Robert McCharles was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017. Six months later he passed away at home, surrounded by his loving and supportive family. His wife Jeanie says the support and care they received from the Cancer Centre and Palliative Care medical staff and the Hospice Palliative Care Society was like a well-oiled human machine.
Nurse Susan MacKenzie, Doctors Ritter, MacCormick, Shareef and Murphy all cared for Robert. Jeanie says those providing care were always “acutely aware of the needs of their patient, and were the epitome of empathy.” One of the things Jeanie appreciated was the encouragement Robert received from medical staff. “Knowing you’re terminal, it’s important for the patient to hear they are handling their illness well,” said Jeanie. “Hearing those words of encouragement meant a lot.”
Jeanie said any questions she had throughout the process was promptly answered. “I could keep Robert at home because I knew I had a team behind me, one that I could count on,” said Jeanie. She says it was like having her own personal advisor and physician, “I really cannot say enough about them.” She is also grateful for the support of her three children, who visited frequently from Toronto. “I know not everyone is in a position to do that, so knowing there is also a supportive team to rely on offers a huge amount of comfort.”
Jeanie realizes that most people don’t understand the importance of palliative care until they need to use the Service. That’s why palliative care is so important, and why the new Hospice residence is so badly needed. I know the numbers that go through there,” said Jeanie. “You’re not even aware of what you may need, what you’ll encounter. That’s why it’s so vital that the citizens of Cape Breton have options when facing end of life care.”
One of the things Jeanie appreciated most was the fact that the medical staff focused on Robert’s life, rather than his death. The medical staff were genuinely interested in Robert. “It was comforting that Robert could talk about his favourite hobbies, like fishing and gardening,” said Jeanie. “They saw him as a person, not an illness.”
His uniqueness was also evident during the celebration he planned. Jeanie says Robert didn’t want a wake or a service. With seven grandchildren under the age of 8, he planned his send off with them in mind. He had a friend build an urn out of wood, sealed with a treatment that would allow flames to change colour. From their backyard, a number of family and friends watched as the bonfire on the water changed colour, and the flames danced. Robert left instructions to tell the grandchildren that when the flames changed colour, Grandpa had gone to heaven. Each child had a lantern of a different colour to place on the water, saying a final and poignant good-bye.