When Nancy Wells’ mother began to show signs of dementia and failing health, Nancy was faced with the dilemma many adult children encounter - struggling to balance work and care for their aging parents. As an only child, her mother’s care falls solely to Nancy. Each morning she stops in on her way to work to make sure her mother has eaten breakfast, taken her medications and has everything she needs for the day ahead. Although Nancy hired someone to come in one day a week to help with cleaning and laundry, she knew as time went on she would need more support.
After seeing Talbot Hospice’s Facebook post about the Pathways Program, Nancy decided to call and inquire about her mother’s eligibility for the program. According to Director of Pathways Wendy VanNest, Nancy’s mother, Lois Dabbert, is just the right profile for Pathways. “Mrs. Dabbert still wants to be independent, but as her health declines, it’s important that she and Nancy have resources available to tap into.”
Pathways is a non-medical outreach program of supportive services for people diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who might still be seeking curative, palliative and life-extending treatment and who are not yet ready for hospice care. The program is open to people in the late stages of long-term chronic conditions who have been given a prognosis of a year or less by their physician. Pathways provides non-medical support that can be beneficial in preparation for future hospice care. The focus is on improving quality of life for patients, their families and caregivers by anticipating needs and offering advocacy, education and respite care. Services provided by trained volunteers can include companionship and respite for the caregiver, local transportation, light housekeeping and meal preparation. Consultation and coordination of services with other community resources and with patients’ own healthcare providers is also offered. There is no charge for Pathways services.
In February Wendy assigned Talbot Hospice volunteer Mary Campbell to visit with Lois once a week. “Mary is that extra set of eyes and ears,” said VanNest. “She is insightful and vigilant and knows when to report concerns.” The relationship quickly evolved from stranger to companion to “comrade in cooking.” Initially they would watch animal shows on TV – The Dog Whisperer is Lois’s favorite. Gradually they moved to sitting on the porch, taking walks and walking to Safeway for groceries. They even went for a pedicure one day. Before long, Mary identified a need for nutritious homemade meals and turned it into a hobby that the two of them look forward to each week.
“All the credit goes to Mary,” said Nancy. “She is not the kind of volunteer to sit there. She is one in a million! That’s a day my mother really looks forward to.” Through the Pathways program Nancy also discovered much-needed support for herself at the Caregivers Support Group offered weekly at Talbot Hospice. Every Thursday afternoon she found she could come in and share her story with other people who were experiencing similar situations. “I was filled with guilt,” Nancy said. “Coming to the group gave a boost to my week.”
Mary Campbell took the Talbot Hospice volunteer training course in March 2015, and has worked primarily as a companion with several Pathways patients over the past year. She and her husband retired to Maryland in 2006 from Massachusetts to sail on the Chesapeake Bay. Mary previously worked for Home Instead and is certified to work with Alzheimer’s patients. She also volunteers for St. Vincent DePaul’s food pantry and at Bayleigh Chase as a “friendly neighbor” visiting people who don’t have relatives locally. According to Mary, this is her time to give back now that she’s retired. “To be able to help people at a critical time in their lives is so fulfilling,” said Mary. “I love it!”
When you enter Lois’s home, it is apparent that her family is very important to her. Pictures of Nancy and her son fill the walls and tables. Lois and Mary banter easily, and the subject quickly gravitates to food. When asked if she likes to cook, Lois quickly replies, “No!” with a big smile. Mary interjects that Lois is the sous chef and that she loves dessert. “Chocolate is my favorite!” says Lois. Mary and Lois cook meals and divide them into small containers to freeze for a later date – chicken, spaghetti, vegetables, etc. “Having Mary here breaks up the monotony,” says Lois.