‘A Life-Affirming Service’—Teresa’s Palliative Care Story

Teresa*, a woman in her 60’s, was supported by Seniors At Home’s Palliative Care Team after she was diagnosed with cancer last year. Below, she shares her palliative care story of the support she received through her treatment, and of coming full circle.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I felt lost and overwhelmed. The lowest point for me came when I returned home from a four-hour surgery, barely able to leave my bed, unable to care for myself or my home.

Teresa's palliative care story

JFCS’ Seniors At Home came to the rescue, and their staff traveled to my bedside to assure me I would not be facing my crisis alone. True to their word, they provided me with a licensed clinical social worker, fresh meal deliveries, a weekly volunteer, financial counseling, and a home health aid who came for ten 4-hour sessions to clean and help me do laundry. Because I was out of work and on a fixed income during my treatment, I was able to receive help from the agency to cover the cost of all these services.

These crucial services kept me fed, clothed, and housed, but as important as they were, I also needed a different kind of support. Close friends of mine had died from ovarian cancer, and I assumed I’d been given a death sentence. My doctor was urging me to start chemo immediately, but I felt unable to withstand it. I wondered if chemo was worth the bother—or if I should simply try to enjoy the six months or so I had left in peace.

Luckily, Seniors At Home connected me to their palliative care team. I received a home visit from Redwing Keyssar, Director of Seniors At Home’s Palliative Care program, who helped me realize that I might well not only survive, but thrive.

Redwing gave me the affirmation and confidence I needed to persuade my doctor to wait a few more weeks, so that when I began chemo my body was ready to handle it. She brought me a book she had written about her experience as a palliative care nurse, and postcards with large colored photographs of the tree and rock from which my two chemo drugs had been derived.

Finally, here was someone who knew exactly what I was facing, and could tell me without hesitation that I might survive. She spoke with me for two hours about how to cope with the side effects of chemo, how to maximize the nutritional content of my diet, and how to obtain complimentary services such as acupuncture and counseling.

But most important, she convinced me—in one visit—to have hope. She told me to trust my body and to challenge doctors whose advice was contrary to my needs, and to have faith in myself through the difficult weeks that lay ahead. She listened to and validated my fears, and she offered pragmatic advice to help me solve my immediate problems.

By the time Redwing left, I knew I’d found an ally to help me survive not only medically, but also spiritually. Somehow, in that short visit, she managed to convey that she and the rest of the palliative care team believed in me. She let me know the team would be there not just that day but any day I needed them, and that proved to be true.

I finished chemotherapy, and thanks to the Seniors at Home team, including an amazing Palliative Care Volunteer, I am now healthy and thriving. In fact, I was so inspired by the people who had helped me that I have decided to devote the rest of my career to serving women with cancer; I recently launched a service that provides free attorneys for women with breast and gynecological cancers.

Seniors At Home’s palliative care team provided me with a life-affirming service—one that is hard to find but sorely needed by those of us who find themselves alone in the face of a medical crisis, without family or friends to help. I hope now to be there for other women in the way that Redwing and the palliative care team was there for me.

Our Palliative Care Team provides extra layers of support to anyone who is experiencing a serious or terminal illness. To learn more, call us at 415-449-3700.

*Name has been changed