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How you Paid-It-Forward to Palliative Care

The topic of palliative care is still very raw for me but it seems apt that I share my personal experience. I lost my wife, Karen, to ovarian cancer in 2019. During that time, we were on the receiving end of Maddie’s altruistic personality, before the Apothecary even existed. Maddie’s personal dedication to the palliative community is the primary reason we created the Pay-It-Forward initiative through our website. In 2021, your donations have allowed us to provide free MBL products to over fifty palliative clients.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. xo 

 

In 2016 my life changed forever. My life partner, Karen, was going into surgery for a routine hysterectomy to remove a fibroid. She had developed too many symptoms and they were affecting her day-to-day life so surgery seemed like the best option. At the time, we were in a long distance relationship, Karen in Toronto running her restaurant and I in Ottawa raising my son as a single parent. Her surgery was scheduled at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto so I cleared my schedule and planned to stay with her until she had recovered enough to drive back to Ottawa.

The day of the surgery I did my best to busy myself in the hospital while I waited for her. I walked the halls, called my mother, and talked to a woman in the waiting room who’s husband was also in surgery. I felt comforted talking to her. Her husband had been fighting cancer for years and this wasn’t his first time under the knife. I can’t remember what type of cancer he had, but she seemed to be at peace with it somehow. Chronically worried, but at peace. She said they tried to go out to dinner recently but it wasn’t like it used to be. This was life now. The conversation always went to cancer and there was a permanent sadness between them. I would soon come to understand what that felt like. 

Karen’s surgery was supposed to be an hour but the time kept ticking by. It wasn’t until three hours later that a nurse in full scrubs quickly scurried into the waiting room. Her face was strained and I hoped she wasn’t looking for me. She scanned the crowded waiting room and called my name. I stood up but she didn’t say anything to me, she just opened a door to a private room and ushered me in. The room was demonstrably sad. Nothing but empty chairs and tissue boxes. There were no windows, no natural light, no posters on the wall, nothing. I knew what was coming. We sat down and she held my hand, she was visibly upset and it looked as though she might cry. She explained that when the surgeon opened up Karen’s abdomen, it was full of cancer. It wasn’t a fibroid at all. The cancer had branched out like a tree, attaching to surrounding structures and filling her abdomen. She explained how they removed as much of the cancer as possible but Karen would need chemotherapy. The nurse mentioned something about ovarian cancer, which I knew nothing about, so I asked her “Is Karen going to die?”. I honestly can’t remember the exact words she said but I already new the answer.  

Everything after that moment was different. Not one day went by when we didn’t think of cancer. We called it the “cancer bubble”. Everything we did from that point on had to be scheduled around eight hour chemo treatments, radiation, prescription pick-ups, symptom control, appointment follow ups, CT scans, cancer research, alternative medicine, vitamin C and mistletoe injections, living in the hospital, working from the hospital, medical meetings and clinic trial applications. We were exhausted. Despite it all, we started referring to Karen’s appointments as “Date Days” because we got to spend the entire day together. I would get her settled away in her chemo bed and run down to grab her tea and me coffee. We would talk, she would sleep, and I would watch her IV machine counting down the hours. I guess overtime, I also developed a sense of peace with what our life had become. I couldn’t change it, I could only decide who I wanted to be for Karen while she went through the most challenging time of her life. 

The winter of 2018/2019 our routine took a morbid shift. During one of Karen’s frequent hospital stays, a new care team was sent in while signing off on her discharge from the hospital. They were the palliative care team. Karen hated that word and knew exactly what it meant. She denied needing palliative care but I needed help if she was being sent home to die. It was one of Karen’s wishes to die at home with me by her side and I would have done anything to fulfill her wishes. I explained to Karen that this service would give us all the resources we would need at home so we didn’t have to live at the hospital. She hated the hospital so she finally agreed. 

The first visitor to our home was a palliative care coordinator. Her job was to provide resources for anything we needed. Karen wasn’t in a lot of pain at the time and was clear that she wanted to manage her pain naturally for as long as possible. She asked our care coordinator about using cannabis and the woman replied “You need Maddie Brown”.  We arranged a call with Maddie to ask her a few questions. She had a comfortable ease about her and she spoke warmly and honestly. We felt a true sense of compassion for what we were going through and she was even able to make us laugh. It was refreshing and a welcome respite from the usual doom and gloom we were used to. Everyone else seemed trepidatious around us but Maddie treated us like we were just a couple of new friends getting to know each other. 

Maddie sent us packages in the mail and personally delivered products to Karen over the course of 6 months. Karen wasn’t a cannabis user in her past but she was up for anything at this point. She had a lot of anxiety and trouble sleeping so Maddie suggested THC to help keep her feel calm and rested. It worked wonderfully as I have many memories of a happy wife in that last 6 months of her life. As time went on, Karen developed more pain symptoms in her back and abdomen so Maddie sent her some topical CBD products try. It would take the edge off her symptoms and help her feel more comfortable. I always worried about paying for the products because we were struggling. I was on EI for compassionate care which means I was collecting a mediocre 50% of my income. Despite this, Maddie always said “I don’t want your money. Products are free for my palliative friends.” It brought tears to my eyes and took the stress away from one area of our lives. We needed it desperately even though we would have never asked for help. Most people don’t ask for help but it seems there are always kind people out there who want to help. 

Today, I get to be on the giving side of such an extraordinary cause and I truly know how it feels to be on the receiving end of this type of kindness and generosity. When the whole world feels like it’s caving in, it’s comforting to know that you are being supported by someone that expects nothing in return. This is the foundation of MBL Apothecary.

If you are reading this and you are trying to navigate through the palliative care world, please reach out to us through phone, social media, or email.