by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager
I met Thelma yesterday. Thelma is quite possibly one of the cutest women I’ve ever seen. Do you see that face? I probably use the word “precious” way too much, but in this case, it’s completely justified. Thelma is precious.
Thelma is 96 years old and she has breast cancer. Again.
About 50 years ago, Thelma found a lump. You know what they did back then? They scooped it out under local anesthetic and that was that. Luckily this procedure seemed to work because it wasn’t until about two years ago that another lump resurfaced. This time, her family and her doctor were in agreement. No aggressive treatments or procedures. Keep her comfortable and let nature take its course.
But Thelma has surprised everyone with how well she’s done. Up until last month, she was still out and about, visiting friends and going to church. It’s just been over the past few weeks that her ability to get around has been hampered by the progression of the cancer. But she’s never been the type to complain. She’s not had the easiest life but, as her daughter-in-law will attest, she’s always had the disposition of an angel.
Thelma has lived in Mooresville, NC pretty much her whole life. She met her husband, Oscar, when she was only 18. She was a married woman with young children by the time she was 20. A mother of two daughters and two sons, she also worked outside the home; for 22 years, she collected a paycheck from a textile mill in Cornelius. Oscar died in 1994, but Thelma still had her family to surround her and sustain her. Thelma has always been a very social person — to this day, she thrives in the company of others. And she has always had an “open door” policy. To her house and to her heart.
Lou, Thelma’s daughter-in-law, met Charles, one of Thelma’s sons, in Arizona while in the military. After only a month of knowing each other, the two had married. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that Lou found herself meeting her new in-laws for the first time. Her fears were completely unfounded. Thelma and Oscar welcomed her (and her two daughters from a previous marriage) with open arms immediately. And just like that, Lou found “her people” thousands of miles away from where she grew up. Sometimes your family chooses you.
Throughout her long life, Thelma has had her fair share of heartbreak. Her son, Butch, died at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville about six weeks ago. You’re not supposed to outlive your children, especially when you are already under hospice care. But Thelma has. She visited Butch for the few days he was at the hospice house and sat by his side, holding his hand. He was mostly non-responsive, but anytime she let go of his hand, his hand hovered over the covers looking for it to come back. A man knows when his mama is there to care for him. Butch was no exception.
Thelma has been a caregiver her whole life. Her mother also had breast cancer and Thelma cared for her during her last days. Thelma has cared for her children, grandchildren, and friends. And now it’s her turn to be on the receiving end of that kind of true love.
A long time ago, Lou made a promise to her mother-in-law that she would come take care of her if she ever needed it. That time came. Twelve years ago, Thelma had a nasty fall, breaking ribs (among other injuries), and ended up in a rehabilitation facility. Lou called her from Texas (where she and Charles were living at the time) and asked if Lou wanted to stay in some type of assisted living facility. Thelma most certainly did not. But she didn’t want to move to Texas either. So Lou and Charles moved back to North Carolina, back to the house that Thelma grew up in, to be her caregivers and protectors. It’s been hard at times, but no one regrets a minute of the time they’ve had together.
And now Hospice & Palliative Care Lake Norman has entered the picture. They’ve been a godsend to Thelma and also to Lou. “There’s so much less for me to do now. Hospice care is the right care for Thelma and it has been such a gift.” For someone as social as Thelma, the additional interaction with the hospice care team has also been a huge help. As Lou puts it, “Everyone from hospice is a family member we just hadn’t met yet.”
The thoughtful help the care team has offered Thelma and her family has been immeasurable. But it’s help that is given freely and gladly because they adore Thelma. Several of the homemakers on the hospice team attended Butch’s funeral so that Thelma would have extra support on such a difficult day. The hospice volunteer who visits the family brought a clock that now hangs on the wall. It plays music and it delights Thelma every day. Thelma’s nursing assistant calls her “Granny”, tells her she loves her, and kisses her goodbye whenever she leaves. The love and dedication of this team simply proves the impact that Thelma’s bright personality and never-ending positive attitude has on everyone who meets her.
Like me. I met Thelma yesterday. And just like everyone else who’s ever met her, I will never forget her.