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Defining Quality of Life Makes All the Difference for Couple Facing Cancer

VNA Care's wide range of home-based health care responds with the right care as people's needs change.

When Bill Lawton, MD, and his wife Patsy Lawton, PT, learned that Bill had pancreatic cancer, their gastrointestinal doctor asked, "What do you consider a good quality of life?"

Answering that question, said Bill, "makes all the difference."

"Quality of life is being with Patsy and with our two kids, our six grandkids, our four sisters, and our daughter- and son-in-law," said Bill.  

VNA Care has supported the Lawtons in making this possible for more than two years. By offering a continuum of health services, VNA Care is able to respond to Bill's changing needs. 

Bill and Patsy first learned about VNA Care just before Bill's cancer diagnosis, when he was returning home from the hospital after a stroke. Home health clinicians Shannon Jannery, RN, Kelsey Murray, PT, and Lisa Sternstrom, OT, focused on helping Bill regain his functionality and remain safely at home. 

In the coming months, Bill and Patsy relied on VNA Care for home health care services as Bill underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. The team helped them manage an infection, taught them about caring for the ports and PIC line used in his chemotherapy, changed wound dressings, and more to support them during treatment. 

The Lawtons also took advantage of the agency's Care Choices program, also known as a "bridge" to hospice. The program gives home health patients dealing with a serious illness the opportunity to be seen by a hospice and palliative care nurse. This nurse can assist individuals and families with making decisions about their health care goals and pain and symptom management.  

Care Choices, said Patsy, "was really helpful because not only did it give Bill the opportunity to build a relationship with Regina (Cunningham, RN, hospice nurse), but then Regina had the chance to see Bill before his illness became more involved. It was a two-way road of deepening communication." 

When it was time to change the focus of Bill's health care, Patsy said, "We know that there are different choices on hospice, but we had already made the decision. We were really pleased with VNA Care."

Regina, pictured to the right with Bill and Patsy, is now a part of the hospice team caring for the Lawtons. Patsy described Regina as "very warm, very caring, very compassionate." Regina's a source of encouragement and always a phone call or text away. 

Bill and Patsy also appreciate the wonderful care provided by Glorimar Maldonado, home health aide. She visits several times each week to help with Bill's personal care. 

Bill said that he's been taking "one day at a time" and "adjusted" his expectations as his health has changed. Their faith and giving back have been an important part of Bill and Patsy's life together. The couple made 17 short-term mission trips to 12 different countries before Bill's cancer diagnosis. Their last trip brought them to Cameroon in West Africa where Bill was involved in teaching internal medicine residents and fellows about peritoneal dialysis, a way to remove toxins from the body without expensive, high maintenance machinery. 

Today they continue giving back without leaving the country. As Chair Corps Volunteers for Joni and Friends Wheels for the World, they collect used wheelchairs and other equipment that are restored and given to people in need around the globe. 

Time with loved ones remains central to Bill's quality of life. He and Patsy are grateful for their family, who stay with them for weeks at a time to support Patsy in caring for Bill and running the household. Friends have come to visit from as far as Egypt. 

Patsy said, "They keep coming, and we're always so glad that they do."

Bill said, "I've been very grateful for all of the family events that have happened in the past two and a half years. Partaking in the kids' activities, their school plays and shows have brought such enjoyment."

Gratitude books filled with pictures of these family times sit on the living room table, and the fireplace mantle is lined with photos of Bill and Patsy's children and grandchildren. 

Bill said, "Even now having the cancer, I wouldn't have done anything differently."

Dr. Lawton passed away peacefully on Sept. 18, 2019, surrounded by his family.  

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