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New Ulm Medical Center

Hospice care provides support to patients and caregivers

There are two common myths about hospice care that can be easily dispelled by talking with anyone who has experienced it: that hospice is only for patients who are so critically ill that they are only days away from passing; and that hospice provides only basic care and support to the patient.

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Helen Kuester and her son Lance during a final trip to the lake when Helen was still feeling well enough. Helen was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2010 and was enrolled in hospice through Allina Health Home Care Services for seven months before she died in April 2013.

November is National Hospice Month and a time to shed light on the services provided by hospice.

Lance Kuester, of New Ulm, can attest that hospice care can be critical to not only maintaining a desired quality of life in the last weeks or months of a person’s life, but also providing support for the caregiver of a hospice patient. His mother, Helen, was enrolled in hospice through Allina Health Home Care Services for seven months before cancer took her life. She died in April 2013.

“She was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2010 (at the age of 86) and her life changed overnight,” Lance said. “She had always been very active and fun loving. A strong German woman.”

But two major surgeries, 14 days in the hospital and a round of chemo would diminish anyone’s enthusiasm for life.

“She grew up during the depression era and she was tough. She always had hope and faith that she would recover from this,” Lance said. That kind of tenacity comes with a resistance to asking for help.

Helen responded extremely well to her first round of chemo so when her numbers crept back up again, they decided to do another round of chemo, Lance said, “with no guarantees. At that point, we were just looking for her to maintain a quality of life. It was important for her to be able to maintain her close relationship with her two sisters, to be active around the house, and to continue her passion for sewing.”

Unfortunately, after that second round of chemo, her enthusiasm for many of even her favorite things began to fade. She was still hesitant to look into hospice, Lance said, “I think, primarily, because of not fully understanding what hospice was.”

Once she did enroll in hospice, however, it afforded her the best quality of life she could’ve hoped for in the end stages of her cancer. It was extremely important to Helen to be able to stay in her own home as long as possible – the home she and her husband built together in 1956. Ultimately, she was able to stay put and pass away in the home she loved.

Hospice was more than just health care professionals “stopping by” to visit his mother, Lance said. “They took an active interest in all aspects of her life. They looked at the whole picture – not just her illness.”

Equally as important, they provided support for Lance as caregiver to his mother. “They would ask me what I’d seen with her condition or what we’d been dealing with and they could provide suggestions for things that I should or shouldn’t do for her.”

An example he gives is the effort to help Helen maintain her weight, which can be a challenge for cancer patients. The hospice nurse was able to draw upon her long experience with similar patients and best practices to provide recommendations to Lance.

If he had questions, he was able to contact the nurse by phone and receive an immediate response. “That was very valuable to me,” he said.

Because the hospice nurse and home health aide that would visit were usually the same each time, Lance said his mother grew relationships with those people and they would trade stories about family, hobbies, and other shared interests. “She came to love those visits,” he said.

For more information about hospice care through Allina Health Home Care Services, go to newulmmedicalcenter.com or call 507-217-5555.