By: Josephine Balsamo, Staff Spotlight
Everywhere I look these days there is talk about euthanasia. You can’t pick up a paper or look online at the news without hearing about assisted suicide and “mercy” killing – ending a person’s life because we think it’s more humane than letting them suffer. Four states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana) have legalized killing persons who are ill in one form or another. Other states, like Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are attempting to overturn current prohibitions. This question becomes even more difficult to answer when someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, we all were holding out for a miraculous cure through treatment with the latest drugs developed to treat her cancer. After four long weeks of yet another type of chemotherapy, we were told by the doctors that she was not responding to the treatment. We were heartbroken. The doctors came in and offered additional treatments. But in the end, despite our best efforts to talk her into it, my mom refused additional treatment. She said that she was “putting it in God’s hands” and that she “trusted in his will for her.”
Then came the day when the hospital staff entered her room to come up with a discharge plan which included sending her home with Hospice Care. As hard as it was to accept that thought, what happened next was even harder.
We were told that in order to bring her home with Hospice, we would have to bring her home without TPN (the liquid nutrition we had been giving her via IV — the only nutrition she had been given for the last 12 weeks because, due to her cancer, she had been unable to eat or drink, and without it she would have surely starved to death).
I tried to reason with the hospital staff that she was not like most patients with her disease and because of her surgeries she had been unable to eat for quite some time. I literally begged them to reconsider the decision. It hardly seemed right to take her out of the hospital and starve her to death before the cancer actually took her life. I was told this was impossible and if we wanted to continue giving her nutrition, we would have to pay $450 a day for the TPN, and we would not have the help of Hospice to assist with her care.
At this point, I asked to speak with the director of the program, and although he tried to say “No,” I wouldn’t give up. He finally agreed that she could go home with food, but when she reached the point that a patient would naturally stop eating, the TPN would be stopped and we would let nature take its course. She lived another four months after they discharged her from the hospital and never reached the stage that would have meant taking away hydration and nutrition.
Those four months turned out to be some of the most precious times our family had together, and even though it was hard, God had something to give each of us in the end. For my mother, the gift was time to say goodbye to us and to prepare to go home to heaven. For my father, it was time to say goodbye to the love of his life and the mother of his eight children. For my brothers and sisters, it was time to learn what unconditional love looks like. And for me, it was time to find my faith again after 25 years, through the help of a young priest who brought her Communion.
In our darkest trials, God brings beautiful blessings. Had we listened to the doctors, my mom would have died of dehydration and starvation, which would have been both physically and emotionally painful. Thank goodness we listened to what was in our hearts and gave her a chance to die at home with dignity and at peace surrounded by the family she loved so well.
Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.
Josephine Balsamo has been the Program Coordinator for Project Rachel in the Diocese of Arlington’s Family Life Office since 2004. The ministry offers post-abortion healing retreats, monthly holy hours, professional counseling, a confidential phone line, referral to priests for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and multiple other resources.