Alan Stimac knew his wife, Cheryl, understood her health better than anyone.
As a Buddhist, Cheryl was a holistic thinker who paid attention to herself and the world around her.
So when she returned home from a trip with friends to San Diego with a burning sensation in her chest, Cheryl knew not to ignore it.
After trying alternative medicine for two months, Cheryl’s pain grew and she felt it was time to visit her doctor. By the end of December 2015, her doctor referred Cheryl to an
oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Alan and Cheryl’s 2016 started with her diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which had spread to some of her lymph nodes and liver.
“There was lots of crying and lots of panic,” Alan said. “Once we collected ourselves, we asked Cheryl’s oncologist about the game plan and the options. Her oncological team walked us through several treatment plans, the pros and cons, and soon we were bound for chemotherapy.”
Cheryl launched an aggressive chemotherapy regimen and the results initially
“The results came back showing the cancer hadn’t spread, had regressed in some places and was stable in other areas. So we felt good and chose to continue on,” recalls Alan. “But after four or five more treatments, the plan was no longer working.”
The couple then moved Cheryl to a second chemotherapy plan, which also seemed promising initially and then ineffective later. In parallel, they explored clinical trials through the OncoSet Clinic
of the cancer center.
By July, the cancer had spread further and Cheryl was experiencing complications with her digestive tract.
“In late July, the only option to help her was to operate, which was risky,” Alan said. “I remember it like yesterday … the oncologist said ‘It might extend Cheryl’s life by two weeks.’”
After talking with her medical team and seeking spiritual guidance, Cheryl made a decision: she wanted to go home, to be with Alan, to be surrounded by her brother and two sisters.
“That is when her oncologist said, ‘Let me talk to you about hospice,’” Alan recalls. “Soon, a JourneyCare team member arrived, explained how they would care for Cheryl, and everything she said sounded great.”
Once Cheryl returned home, Alan was able to focus on spending time with her thanks to the seamless coordination between members of her JourneyCare team that included nurses, a social worker, Certified Nursing Assistants and a chaplain.
Alan recalls vividly, “Not once did anybody ask me ‘What happened yesterday?’ because everybody knew what was happening with her health. It was one less burden, one less stress. The care was better than seamless, it was phenomenal.”
Alan added that he felt confident because the care team provided the medical equipment he and Cheryl needed at home, explained it thoroughly, and made sure the couple knew when all items would arrive so there were no surprises or unanswered questions.
By early August, Cheryl’s symptoms needed extra attention and Alan called her Case Manager, Nadya Eliah. The Stimacs and their care team agreed Cheryl should be cared for at the
Marshak Family Hospice CareCenter on the Robert H. and Terri L. Cohn Campus in Glenview, and Alan said he was pleased that the team arrived early to take her there.
Upon arrival at the Marshak facility, as Cheryl was being admitted to her room, Dr. Catherine Deamant asked Alan for Cheryl’s case history.
“The doctor gave 45 minutes of her time so I could get her up-to-date on Cheryl’s condition,” Alan said. “I told her everything, which was comforting. The team also gave me
literature on the dying process, which helped manage my expectations for what was to come.”
During her time at the Marshak Hospice CareCenter, Alan was able to stay by Cheryl’s side night and day. Her siblings and friends were also able to visit at all hours. It was during one of Alan’s visits that Cheryl succumbed to her cancer, with Alan holding her hand and their eyes locked in love.
Alan says that although Cheryl’s time in hospice was short, it was critical in helping take over her care so he could focus on his role as a husband and best friend.
“JourneyCare made the aspect of worrying about her care nonexistent,” he said. “Everyone on the team was courteous, helpful, caring and passionate about providing service.”