Kathy McFarland: Making the most of every day

August 2013

Kathy McFarland, 63, figured it was all over in mid-May when her doctor told her she only had another two or three weeks to live and she was referred to Mission Hospice & Home Care.

“I thought hospice was because I was dying,” Kathy said during an interview in mid-June. “They called to manage my care at home and I found out it doesn’t mean death; it means quality of life.”

This became evident early in her hospice care when she mentioned that she wished she could go to the family townhouse at Lake Tahoe one more time.

“The hospice coordinator said, ‘We can make that happen,’” Kathy recalled, adding that her doctor suggested she stay no more than two days because of the altitude. “The hospice people said I could stay as long as I wanted. I was flabbergasted that they would do this. All we had to do was bring my supplies. They set it up for a nurse to come from a hospice in Tahoe every morning to hook up my IV.”

Kathy and John, her husband of 40 years, ended up staying a week.

A certified personal trainer and Pilate’s instructor, Kathy had once expected to hike the Sierras in her 80s given the way she took care of herself. Her mother, father and aunt, all lived into their 80s and were all Mission Hospice patients. It was partly due to their longevity and their poor health that Kathy dedicated much of her life to fitness and wellness.

That plan crumbled in January, 2010, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. John had retired from banking only two weeks earlier. The illness also forced Kathy’s retirement from her long-time work with the YMCA.

The diagnosis set off a 3 ½-year saga that eventually involved 42 chemotherapy infusions using five different drugs, plus nine surgeries for complications related to her initial cancer operation. John became her chief caregiver.

“This guy didn’t miss a single treatment, trip to the lab or doctor’s appointment,” Kathy said, adding that his constancy, loyalty and devotion helped her survive this long. “He’s been glued to my side every single day.”

The support of their two adult children and her Catholic faith also made a huge difference.

“What’s happened has made me even more of a believer,” she said, adding she always felt she could choose to be fearful and implode, or to keep going through the pain and discouragement. She believes Mission Hospice has added to her choices.

“I know they would honor my choice to stop eating and let nature take its course if I get tired of all this,” she said. “That’s emotional and mental freedom.” But for the time being, she’s looking forward to her 64th birthday in August, and perhaps, another trip to Tahoe.