Wrapping Compassion Around The Whole Family: Katherine’s Hospice Story
“The staff not only cared for mom, but they cared for us as well. They took on the role of caregiver, allowing us to just be husband, son and daughters to our mom.” – Samantha
For 111 days, Katherine Krewe-Letwin’s family called St. Joseph’s Hospice their home.
Katherine’s journey to Hospice began in 2004 when she defied the odds as a medical miracle, surviving two major AVM’s – an incredibly rare condition causing over 300 bleeds in her brain. The relief that came from overcoming this turned to dread in August of 2019 when Katherine began experiencing new symptoms. Katherine and her family were devastated when the diagnosis came.
Katherine had Stage 4 Glioblastoma.
She had the most aggressive kind of incurable brain tumour.
At first, Katherine’s doctors were optimistic, Katherine was an otherwise healthy 63-year-old. Chemotherapy and radiation began in an effort to give her more time with her family. Given Katherine’s history of defying the odds, they found hope in the prognosis and her strength as a fighter, mother, wife, and grandmother. Their hopes were quickly dashed when Katherine’s condition suddenly began to deteriorate. Katherine could no longer use her legs and lost the function of her left side.
Desperately wanting to give Katherine the care she deserves, it became obvious that they weren’t able to do this themselves at home, and she was transferred to inpatient oncology at Victoria Hospital to begin treatment. Once admitted, it soon became evident that the treatment was not working and that the focus of care would need to shift to palliative care. As Katherine’s symptoms and inability to sleep began to worsen, the family remained at her side.
She was exhausted.
After a week of inpatient care at the hospital, the family was relieved to receive the call that a suite had become available at St. Joseph’s Hospice.
“On October 1, 2019, Mom moved into St. Joseph’s Hospice,” recalls Katherine’s daughter Samantha. “It was a very emotional day as we knew it would be Mom’s last trip in a car. As we walked off the elevator our feeling of defeat quickly changed to one of hope and gratitude. We were met with such warmth and compassion we immediately knew that this was the best place for Mom to be.” Not knowing much about Hospice before their arrival, everyone was relieved at the sight of Katherine’s new and final home – from the private, apartment-like two-room suite and stunning view of the autumn woods right out the door to their private balcony.
“Having the extra room to spread out as a family around her made a huge difference,” recalls Bill, with Katherine’s daughter Angela adding “I was constantly making the trip from Niagara with my 3-month-old at the time. I was always a little embarrassed to step off the elevator because I was always coming with so much stuff. But, every time I got off the elevator the staff and volunteers would help me with anything and everything. They were always asking me ‘What do you need?’. They were taking care of me as much as my Mom. If they heard the baby crying, they’d come to help me, not shush me.” Her brother Brandon, being from Calgary, was able to have his own support group of friends visit, many of whom were also struggling with Katherine’s illness.
The way that staff went above and beyond to ensure Katherine had whatever she needed to be as safe and comfortable as possible is a memory that still lingers with her family.
Finally, Katherine could rest.
Bill remembers how before moving to Hospice, she had barely slept in 6 months. “Just because of the type of person she was, Katherine could go 2 or 3 days without eating – that’s just who she was.” Now at Hospice with properly balanced medications, personalized care and the peace of mind that her family was being cared for as well, she began sleeping 14 hours daily and eating 3 homecooked meals a day (then asking for dessert!). The staff always went out of their way to give Katherine whatever she wanted. It didn’t feel like a hospital at all,” adds Bill of Hospice’s Resident Chef Allan’s cooking.
They were watching Katherine’s health dramatically improve to the point of regaining the use of her left hand, allowing her to text message and keep in touch with her friends and family.
Katherine was able to gain precious time with her family because of the wraparound care provided at Hospice. Bill and the kids often took her to the rooftop patio among the trees to enjoy the fall weather and beautiful autumn colours, along with McGee and Jasper, the family dogs.
This was a home, not a hospital.
This was peace.
“The whole time we were at Hospice we kept saying we felt as though we’d won the lottery.
We were so grateful to be able to have this for Mom. When we first entered Hospice, we all felt defeated and tired. It gave us this opportunity to just BE with her.” – Samantha
“On the second day, I was surprised when I was asked if I wanted a massage. I asked if it was for Katherine, and they said ‘No, this is for YOU!” Bill says of the free Complementary Therapies offered not only to Hospice patients but their loved ones as well. “The staff would go above and beyond to do Mom’s nails, fuss over her hair, and Carlie, one of the nurses, would just spend time really making Mom feel good about herself so she didn’t feel self-conscious about how she looked,” adds Samantha. “At the hospital, Mom was being given sponge baths. At Hospice, she was able to have an actual, proper bath.”
“We were able to celebrate Thanksgiving, Halloween and even Christmas as a family. Mom’s Hospice stay was truly a journey, one that saw us gain a second family through the staff and volunteers,” adds Samantha.
“When Mom was in the hospital, my daughter Addilyn wouldn’t even go near the bed. When we were at Hospice she’d get up on the bed with Mom and have a picnic lunch.”
Katherine passed away peacefully on January 19, 2020.
Despite leaving our Hospice home, Hospice has not left Katherine’s family. Bill notes that “Hospice just makes you want to give back to awesome people. The care they give is beautiful.”
Without your support, stories like Katherine’s would not be possible. Demand for all Hospice programs and services is increasing. The need for counselling and community support has doubled and we continue to see occupancy rates greater than 90%. During these unprecedented times, Hospice continues to maintain support for patients both in residence and bereaved individuals within the community.
Now, more than ever, it is vital that Hospice provides a home away from home for those that are dealing with a life-limiting illness as well as providing the necessary support to help their families deal with the loss of someone so precious to them. In order to ensure that we are able to provide the wraparound care that Katherine’s family received we are asking you to consider making a gift to St. Joseph’s Hospice this Holiday season.