My travels have continued the last couple of weeks. Much of it was spent in Birmingham at the hospital bedside of my mom’s only sibling, who was dying from breast cancer.
My aunt died this past Tuesday morning at 4:30 am. The LW and I, along with her best friend of over 50 years (my aunt was only 60) and her Priest, who was also a dear friend of hers, were all with her.
Bham is abut 5 1/2 hours from here and this was our second trip to be with her in less than a week. Let me tell you, folks, if you don’t all have your act together on Living wills, advance directives, power of attorney for health care, and your actual will, SHAME ON YOU. Although, as this story taught me, even having all that stuff does not make this easy.
My aunt had specific instructions not to be on life support, etc. As it became more evident this was the end for her, we (her family) found ourselves at odds with the team of doctors trying to “save” her. They eventually put her on a ventilator, for comfort, which we understood, but we also feared it would be most difficult to remove it. It WAS.
Sunday morning one doc called to say her lab results from a biopsy were back (finally) and the cancer had indeed spread throughout her body. We had suspected as much, as she was so very ill. Surgery was not an option and he said it was time to extubate and make her comfortable. He said he would wait until we got there.
We drove up after church, but when we arrived he and her oncologist had changed their mind! The oncologist especially was being completely unreasonable. I complained as high up the chain as you can on a Sunday night in a hospital, to no avail. We checked into a hotel.
Monday morning we began to meet with the various docs. The oncologist told us that my aunt had clearly told him to “do all you can” and that overrode any living will stuff. He held out hope the cancer was not breast cancer, but rather colon cancer and could be cut out. He obviously had not read the lab report. This was so frustrating. We waited all day until her surgeon, also her friend, showed up and after one look at her and the reports (her heart was really struggling too), stated he would not operate now or ever on her – it was time to help her die as peacefully as possible. All this time my aunt was heavily sedated. In my view, she was already gone, with a machine breathing for her.
The surgeon’s report convinced her primary doc, ALSO her friend (she had this affect on everyone), to agree to extubate. He wanted to call the oncologist as a courtesy. Then we were told (by a nurse, this was all by phone with her doctor) since he could not reach the oncologist we would have to wait another day! Well, that was it for me. I got very angry and emotional that my poor aunt was being put through the VERY THING she had said all her life she did not want. I walked out of her room in tears, only to see the primary doc come running over. He was worried that my wife and I were having to drive home, and he did not think that fair to us. He decided to go ahead and remove the vent, and to tell the oncologist whenever he talked to him. Thank you Lord.
My aunt was extubated at 530 pm. She died at 430 am. We were with her the entire time. She died peacefully without a struggle. It was an honor and privilege to be with her. I truly believe part of the fight with these doctors was because they all really loved and cared for her – if you met her, you had no choice! Her life was too short, but the impact was broad and deep, a more caring and compassionate person I have never known.
I will be doing her funeral next Tuesday in her home town. It will be difficult, to say the least, but another privilege for me.
My LW, who has worked in hospice, was amazing during all this. Her care for my aunt and her dealings with the staff were such a gift. The fantastic nurses on the CCU who cared for her were also heros, and supported us the whole time. My aunt’s priest is a super guy and he grieves deeply for her. God was with us all.

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