Poles apart: Mom and dad’s end-of-life journeys

Personal Stories | June 30, 2023 | Laura Paquette

Home / Personal Stories / Poles apart: Mom and dad’s end-of-life journeys
A photo of Laura, her brother, Mom and Dad

I believe that it is important to share our journeys with others.

In 2022, both my parents passed away almost exactly three months apart. My dad would have been 80 in August of 2022, and my mom turned 74 last February. My parents would have celebrated 55 years of marriage last May. They met while working at the Toronto Transit Commission where my dad worked in the machine shop and my mom as a secretary. My parents really did everything together. At the beginning of 2021, my mom was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, she was in and out of the hospital so many times that I lost count between infections and surgeries. My dad did what he could to take care of her and visited her when she was in the hospital in Toronto for seven weeks; this was difficult due to COVID.  

I can still recall on one of our drives to Toronto for a visit, my dad saying that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be, he was older, and he should go first. This was so very difficult to hear. My mom did well after her surgery, she still had to have nursing care come to their home to change dressings and bags, but she was managing. To the best of the surgeon’s knowledge, he was able to remove all the cancer.

In August of 2021, my dad started complaining about pain that was continuously getting worse; he had been diagnosed about six years ago with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was being monitored. Doctors couldn’t determine what was behind the pain until March when my mom got fed up with no one helping him and sent him to the local emergency room. It was during this visit that they did tests and scans and on March 21st, 2022, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At that time, he was given approximately three months to live. He met with the palliative care oncologist that same week and at that appointment my dad requested that, should he no longer be able to visit with family and friends and the pain was no longer manageable, that he would like an assisted death. What we didn’t know was that he was not provided with the information that he needed, and the required assessments were never arranged or even started. 

My dad had requested to remain at home, so my brother and his wife moved into our parents’ home and I took time off work to care for my mom and dad; there was a shortage of personal support workers at the time. My dad’s illness progressed very quickly and within two weeks the pain had become unbearable, we contacted the oncologist, as my dad was under the belief that he was able to access MAID, it was during the first call that we found out that the oncologist had not arranged any assessors to meet him, that it would take at least a week and that my dad would have to be fully coherent to make the decision. I won’t go into detail what it was like to watch my dad go through this level of pain and beg the oncologist to let him die; it was very traumatic for my family to watch, not to mention the trauma it put my dad through. My heart broke for my mom as she had already had to spend seven days in hospital during this time missing out on precious time with her husband.  

We are grateful for the registered nurse (RN) that supported my parents, as she suggested palliative medical support. This eased his suffering, but it was not what he wanted and what he had asked for. It was painful to watch my dad waste away day by day, as a family we felt so hopeless that all we could do was to honour his wish to be at home. He passed away on April 13, 2022, when his body finally just gave up. 

My mom continued to be monitored by her oncologist and had been experiencing an increase in pain, after having assessments on her liver it was believed that her cancer had not spread. After the pain became more unmanageable an MRI was done and on May 6, 2022 – what would have been my parents 55th wedding anniversary – we found out my mom’s cancer had spread to her bones. She was rushed into five days of radiology to assist in managing the pain. We were also told that her cancer was terminal.  

My mom was transferred to a different palliative care oncologist than my dad had, as per our request, and we were fortunate that the hospice nurse practitioner that supported my dad was able to support my mom. My mom also requested to stay at home during the process. It was because of what happened to my dad that we knew as a family what we needed to do to ensure that my mom didn’t slip through the cracks and would be able to access MAID when needed. My mom was a very strong-willed women and she had every intention of fighting her cancer and she did everything that she could to keep going, but on July 10th, 2022, she told us she couldn’t do it anymore. On July 12th, 2022 (not July 11th as that is my son’s birthday), she passed away with the support of a wonderful MAID team in her home with her family.  

Through this experience watching both my parents pass away so closely together, with one parent having access to MAID and one parent not being able to access this support, it really showed me how important it is that MAID exists. Trauma exists when we watch someone die, but the trauma of watching my dad experience what he did is something that I will never forget.  

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