Trek of a Lifetime

Jennifer Lake at age 23, just a few
years before her first seizure.
You could say Jennifer Lake was a Trekkie since birth. She grew up watching Star Trek and knew all the episodes, all the characters.

“She loved science fiction,” said her mother, Marilyn Spence, who took Jennifer to see her first sci-fi movie as a child. “Books, movies…that’s how she got started.”

So in August 2015, when Jennifer booked two tickets for a Star Trek cruise that would set sail from Miami in March 2017 – she had a lot of time to build up excitement. Only things didn’t really go as planned.

Jennifer had a brain tumor. In fact, she had been fighting tumors, undergoing surgery after surgery, radiation, and chemo, in a frustrating loop for 19 years. What started with a seizure when she was 26 years old, eventually evolved into a glioblastoma multiforme grade 4, the worst kind of brain tumor. But Jennifer was determined. She may have had a wound on her skull and enough medications to cover the dining room table, but she was definitely going on that cruise to fulfill her Star Trek dream.

She had made plans to go with her friend Donna. They had been neighbors back when Jennifer lived in Grand Rapids, before her husband decided he wanted a divorce. It was just 4 months into their marriage that Jennifer had first gotten sick, and 17 years later, her husband had had enough of her illness.

That’s when Jennifer moved to metro-Detroit. She was proud to have her own condo, where she could be independent. It was just her and her little dog, Cricket. But too soon after that, Jennifer’s disease escalated. She had to move in with her mother and stepfather so they could care for her. Despite it all though, Jennifer’s spirits were pretty high.

“She was really a brave, brave person, and usually in a fairly good mood – except when I tried to mother her,” Marilyn laughed.

There were some struggles as Jennifer tried to maintain her independence, despite her ever increasing physical challenges. She had to use a wheelchair and she needed a lot more assistance than she was used to.

That’s why it was so surprising when the morning she was set to embark on her cruise, Jennifer got herself up and dressed, and set the table for breakfast.

“I was blown off my feet when I walked in...and there was Jennifer sitting on the sofa at four o’clock in the morning, all dressed by herself,” Marilyn said.

But preparing for the cruise wasn’t all smooth sailing. It took a lot of coordination, and Jennifer’s Angela Hospice Home Care team was happy to help.

“They came and reviewed all her medications with us, made sure we had brand new medications, unopened to take with us to get through customs,” Marilyn said. “Yes, they spent an awful lot of time helping us get prepared, ordering a new wheelchair and all this.”

When all was said and done, they had a whole suitcase full of supplies.

Teresea Zarza, Jennifer’s nurse practitioner from Angela Hospice, also made a very important suggestion: that Marilyn and her husband Glenn go with Jennifer and her friend on the trip. At first it seemed impossible – the cruise had been sold out since 2015. And Jennifer really wanted to be independent. But Teresea insisted that Marilyn and Glenn go too. Jennifer’s hospice nurse even offered to watch their dog so they could go with Jennifer.

Marilyn called the cruise line and explained the situation, how sick her daughter was, and all the supplies she’d need.

“I thought, ‘Well, what are the chances of us getting a cabin?’” Marilyn said. “And they had a cancellation…a cancellation on a handicap room.”

Initially Marilyn and Glenn really hadn’t wanted to go, and they didn’t want Jennifer to go either.
They knew it would be very hard for her physically. They were worried about her. And they were worried Jennifer’s friend would be overwhelmed by how much care Jennifer needed – that she didn’t really understand how sick Jennifer had gotten.

But with the help of her Angela Hospice team, it was settled. This trip Jennifer had been waiting for for nearly two years was about to happen. And after a series of losses that had pummelled her over the past three years – losing her husband, her condo, her health, and her dog Cricket who passed just before Jennifer got really sick – this trip was something just for her.

From left: Jennifer, Glenn, William Shatner, Marilyn, and Donna.
“The day we were leaving we were all in the car and I was sitting next to [Jennifer] in the back seat and she was crying. I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ And she said, ‘I’m so happy we are going,’” Marilyn recalled.

The highlight of the cruise was when Jennifer met William Shatner.

“She was so excited. She went to shake his hand. She was the first one in line,” Marilyn said.

Unfortunately, Jennifer couldn’t go on any of the excursions at the stops, and her physical limitations prevented her from participating in a lot of activities. But she had fun on the ship, enjoying meals with her friend, scoping out all the extravagant costumes, and visiting the gift shop.

But by the time they got back home, Jennifer was not doing well at all.

“That first night we got home, I called at about two in the morning because Jennifer was in so much pain, and somebody was out within an hour and taking action, saying, ‘She needs a bed at the [Angela Hospice Care Center]....She has got to get a bed.”

Early that morning, there was a room ready for Jennifer at the Care Center. Then 27 hours later, Jennifer passed away peacefully, while Marilyn and Glenn were in the room with her. She was just 44 years old.

Marilyn and Glenn were grateful for the care Jennifer received, and thankful that Jennifer made the decision to sign on early.

“We were encouraged to use hospice sooner because I guess a lot of people wait… I’m glad we did, because on your own, not knowing, there is only so much you can do,” she said

Marilyn said that right after Jennifer died, her nurse and nurse practitioner came to the Care Center to say goodbye. She was impressed because she knew they worked in home care and weren’t usually in the center. But Jennifer had made an impression on her hospice team.

Perhaps it’s because Jennifer went through so many trials and tribulations – any single one of which could legitimately be called devastating – but she wouldn’t let them bring her down. She kept her spirits up and her hopes high.

“She had a very good attitude – she was really blessed,” Marilyn said. And she summed up her daughter in one word, repeated for the emphasis Jennifer warranted: “She was amazing, AMAZING.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Henzi

Christine Henzi

How long have you been a volunteer?
I have been a volunteer since August of 2012.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
For the past 5 years I have been a home care volunteer. I have assisted patients and their families in many different ways including visiting with patients, sitting with patients while family goes out, helping with light housekeeping, even walking dogs. It really varies with each patient and their needs. Additionally, for the past year, I have been helping in the Spiritual Care Center as clerical support.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
Like so many of our volunteers, I had a family member who was a patient. I was so impressed with the care and compassion shown that I knew I wanted to be a part of Angela Hospice. I also have a background in medicine as a Physician Assistant and felt like my knowledge and experience would be valuable.
As a home care volunteer, Christine works with both adult and 

pediatric patients.

Why Angela Hospice?
Angela Hospice came highly recommended to our family from our physician. I like that Angela is Christian-based, not-for-profit, with such a wide variety of support for patients and families.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
The connections made with patients and being able to offer them help at such a difficult time. I have known some amazing patients.

What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
My favorite part of volunteering is by far the wonderful patients I have met.

Marlis's Story: Faith for the Journey

Marlis Brady has a beautiful accent. There’s something quite elegant in the way she pronounces her consonants; and the rhythm of her voice, as it subtly rises and falls, produces an enchanting, peaceful effect – even as she describes the trials she’s faced in her 88 years.

Marlis in one of her favorite spots, the back sun porch.
Marlis grew up in the Rhine Main Valley in Germany during World War II, where hardship was not uncommon.

“You couldn’t get anything new. We grew up always saving things, repairing things,” Marlis explained. “I remember one winter I froze my toes because we didn’t have regular shoes… I was standing in line for milk too long.”

Food was scarce for families like hers, who didn’t have a farm of their own. But she and her brother helped at other farms during the potato harvest. It meant a sandwich each day for lunch, and an extra sack of potatoes at the end of the year. It was a way to help their family, before Marlis started to work for the occupying American forces after the war.

John and Marlis Brady
on their wedding day,
September 27, 1952.
The couple married
 in Windsor before
moving to Detroit.
“When I turned 18, I could actually get a good job because I could work as an interpreter,” Marlis said. “Then I got a real dinner every day and so that was the way to go. It was what we all looked for, really.”

Then as soon as Marlis turned 21 – well, technically, it was the day after – she filed immigration papers for Canada. It took almost two years to get the papers, and in the meantime, she met her husband, John, there in Germany. (“In fact our first date was going to church, really funny,” Marlis recalled.)

At 22, Marlis emigrated across the Atlantic to Canada. John, born in the Bronx but raised in London and Dublin, later followed, and the two were married. But they knew Detroit was where the jobs were, so the Motor City was their destination.

Marlis and John with all five
of their children.
Now one thing you should know about Marlis is that she is a remarkable woman. Consider that she earned her Master’s degree while she had five little kids at home. Or that she and John spent years sailing the Eastern Seaboard after retiring from the Old Shillelagh bar downtown – just one of the businesses they ran. Marlis is also remarkable as a devoted supporter of Angela Hospice, and has faithfully sent a donation every month over the last few years. Having given a total of 54 donations in support of patients and their families, her commitment to supporting Angela Hospice began in 2009, when she lost her son, John, Jr. She and her husband had enlisted Angela Hospice to help care for him in their home, as he battled lung cancer.

“We were very pleased how my son was being taken care of,” said Marlis. “His sister who lived in Vermont, she came and worked from home and she was his caregiver. It was actually all the sisters who came and helped him.”

Marlis Brady said she’s feeling comfortable
these days thanks to her hospice team. Here she
is pictured with her daughter Dorinda, twin
great-granddaughters Kayla and Chloe, and
Dorinda’s poodle Darby.
John was just 54 years old when he died. Sadly, just five years later, another of Marlis’s children passed away – her daughter Barbara.

Now Marlis faces the final round in her own battle with cancer. But she’s at peace with her decision to forgo radiation and the “three or four miserable months” it might bring.

She’s happy with her choice to get home care from Angela Hospice in her daughter Dorinda’s home, and she’s grateful she started using hospice early on.

“It’s wonderful,” Marlis said. “They always take very good care of me and I’m always very comfortable.”

Her nurse Jane Vass regularly comes to check on her, make sure her symptoms are managed, and that she is not in pain.

“Jane convinced me that it’s OK to take pain medicine,” Marlis explained. “You know, I grew up in the ‘you grin and bear it’ type of mentality. But she says I don’t have to grin and bear it, you can be comfortable. And that’s what I’ve been doing. She convinced me of that.”

Jane Vass is Marlis's nurse. "It's an honor to take
care of people at this stage of their lives," Jane said.
"I have enjoyed my time with Marlis and listening to
her stories."
Marlis said she’s been feeling much better now on a low dose of morphine, and it’s allowed her to spend quality time with her daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, even if it’s hard for them to tell sometimes that she’s sick. But Marlis knows her time is limited, and it’s something she’s come to terms with, thanks to her Catholic faith.

“I know where I am going,” Marlis said. “Jesus has my back and I ask Him every day to take my hand and lead me.”

As she approaches the end of her life, Marlis is grateful to be comfortable, and to know she’ll once again see the son, daughter, and husband she lost.

“My husband died last year August, so I have three people waiting for me,” Marlis said. “I have my faith, and because of that I know where I am going.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Larry Janowski

Name: Lawrence (Larry) Janowski

How long have you been a volunteer?
Five years

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
I work in the patient care facility and assist in fundraising for Angela hospice. Every other Saturday during the summer, I barbecue for patients and their families. On Sunday mornings, I volunteer with the snack cart and visit with families and patients if they are up to it. During the year, I help with various fundraisers, such as: the Tree of Life, golf outings, Walk of Remembrance, and help as needed setting up other fundraisers.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I had a spiritual encounter. Angela Hospice helped my wife’s family with my mother-in-law’s passing. The nurses from home care helped our family as needed keeping the family together and making sure my mother-in-law did not suffer and could spend her remaining time sharing family memories.While driving home from work, I passed Angela Hospice and was wondering how I could give back to my community. 

Larry and his wife Carol at Angela Hospice's annual Light Up a Life Gala.

Why Angela Hospice?
I heard a small voice telling me to help others. Angela Hospice was a perfect fit.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
Helping others and giving back to my community.

What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
While barbecuing one Saturday afternoon, a patient asked me to give him the best hot dog ever and to make it extremely well done. I did my best to honor his request and the patient sat nearby me. When he was finished he came back, thanked me, and told me the hot dog was the best he ever had. A few days later he passed away, but he really enjoyed the hot dog! My greatest reward is helping others and raising money for a great organization.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sharon K. McDougald

Sharon working the hospitality cart in our Care Center.
Name: Sharon K. McDougald

How long have you been a volunteer? 
I've been volunteering for over 16 years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer? 
I volunteer for the hospitality cart, flowers, mailings, and selling raffle tickets at the stores. I also help out with the Golf Outing, Light Up a Life event, Laughter Lifts You Up women's event, Easter Brunch, and Mother's Day Brunch.

Sharon with fellow volunteers Donna Beamish, Maureen
Hassien, and Georgia Scappaticci.

What made you decide to become a volunteer? 
After retirement, I felt I needed to find a way to fill my time and give back to society and my community. 

Why Angela Hospice? 
I picked Angela Hospice because it was close to my home and I believe in the hospice mission.

What is your favorite part about volunteering? 
I love everything about volunteering! I have found out that I get so much Joy from helping others and the community.

What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering? 
One of my favorite memories just happened at the Easter Brunch this year. It was so nice to talk with the residents and their families and see the joy in their faces as they ate and reminisced. The next day I was doing the hospitality cart and one of the residents that was at brunch had passed away and the family was in the Care Center. They told me they will always remember Easter Brunch because that was their last meal together with their loved one. Priceless!!