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Giving care to mom, giving back to hospice

Terri Novak’s final moments with her sister could not have been more different than the last days she spent with her mother.

Terri’s sister, Mariann, suffered from breast cancer that had spread to other organs, and she had been receiving care at a nursing home. When Mariann’s pain and symptoms became too much to control, she was taken to an emergency room on what would be her last day.

Terri said the staff was kind, but the environment didn’t allow her to focus enough time with her sister in her final moments. The department was so busy, and there were so many health questions to answer for the paperwork.

“I wanted to hold her hand, so someone finally took me to her,” Terri recalled. “Because of her brain tumor, Mariann had not been able to use one eye for several months. But in that moment she opened both of her eyes, looked straight at me, and that was it. She was gone.”

So when Terri’s mother, Frances, was diagnosed with colon cancer, her doctor recommended JourneyCare’s palliative care program.

“She was having a hard time with taking medicines – she just didn’t want to take them,” Terri explained. “She was skeptical of the health system and she was also developing dementia. So we needed that guidance.”

As part of her care, Frances received visits from both a nurse and certified nursing assistant regularly. Terri said their help with her mother’s medical and personal care lifted a weight off her shoulders.

As her condition progressed, Frances opted for hospice care. Her symptoms needed around the-clock attention in her final days and she was taken to the Pepper Family Hospice CareCenter in Barrington.

“The care team there was so fantastic. They told us what was going on, how she was doing and I trusted them so much with whatever they did,” Terri recalled.

The large and comfortable rooms at the CareCenter allowed much of Frances’s family to come and visit, even on her birthday. Terri’s daughter brought balloons and cake, a chaplain came to visit and the entire CareCenter team sang “Happy Birthday” to Frances. She died later that evening and Terri said it happened in exactly the way she had hoped.

“I tried to do more for my mom because I couldn’t do it for my sister,” Terri said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but JourneyCare just made you feel welcome the second you walked in the door. Her care team would give me a hug and ask how I was doing each day; they were as caring toward me as they were to her. There isn’t enough I can say to explain how happy I was with JourneyCare.”

Terri Novak, left, and her friend Marion Matthews help make cards for JourneyCare’s We Honor Veterans program, which is part of Terri’s efforts to share the same excellent
care her mother received.

To honor both Frances and Mariann – and to ensure other families can have the same compassionate care – Terri purchased two memorial bricks to honor them at JourneyCare’s Barrington campus.

She also continues to donate both financial gifts, as well as her time, creating special cards for JourneyCare’s We Honor Veterans program. This holiday season, veteran patients throughout all 10 Illinois counties served by JourneyCare will receive cards created by Terri and fellow volunteers she collaborates with in Huntley.

Her donations and volunteerism, she says, help ensure hospice is here to help families for years to come while also cheering up patients right now. “This is one way I can give back,” Terri says.




– By Elisabeth Mistretta, JourneyCare Content Specialist
Originally published in Together to Care, Fall/Winter 2016