Mom made the paper.

Published December 22, 2005

Reading time: 6 minutes.

In case nobody wants to give out their info to the Leader Telegram, I’m posting this here. I’m sure this violates some sort of copyright or something, but I don’t care. It’s about my mom, and I didn’t get a paper copy of this so I want this here for my own personal benefit anyway.

One more Christmas

As the holidays near, terminally ill patients and their families pray for some extra time together

Jennifer Schmidt
Leader-Telegram Staff

Linora Hogan’s cancer brings with it an unpredictable mix of ups and downs.

Last Monday was a down day. She rated it a 0 on a hypothetical 10-point scale.

That morning alone, the 53-year-old New Auburn woman—already weakened from a late stage of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—was nauseous, in pain and had just returned from a tiring radiation treatment.

“Some days are really good, and some days aren’t real good,” Hogan said from a hospital bed on Sacred Heart Hospital’s fifth floor, a pastel-colored blanket crocheted by her older sister keeping her cozy.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in the lymph system. Hogan was diagnosed in March of 2002 and has survived longer than her medical team ever imagined. She’s praying that a higher power will allow her to spend one more Christmas—her favorite time of year—with her cherished family and friends.

“I’m hoping to do a lot more than one, but I’ll take what I can get,” Hogan said wearily.

Although generally unsupported in medical journals, providers caring for terminally ill patients have seen people outlive their doctors’ prognoses time and time again—in many cases to survive a major holiday or significant personal event.

Death takes a holiday

“Anecdotally, we all have stories of this sort of phenomenon,” said Dr. Jim Cleary, director of the palliative care program at the UW Comprehensive Cancer Center in Madison.

“There just seems to be this innate sense within people,” Cleary said. “It may be that the will to live through a last holiday is what’s driving them.”

Newspaper obituary pages often reflect the trend, he said.

A lone obituary ran in the Dec. 25, 2004, Leader-Telegram, for example, while six — taking up nearly the whole page — appeared in the Dec. 26 paper.

“There are many patients I’ve had who I’ve suspected were going to die and yet have managed to stay alive throughout the holidays and soon after have died,” Cleary said. “Sometimes they say ‘Hey, the holidays are over’ and let go. Whether that’s actually a deliberate thing to survive through the holidays, most of us don’t know.”

Dr. Dan Burns, a Luther Midelfort oncologist, believes there are people “who do know how to influence things.”

When averaging in all patient experiences, though, the observation isn’t as distinct, he said.

He estimates encountering five to six cases a year where patients make goals and die shortly after meeting them.

No rules in game of life

Kathleen Rulka, a counselor for the Regional Cancer Center at Sacred Heart Hospital and the hospital’s palliative care service, too, has seen the phenomenon. Besides Hogan, Rulka knows of two other patients seemingly postponing their deaths for personal reasons. While the apparent ability is remarkable — and gives other ailing patients hope — she emphasized that those who can’t hold on should not be perceived as failures.

“We don’t want patients to feel like they’re disappointing their families,” Rulka said.

Jeanne Weggel, an advanced practice nurse and the hospital’s palliative care coordinator, echoed the sentiment.

“We don’t want to set up people to be feeling like ‘If you really loved me, you would stay around for Christmas,'” she said. “As wonderful as it is when people can really pull out all the stops and gather all their energy to hold out for a certain event, it doesn’t always happen, and we don’t want them to be disappointed.”

End-of-life patients need something to strive for, Rulka said, but sometimes it requires them to redefine hope.

“If we can’t hope for another Christmas, then we hope for a good day with family and friends. We hope for another sunrise. We hope for a day where we’re free of pain,” she said.

Mind over matter?

Doctors have been frank with Hogan about her condition. “They’ve tried everything in the book and nothing is really working,” she said.

Still, her mother, Kathleen Ladendorf of New Auburn, is holding out for a miracle.

“That’s what we pray for every night, pain relief and a miracle,” Ladendorf said during a recent visit with her daughter.

“Right now no more nausea would be good,” Hogan chimed in.

“OK, I’ll tack on nausea tonight,” Ladendorf replied.

Carla Jackson of Mesa, Ariz., believes a person’s mindset has much to do with his or her physical health.

“The human spirit is indomitable, and the human spirit will, if the desire is there, see us through some of the worst possible times,” Jackson said.

Deb Larson, a terminally ill pancreatic cancer patient and 42-year-old single mother of six, firmly believes that attitudes affect outcome.

“There’s a big correlation between having that will to live and seeing certain events happen,” Larson said.

For the Mondovi woman, a longing to have “one more nice holiday with my kids” is motivation to move forward in spite of sickness.

“I just want to spend as much time with my kids as possible,” Larson said.

“That’s the one thing that’s the hardest for me on this journey—the thought of losing the kids, the thought of them missing me and me missing them.”

Alva Davidson, a breast cancer patient admittedly living on borrowed time, feels the same way. The Eau Claire woman’s condition has been touch and go, particularly after developing a dangerous bout of pneumonia, but having her youngest son’s Dec. 17 wedding to look forward to kept her forging ahead.

“I made up my mind a long time ago that I would be at the wedding, whether I’d be walking, whether it would be through a video or however. I was going to be at that wedding,” she said from her hospital bed last week as two prospective gowns for the occasion hung in a nearby closet.

Davidson pledged not to lose her fortitude after the wedding.

“It’s going to be grandchildren that I’m going to be living for next,” she said.

Schmidt can be reached at 830-5840, (800) 236-7077 or jennifer.schmidt@ecpc.com.


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