Stories

Living Well with Colorectal Cancer: Valerie’s Palliative Care Story

Valerie Wallace is a young, vibrant, upbeat mother of three and wife to a husband she adores. So when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2013, she was determined to fight. She underwent colon surgery and a round of chemotherapy.

But after finding out her cancer had spread to her liver, she was told by her gastrointestinal oncologist that she was not a good candidate for liver surgery.

“The side effects were so much worse than all of the sessions before, having been injured and sick,” Valerie said. “At that point, he said that he was changing his opinion about my case, that he did not know if I was still in as high of a treatable category as he thought I had been, and that he and my liver surgeon had talked and they were not comfortable going through with the liver surgery.”

Frustrated, confused, and suffering from debilitating symptoms from both her cancer and its treatment, Valerie was thrown for a loop. Her central goal became getting well enough to qualify for the surgery so she could get well for her family.

“I was the most calm of anyone when it came to my husband, my mom,” she recalled. “My attitude was like, ‘Okay. I’ve got cancer. Tell me what I’ve gotta do because we’ve got to do to beat this thing.’”

That’s when Valerie turned to palliative care. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life of both the patient and the family. (more…)

Living Well With Serious Illnesses: Angela’s Palliative Care Story

Angela James has been working since she was 15 years old. No stranger to hard work, she thrived at her job and she was in the prime of her life. She worked her way up the corporate ladder to a rewarding position as an accountant. She built a brand new house and was engaged to be married.

But things are different for Angela now. Angela has been living with a multitude of autoimmune disorders, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Raynaud’s phenomenon.

As a result of her illnesses, Angela was forced to quit her job, and she lost her house.

“I really felt all alone,” recalled Angela. “No one truly understood what I was going through with finding out more and more that was wrong with me.”

As Angela’s physical symptoms continued to worsen, so did her emotional symptoms. “I went into a really bad depression. The pain and being sick, and the stress and everything, just brings you mentally down.”

But a year ago, Angela’s life changed, because she is part of a growing number of Americans who have found a way to live better with serious illness. She found palliative care. (more…)

Living Well as a Caregiver: Mary’s Palliative Care Story

Mary Tibbats knows firsthand what it’s like to care for an aging parent. She is the primary caregiver of Mary Nolan, her 88 year-old mother who has diabetes, but enjoyed an active lifestyle.

“Mom was 88 years old, totally and completely independent, except she didn’t drive any longer but she lived on her own,” Mary said. “She paid her own bills, ordered her own medication, sorted her medication every week, cooked her own food, went out and played Bingo, crocheted, did everything, totally independent, got up and around.”

On Thanksgiving, Mary’s mother was peeling 26 pounds of apples to make applesauce. Less than a week later, she went into congestive heart failure after a rehab visit at the hospital to improve her blood flow. Her quality of life quickly deteriorated.

“She’s Russian. She’s very strong. To see her down like this was really, really hard,” recalled Mary.

Mary’s mother was in out and of the hospital and rehab facilities, but her quality of life continued to deterioriate. She was still incredibly weak and of the nearly 20 doctors that Mary’s mother saw, none thought that she would ever be ambulatory again. Desperate to improve her mother’s quality of life, Mary turned to palliative care. (more…)

Living Well with Multiple Myeloma: Malcolm’s Palliative Care Story

Malcolm White loves the Philadelphia Eagles and socializing with his friends. But when the 51 year-old was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, he experienced so much pain that it became hard to focus on anything else.

“It started out gradually with, you know, pain and stiffness in the back, which gradually got worse where it became really hard to move around,” he explained. “It started early, at the beginning of this year and it got progressively worse to where I saw a doctor and had some X-rays and they ran some tests and that’s when I was diagnosed.”

As his disease worsened, Malcolm’s quality of life continued to deteriorate. Eventually, he could no longer visit with family and friends, and he ultimately had to leave his job as a bus driver. “It was really hard just getting dressed every day, getting out of bed, you know going to the bathroom,” he recalled. “All of that, it affects you, you know, your whole life.”

According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, more than 77,000 people are living with Multiple Myeloma, a form of blood cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 26,000 people will be diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma this year. For people like Malcolm who are living with Multiple Myeloma, the symptoms that accompany the disease, most notably the pain, can be overwhelming.

That’s where palliative care comes in. Palliative care is specialized medicine for people with serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family. (more…)

Dealing with Serious Illness Together: Shari and Jim’s Palliative Care Story

Serious illness can dramatically change not just the life of patients, but the lives of their family members, as well. In 1993, Shari McClendon was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, which causes abnormally high blood pressure in her lungs. Once an active hiker and skier, Shari struggled as her physical symptoms worsened.

“We had a two-story house and I first started feeling very short of breath when I went up the stairs, and getting more tired, and not having as much energy as I had,” explained Shari.

Shari’s illness also continued to affect her life as it progressed over the next 20 years. “I just had to continually, nearly every year, just reevaluate my life and see how I’ve had to slow down. And so it went from, you know, not being active and that, but eventually we had to sell our home and get on a one-story, and then I had to quit my job.”

Over the course of her illness, Shari continued to suffer from physical symptoms and increasing anxiety and depression.

“She just kind of crashed about two years ago, just exhausted from living, I think, and it was getting worse,” recalled her husband of 38 years, Jim. “I was looking for someone to help Shari deal with her depression.” He was referred by friend and cardiologist Dr. William Burnett to palliative care.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. (more…)