non-profit hospice organization. We encourage you to connect with them, learn about their mission, and how you can help them make an impact in your community.