Brenda: A Daughter First, Then a Nurse

Dwain and His Daughers

By Tracy Rathe, Communications Coordinator
Nebraska Hospice and Palliative Care Partnership

Brenda Wagner is a nurse. But first, she is a daughter. So, when her 64-year-old father, Dwain, told her he had been having headaches, she feared it might mean that the lung cancer he had been diagnosed with months earlier had spread. She was right; it had spread to his brain.

“The doctor told us that with treatment he had a few months to live. Without treatment, he had a few weeks,” said Brenda. She and her family began researching options, including hospice. After enduring months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy that made him weak, overwhelmed with side effects, and bound to a wheelchair, Dwain chose to quit treatment.

“We couldn’t figure out why his doctor wasn’t talking to him about hospice at that point,” said Brenda. “As a nurse, I didn’t want to have to be the one to bring it up to my family. But nobody else was offering it as an option.”

Brenda contrasted the experience with her father to how we make major purchases in our lives. “A car salesman, for example, goes through every last detail before we buy a car. But when it comes to life, no one explains that this is what you can expect or these are your options. Hospice is one of those details but it doesn’t always get discussed.”

The family contacted a local hospice provider, who came to Brenda’s parents’ house to meet with them. The hospice then let Dwain’s physician know that the family and Dwain were ready for hospice.

Hospice allowed Brenda to be the daughter, not the nurse. With emotions running high, the hospice team was able to reinforce information that had already been discussed as a family.

The hospice nurse provided medication to manage Dwain’s headaches. The social worker walked the family through advance directive paperwork, allowing Brenda’s father to make his end-of-life wishes known. The bath aide helped Dwain regularly, sometimes also providing other help like making lunch. Supplies such as oxygen, a wheelchair, and a raised toilet seat were provided.

“Those who work in the medical profession are accustomed to the physical changes that take place with a dying individual. But others are not. The hospice nurse did a good job of explaining things to my family,” said Brenda.

Before hospice, Dwain’s time was spent going from one doctor’s appointment to another. “I think he would have enjoyed life more had he not had to spend so much time in appointments. With hospice, he didn’t have those anymore. I wish he would have had hospice longer,” said Brenda. “I’m not for treatment or against treatment. I just want to let others know that the biggest thing about hospice is it respects the wishes of the terminally ill.”

Dwain died less than two months after beginning hospice care.

Brenda wants to share her family’s story because, she says, education is important. “Families may be too intimidated to ask questions because they don’t know what to ask or because they aren’t a medical professional,” said Brenda. She stresses the importance of asking questions and knowing the options for your loved one, and what a “good experience” hospice was for her family.

Brenda and her family are grieving, remembering the proud father of three girls who loved horses, remodeling, and playing cards every weekend. Nearly a year after Dwain’s death, Brenda, her sisters and her mother, Janet, are taking advantage of another benefit of hospice: bereavement counseling.

“It was nice to be able to sit down – all of us – and talk with the counselor,” said Brenda.