Terminal, the most devastating word you will hear after cancer. Life no longer becomes a matter of quantity but of quality.
Such was the case for us when my husband, Glen, was diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer in November 2009.
Life had treated us well up until then. With God’s blessing we had three beautiful children, four healthy, rambunctious grandchildren, a comfortable home, good jobs and a loving supportive extended family and friends. Not that there were a few bumps along the way, nothing is ever perfect, but for the most part we were happy living the life we built and shared together as husband and wife.
Glen lived, worked and played with such passion. Family was always first and foremost. He was a loving father, firm but fair, fearlessly protective and with a penchant to playfully tease. A romantic husband and my very best friend.
In work he embraced new challenges and threw himself into it one hundred and twenty percent.
He enjoyed sports and played hard. His favorite being goal tending in winter and summer hockey; so proud of the trophies he would bring home.
His hobbies were music and photography; both of which he turned into second income jobs.
He also took up cooking and the bigger the challenge the more he enjoyed it. He loved to entertain and see people happy and enjoying themselves through food, music and conversation.
Social and family gatherings were always fun. Rest assured that before the evening was over Glen would have us laughing at his one liners and comebacks. With his warm smile and sparkling blue eyes he made everyone he met comfortable and at ease. He just reflected that warm, down to earth persona. Such was the man that I so loved; my knight in shining armor.
It was early November 2009, on a business trip to Germany and in a hospital there that he was given the news that he was gravely ill and needed to return to Canada as soon as possible. His company most generously flew him home, first class. The following week he underwent a battery of tests.
The doctor’s prognosis was to work toward getting Glen a few more years of quality life.
The next two years were a roller coaster ride; joy and disappointment came in waves. It seemed Glen was destined from the start to have every conceivable roadblock put in front of him. With multiple infections, surgeries and complications his Chemo treatments were continually compromised.
In October 2011 he developed spinal stenosis and the pain was fierce and unrelenting.
We were now told that cancer treatment was no longer an option and that Glen was given two to three months to live. There are no words to describe the emotional impact this had.
Glen’s wish was to be able to die in his own home but because he needed twenty four/ seven care for pain management that was not an option. I could see the fear in his eyes. I can’t even imagine the devastation he must have felt. How was I going to make his last days be the best they could under these circumstances? Because of the special care required we were given two options; one a palliative hospital setting and the other Hospice Renfrew.
Since Glen was bed ridden I toured both places and after assurances that Glen’s special needs would be met we opted for Hospice Renfrew. It had a homey atmosphere. I think Glen was thinking more of me in the decision since it was closer to home, especially in winter driving. We were told that through government funding of Hospice Renfrew, the use of volunteers and fund raising there would be no cost to us for Glen’s stay there.
I so stressed wondering if this was the right decision but as each day went by I became more comfortable as I could see Glen was settling in and bonding with the staff. The nurses and volunteers were compassionate and dedicated; their patients, first and foremost, treated with dignity and sincere warmth.
No matter what time of day, if a patient was hungry or thirsty, the staff would cheerfully accommodate the request. He so enjoyed his foot rubs and the sincere interest staff held as they conversed about his life. His room was bright and cheery and furnished with cozy comfort. With a large picture window we could watch the birds and hoped to see the deer that often came around. The room was large enough to have several visitors at a time. We would lunch with friends who brought his favorite egg rolls. All our family would come and spend memorable time with Glen; cherish memories and some good laughs. He got to meet his five month old grand niece for the first time. I would spend hours upon hours each day with Glen and never made to feel I had overstayed my welcome. The staff at Hospice Renfrew did what they could to make me feel comfortable as well. As it was coming on to Christmas we would watch the classic movies into the evening sipping on tea and munching on dessert. There were always scrumptious goodies lovingly made by volunteers at the Hospice. We had planned that I would stay overnight on Christmas Eve and again on New Years Eve to celebrate together. The staff offered to set up a table and chairs so that our children and grandchildren, all ten of us total, could have Christmas dinner together.
We were so looking forward to this. We knew this would be Glen’s last but we wanted to make it special for him. Alas that was not to be. Arriving about noon on Christmas Eve Glen was already failing. I called for our children and grandchildren to come to be with Glen in his last hours. Mysteriously a single deer looked into the window that afternoon but Glen could not see it. Did she know he was dying? When he breathed his last breath the Hospice staff was there for us. In silent comfort they understood our need to grieve but were there for us to lean on them for strength.
Our family is grateful that Glen’s last days were “quality days”. We thank the staff, the volunteers and the generous giving of donations from the public and businesses that keep Hospice Renfrew doors open to those in need. God bless you all.