Living life until the end

Even with pancreatic cancer, Southworth takes part in life’s pleasures
By: Penne Usher Telegraph Correspondent
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Louise Southworth takes a myriad of pills each day, mostly for pain, and needs assistance now to do tasks she once was able to accomplish on her own. The “stubborn” 65-year-old Folsom resident endured chemotherapy treatments and a heart attack within the past year, but telling her two adult sons that she was dying of pancreatic cancer was the most painful. “I hate to even think about it now,” she said tearing up. “That was tough. I had to tell them that this is terminal.” With the assistance of her adoring husband of more than 40 years, Bill, Louise is able to maintain some of her formerly busy life. She still quilts, attends her sewing group and occasionally visits nearby casinos. Louise brightened up as she shared a story of a recent casino visit that involved of all things, a rice cooker. “We went to Red Hawk not too long ago and I won $200, but there was a chance to get a ‘free’ rice cooker,” she said. “I always wanted one all my life.” The couple returned to the casino so that Louise could win her rice cooker. “It only cost me $111 for my free rice cooker,” she said with amusement. The moment of blithe gone, somberness returned to the room. When asked how he has coped since his wife’s diagnosis last November, Bill, sitting in the kitchen of the couple’s Folsom home, pauses, wipes tears from beneath his glasses and quietly utters, “It’s terrible.” For Louise, the diagnosis was a complete surprise. She said she went to the doctor with the complaint of back pain that just wouldn’t go away. Acupuncture was suggested, but was only a temporary fix, Louise said. Further testing revealed a spot on her kidney that ultimately led to the pancreatic cancer diagnosis. “It was like I was handed a death sentence,” Louis said of her diagnosis. The cause of this particular type of cancer in unknown and it is more common in men than in women. Actor Patrick Swayze recently succumbed to the disease. Some patients with pancreatic cancer can be “cured” as long as an operation is warranted, however, in more than 80 percent of patients the tumor spreads and cannot be completely removed at the time of diagnosis. This is the case with Louise Southworth. “It’s inoperable and terminal,” Louise said. Sadly, 95 percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will not be alive in five years. The strain of caring for a terminally ill loved one doesn’t have to be a solo-act. The Southworths are fortunate to not only have family in the area, but the aid of Snowline Hospice. Hospice is a type of care given to those nearing the end of their lives. Snowline works with a team of professionals who work an individualized plane of care that combines pain and symptom management with emotional support. For the Southworths, their team that includes a nurse, home health aide, volunteer and social worker, has proven to be invaluable. “They are the best, most caring people I have ever been associated with,” said Bill Southworh as tears welled up in his eyes. “I couldn’t have made it without them.” Louise appears to have reluctantly come to the understanding that she cannot be alone any longer and requires her husband’s presence, her children or her hospice “family.” “I can’t be alone,” Louise said. “Bill won’t let me,” she says with a slight grin. Her hospice volunteer Judy Frey drops by weekly, which allows Bill to get out of the house and enjoy an occasional game of golf. Frey’s presence provides Louise with companionship and a friendly ear. “Jane would stay all day if I asked her too,” Louise said. “We’ve received so much support. I don’t know how we’d do this without people like Jane and Hospice.” Snowline Hospice nurse Dominque Bothelo is Louise’s case manager. Depending on the patient’s condition, registered nurses like Bothelo visit their patients once per week to three times each week. “We can pick up a phone in the middle of the night if we need to and call,” Louis Southworth said. For now the Southworths are simply trying to maintain some normalcy in their lives, with Bill still golfing when he can and taking his wife to the casino — occasionally. SNOWLINE HOSPICE An individualized plan of care is developed for each patient under the direction of their own physician, according to the unique needs of the patient and their family. This care plan generally combines pain and symptom management with practical and emotional support, and is carried out through the specialized skills of the hospice team. This “team approach” enhances the patient’s quality of care, and is one of the qualities that makes hospice care truly unique. The services provided are free to the patient and their families, said Denise Siino, Community Outreach Coordinator for the non-profit Snowline Hospice organization. “Hospice takes care of the medications as it relates to comfort care,” Siino said. “When warranted, in the final sates, walkers, hospital beds and anything needed is covered by hospice.” Chaplains are available as well to assist families through the terminally ill patients ordeal as well as to help with the grieving process. The organization has started Healing Together, Snowline Hospice’s Place for Grieving Children and Teens & Their Families, a pilot program to help children ages 5 to 18 through the grieving process. Hospice benefits are included in Medicare and Medi-Cal and most health insurance plans. The uninsured are also served at Snowline Hospice through funds received from the proceeds of our four thrift stores, individual donations, fundraisers, the Friends of Hospice, and the United Way. Hospice care can be provided either in the patient’s home or in the area’s skilled nursing facilities. For more information or to donate, contact Snowline Hospice at (530) 621-7820.