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Beating the Odds with Love, Hospice and Community

Beating the Odds with Love, Hospice and Community

Posted on March 29, 2012

Eighty-four year old hospice patient Sallie Barber lived in the same two-story home in Dorset, VT for nearly sixty years.


A native of Syracuse, NY Sallie moved as a child with her mother to Vermont. Her mother's employment with best-selling American author and educational reformer Dorothy Canfield Fisher, would positively influence Sallie in the years to come. "I am named after Dorothy Fisher's daughter, Sallie," she said, and gratefully acknowledged that it was Fisher who paid her tuition to the College of St. Rose where she received a degree in English. In the years that followed, Sallie devoted her time to caring for children in their homes.


It was twenty years ago, when she was in her early sixties, that Sallie discovered a lump in her breast. At first, her doctor said she had Cystic Mastitis, a common, benign disorder of the breast. "But I knew better," remembered Sallie. "The lump was squishy." Eventually, the diagnosis was breast cancer and her doctor recommended that Sallie have a mastectomy along with chemotherapy, but she refused. "I didn't want that poison in my body and it was a very slow growing type of cancer," said Sallie. Eight years ago, when cancer symptoms worsened, Sallie admitted, "I ignored it."


For three years, Sally and husband, Michael of 45 years counted on hospice for end-of-life care as they confronted Sallie's terminal prognosis together. "I seem to reach plateaus. For a while, I could get around with a cane - and when I was in a store, I would lean on the cart to hold me up, but now my legs go out from under me," she explained. Eventually Sallie was unable to leave home at all. She confessed to being weaker and more tired.


As her primary caregiver, Michael was by her side every day to transfer her from her bed to the couch where she often spent her days. He also took over the responsibilities of Sallie's personal needs, did the shopping, cleaning, cooking and outside work. "I'm paying her back for all the years she had to put up with me," Michael said.


Thankfully, the couple did not wage this battle alone. They relied on assistance from RAVNAH's hospice team. A hospice aide visited once a week. For three years, Nancy McKenzie, Sallie's hospice nurse visited two times a week to tend to Sallie's physical needs, managing her medicines to control her pain and symptoms. Bereavement counselor, Ann LaRocque, social worker Tracey Busony and hospice chaplain Cindy Yee helped with coping and support.


The Barbers were fortunate to receive help from their church community, as well. Nancy Norris, Sue Lawlor and Sue Banford, volunteers from the Dorset United Church "Neighbors to Neighbors" program checked in frequently, did laundry and drove Michael to the store.


Both Sallie and Michael were grateful for the care and the help they received from hospice and the community, but they came to rely on each other. "I think it's coming soon," revealed Sallie. "And I'm scared of the unknown and where I'm going." But Michael declared, "I know where she's going. She's going up - to heaven." And that's where Sallie Barber is today. She passed away on October 15, 2011.


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