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The Story of Jodie*

It was Labor Day weekend. Rachel, a new mom to a five-month old baby girl, was getting her oldest ready to start kindergarten in just a few days. But instead of enjoying the last carefree days of summer at the shore, Rachel was living at her mom’s house, commuting 45 minutes home every weekend to visit her husband. Rachel’s 57-year-old mother had brain cancer and was fighting for her life.

An emergency room nurse by trade who was out on maternity leave for another four weeks, Rachel naturally stepped into the role of caregiver for her mother, Jodie. But it was hard, being both nurse and daughter, and getting harder every day. Jodie was on her second round of chemotherapy, receiving the treatment every day while both mother and daughter kept their fingers crossed that it was working.

Understanding that the family needed additional support and care, Jodie’s doctor recommended Samaritan Palliative Partners. The program provides in-home or in-patient consultations by a palliative trained, board certified advanced practice nurse. The goal for Jodie, and all Palliative Partners patients, is for physical symptoms to be alleviated and strength gained so that Jodie, and her family, could live each day with a better quality of life even while receiving curative or life-prolonging treatments. The nurse practitioner at Jodie’s doctor’s office called Samaritan, telling a member of the clinical team, “I know you go above and beyond for every patient, but this one is really special to me. Please take especially good care of her.”

The next day Samaritan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Goldfine visited Jodie. Assessing her medical condition and home surroundings, Dr. Goldfine made practical suggestions for Jodie that would help to alleviate her pain, especially her swollen feet, and make her day-to-day activities easier. He also suggested a prescription for a pain medication that Jodie hadn’t yet tried.

By the time the social worker, Jen, arrived the day after Dr. Goldfine, Jodie and Rachel were beginning to feel more at ease and less stressed. Dr. Goldfine’s medical advice, suggestions, and prescription had already begun to alleviate Jodie’s pain and anxiety. Jen explained, “To see Rachel’s face when I left was amazing. Her entire demeanor and affect changed. You could tell that the physical support Dr. Goldfine offered to Jodie and the emotional support that I offered to both of them made a huge difference.”

Once she was back at the office, Jen began to reach out to other agencies in our area seeking additional aid resources for Jodie and Rachel. During her visit with the family, Rachel shared with Jen that she needed to cancel her upcoming vacation – a long-awaited trip to celebrate her five year anniversary with her husband. After a few phone calls to Samaritan contacts, Jen began to formulate a plan that would provide respite care for Jodie while Rachel reconnected with her husband for a week. When Jen told Rachel about the additional resources for support that she identified, Jen said, “Rachel had tears in her eyes. She just couldn’t believe it – that during this stressful time she could be both a daughter and a wife. I had to reassure her that it was OK to take time for herself and her family, and that we would be there for Jodie.”

Three weeks later, with Rachel rejuvenated as a daughter, wife, and caregiver, she and her mother sat down with Jodie’s doctor to evaluate the results of her chemotherapy. After a gut-wrenching conversation, Jodie decided that chemotherapy was no longer her best option. Instead, she wanted to live her life full of the best days possible, without the nausea and fatigue that her chemotherapy brought. Dr. Goldfine’s open, honest conversations with Jodie over the previous three weeks empowered her to understand that aggressive curative treatment was not her only option. Feeling fully supported in whatever decision she decided was right for her, Jodie felt that Dr. Goldfine and her Palliative Partners team were a helpful part of her decision-making process, offering invaluable insight and candor.

Once again, the Samaritan team visited Rachel and Jodie at their home, this time to begin the process of transitioning Jodie to a hospice program.

Fully alert, aware, and feeling supported medically, emotionally, practically and spiritually, Jodie enrolled in Samaritan’s hospice program on a warm Thursday morning, ready to accept the full range of support that a hospice program could offer to both her and her daughter.

Because of the difficult, yet honest, conversations that Jodie and her doctor had during every stage of her illness, Jodie was connected to Palliative Partners, and then hospice, at an earlier stage of her illness than is typical for patients who choose hospice. Because of the support of her own doctor, Dr. Goldfine, Jen and now her hospice team, the chaos and stress surrounding Jodie’s life-limiting illness was alleviated.

As of Friday morning, Jodie was looking forward to the next six months of her life – six months without chemotherapy appointments, without trips to the emergency room, and without the fatigue and nausea aftereffects of treatment. Instead, Jodie chose six months of getting to know her infant granddaughter, experiencing the excitement of her older grandchild’s first year in school, and the comfort of being home.

*Please note that while the story here is true, to protect the patient’s privacy we have changed her name.