Bill and Gail have been married for almost 60 years, and their relationship is immediately evident to be one of shared good humour, spirit, and strength. They make each other laugh, tell their stories together, and finish each other’s sentences.
Those qualities have been even more apparent over the past 10 years, as the two of them have travelled together on an increasingly difficult journey. “In 2013, Gail was diagnosed with a sarcoma,” Bill said. Specifically, Gail was found to have leiomyosarcoma, a type of rare cancer that grows in the smooth muscles or soft tissues of the body. “We were referred immediately to Toronto, as they are specialists in treating this specific type of cancer,” explains Gail. That summer, Gail underwent major surgery to remove the tumour, as well as her gall bladder, one kidney and a section of her large bowel.
Over the next several years, this particularly aggressive cancer continued to re-appear, with multiple tumours diagnosed. Gail went through a very intensive radiation treatment, which was effective, but also resulted in her experiencing intense pain as a side effect. At that point, their family physician referred them to Hospice care, specifically the Palliative Medicine Program.
Through this program, Hospice doctors, nurse educators, social workers, and spiritual care practitioners provide support to patients and their loved ones through in-person home visits as well as virtual (video) appointments – and that is when they met Dr. Rukavina.
“I’ll admit I was scared when the doctor mentioned Hospice…all I thought was ‘Oh, I must be dying.’” says Gail. “Once we met with Dr. Rukavina at our home and talked about the pain management aspect of my care, we were just so impressed, and so comfortable with our care. Hospice is so much more than I thought.”
Working in partnership with Hospice, they have managed Gail’s pain and symptoms. “We are staunch fans of what you do,” says Bill. “Your Hospice team is totally taking care of us.”
“Yes,” Gail goes on. “I can’t say enough – any problem I have, they take care of me, and know exactly what I need. We are so thankful to have been referred to Hospice. It’s always a treat when Dr. Rukavina comes by, he has such a lovely spirit.”
Together, Bill and Gail have weathered challenges that many of us will never experience, but through it all, they could always depend on each other, and their Hospice team. “I never would have made it this far without Bill,” says Gail, with her emotion clear in her voice. “He’s an amazing caregiver, and does everything for me. Although,” she laughs, “He can’t cook – at all!” Bill chuckles in agreement, it’s clearly not his strong suit. “But, I worry about him, he does so much,” says Gail.
Bill chimes in right away, “And that’s the spirit of Gail, more worried about me than herself! I’ve thought many times over the years whether I would change anything, and I honestly would not. I have seen Gail demonstrate unwavering strength and support for our kids, and myself. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Hospice physician, Dr. Rukavina, describes his interactions with Bill and Gail: “This couple is the perfect example of the dynamics of a patient/caregiver relationship. When you’re right into the experience, it’s possible to lose sight of just how taxing the situation can be on everyone. That’s why it’s so ideal that they were referred to our Hospice when they were; now our Palliative Medicine Program team can be there to support them 24/7 and take a lot of the pressure off both the patient and their caregiver. While Bill certainly continues in his role of support to Gail, he knows that he’s got a ‘back-up’ team in place whenever either of them needs us. It’s the ideal demonstration of the concept that Hospice is so much more than most people think!”
This couple has an amazing support system in each other, but are so grateful for the team they’ve found at Hospice.