Our Neighbors....Hospice means home for Cloquet couple
Betsy Bond said she's learned to be a "meant to be" kind of person. After working as a seamstress for Stearns Manufacturing for 24 years, the company closed and she found herself out of a job, wondering what she was going to do. Three months later, she landed a job at Members Cooperative Credit Union. When she was laid off from that job during the economic downturn of 2009, once again she was crestfallen.
That was in March. In June, her husband LeRoy was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The doctors told him they were going to do chemo and radiation aggressively, but they said they really didn't think he was going to make it.
"It was a blessing that I was off work, because I got to be home with him," said Betsy. "I truly believe it was meant to be, and we got to enjoy each other as much as we could. It was just amazing how things fell into place. Obviously it was not a good thing, but he's been with me for another year and a half."
And though life has thrown Betsy and LeRoy more than their share of curves, they have been able to make the best of it.
The two Cloquet natives are approaching their 30th wedding anniversary on Sept. 24. They met through mutual friends when Betsy was just 18 and LeRoy was 14 years her senior. Despite their age difference, they discovered the key to a lasting relationship.
"The two of us are best friends," said Betsy. "We didn't have kids of our own, so it's always been just us."
LeRoy worked in landscaping and house painting most of his life and the two made their home in a shady bungalow just down the street from the Cloquet Animal Hospital.
Life, it seemed, was on an even keel -- up until 10 years ago.
"LeRoy had been watching one of those television talk shows and they were talking about Adam's apples," explained Betsy. "He was feeling his Adam's apple at the time and said, 'Gosh, it feels like I have two of them!'"
LeRoy went to a thyroid specialist, who said the lump on his throat was too solid to biopsy, so the doctor decided to do surgery. The surgeon found LeRoy's thyroid was actually wrapped around his windpipe. A week later, the doctor called LeRoy and said that although it was unusual to find in the thyroid, the cancer turned out to be non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
"Luckily, it was very slow-growing, because he must have had that lump for five years," said Betsy.
And then, in 2009, LeRoy began feeling a burning in his chest, and the clinic doctor suggested he come in for a checkup on the chance it might be related to heart problems. After taking an X-ray, the doctor decided something wasn't quite right so the next day she scheduled LeRoy for an endoscopy.
"Even before the biopsy came back, the surgeon told us LeRoy had esophageal cancer because he could see the tumor," said Betsy. "They caught it that fast."
LeRoy then had to undergo five weeks of radiation and three scheduled doses of chemotherapy. For his first chemo treatment he had to be at St. Luke's Medical Center for eight hours -- which just happened to be on Betsy's birthday. After that, he was able to undergo the treatment at home.
LeRoy had been going in for regular routine exams with the oncologist at St. Luke's when, in February 2011, the specialist discovered he had a tumor in his heart. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and end-stage COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
"The oncologist knew he had been a smoker, and he was still a smoker at the time he was diagnosed," said Betsy.
The day LeRoy learned of the terminal disease, his specialist said she was going to put him in St. Luke's hospice care program. They filled out the paperwork immediately and St. Luke's arranged for hospice volunteers from St. Luke's to be available to the Bonds to help keep LeRoy at home as long as possible.
"They've been coming ever since," said Betsy. "They're good people."
The services of the hospice volunteers -- though the Bonds only call on them occasionally -- have proven to be a godsend at the times they are the most needed.
From February to May 2011, LeRoy was on oxygen at night but he was able to be alone when Betsy was at work at her job at Frandsen Bank and Trust during the day. However, Betsy and her sisters had planned a trip to California that spring, and since the plans and reservations had been finalized six months earlier, she was reluctant to cancel. She realized that LeRoy could not be left on his own for an entire week, so she asked his sister, Rosa Ehlers, if she would come and stay with him during that time, which she did.
"It worked out all right," said Betsy, "and eventually, when he was unable to be left at home on his own while I was at work, Rosa agreed to come and stay with him most days. That's another 'meant-to-be' thing! We've been very fortunate that way."
And since LeRoy also qualifies for a certain amount of assistance through the county, the Bonds are able to have caregivers from Senior Friends come in on Sunday mornings while Betsy plays organ at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Still, there are spaces of time that are difficult to fill.
"Rosa ended up in the hospital last March," said Betsy, "so I was able to get volunteers from the St. Luke's Hospice Program to come in for four hours a day and then I'd take four hours off work to be with him for the balance of the day. Both of the volunteers were from Duluth, so they had quite a distance to drive."
Even after Rosa's return as LeRoy's part-time caregiver, the services of the hospice volunteers have come in handy. Sometimes they just come to sit with LeRoy while Betsy is away to help him out with whatever he might need.
"I said to our hospice nurse that what would help me more than anything is yard work, since LeRoy used to do all of it himself," said Betsy, "plus I work 40-plus hours a week. Rather than have someone clean the house, I'd much rather have someone do the weed whacking."
As it turned out, the hospice volunteer who came to help out not only did the weed whacking but offered to help out with other chores as well.
"He told me if I'd put together a 'honey do' list, to just give him a call and he'd do it!" said Betsy.
Two or three times a female hospice volunteer has also come in and cut LeRoy's hair for him.
"That is very much appreciated, because otherwise I'm just clipping away at it myself," said Betsy. "He literally hasn't left the house since May 2012. It's too exhausting for him, and we also have a steep driveway so it would be difficult for him to get to the car."
Betsy said all of these extra measures to keep LeRoy at home with her have been well worth it.
"If he had to be in hospice in a hospital in Duluth, it would be more work for me to have him gone than to have him here," she said. "The first year, the hospice nurses asked if we wanted them to bring a hospital bed into our home, but it would have had to be in the middle of the living room. My feeling is that after we've been best friends all these years and have been married that long, if he was in the living room and I was in the bedroom, I would never sleep because I would be wondering what was going on with him. He's better off in his own bed, where it's just me, the cat, the dog and LeRoy!"
A hospice nurse comes to their home twice a week to check up on LeRoy and see how he is doing medically.
"It's a good thing," said Betsy, "and it's amazing that nurses go through that. It's got to be hard. One of the hospice nurses who came here shared her spiritual side, and that was good. The program also has a chaplain who will come in if you want, but our own pastor comes to visit."
She said LeRoy does get lonely at times, confined to the house as he is, and she hopes people realize that just because someone is in hospice they still appreciate company.
"It's sometimes hard to go and see someone who is sick," she acknowledged. "I know, I've had that feeling, too. But you just have to learn to think of them and not yourself."
LeRoy was put on hospice care a year and a half ago, and since that time he has certainly beat the odds.
"The hospice nurses have wondered a time or two whether he should actually be taken off hospice," said Betsy. "I call LeRoy my little Johnny pop-up flower!" she added with a grin. "But the fact remains that he's never going to get better."
Typically, Betsy tries to prepare a meal ahead of time for Rosa to get ready for them to eat the following day. Currently she is still able to do the grocery shopping and leave LeRoy on his own for short periods of time because he is able to get out of bed on his own and also wears a Life Line device in case of emergency.
"Eventually, it could come down to the point where I can no longer do that," said Betsy. "In that case it would be nice to have hospice volunteers who live here in Cloquet, especially if I only need somebody for an hour or an hour and a half."
"If people would just realize that when they're on this end, there's a tremendous amount of stress and a tremendous amount of loneliness, and you're just focused on one thing for so long. To know that there are people out there who care enough to come and help you out is fabulous. Even the weed whacker man was wonderful. He helped me out so much. As a volunteer myself for various things, I know how good it can make you feel just helping somebody else. It's all this big 'heart' thing."
St. Luke's is in need of hospice volunteers in the Cloquet area.
Volunteers are given 10-12 hours of
education before starting with their first patient. People can give as much or as little time as they want. To find out more, call Marilyn Fifield at
218-249-6105 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.