Wenny Lee: Caring for husband inspires nurse practitioner to improve hospice education
When Wenny Lee first met her future husband, Dane Potter, she says the chemistry was undeniable. “We just knew we were going to be together,” Wenny says. After about a year of a long-distance relationship, by fall 2018, they were finally together in Santa Clara. They were married the following March.
What they didn’t know was that this future would be cut short by an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme. Dane was diagnosed just as the pair started their delayed honeymoon in December 2019. Wenny, who was working as a hospice nurse practitioner, remembers, “I knew what his diagnosis meant – it was devastating.”
Her professional knowledge suddenly became personally invaluable as she supported her new husband through his final months. The experience changed her in ways she couldn’t have predicted.
“He wanted treatments and I supported him, but I knew we had only months left. Because of my training, I asked him what his wishes were as he inched toward the end of his earthly journey. I knew that if I didn’t find out what he wanted, it would leave me with tremendous heartache and guilt. Being able to do that brought me peace.”
Dane didn’t want to receive care from the hospice where Wenny was working, so she asked his doctors at UCSF – and they recommended Mission Hospice.
“Within about four hours of the time I called Mission Hospice, I was on a Zoom call with Dane’s entire team: Dr. Gary Pasternak, RN Christopher Kelly, Social Worker Tracie Pyers, and Spiritual Counselor Gloria Thomas.
“I felt the trust and partnership from the very beginning. In addition to caring for Dane, they helped me deal with family matters, through the advanced dementia Dane suffered at the end, and to start grieving and healing even when Dane was alive. It was an amazing team.”
Together, Wenny and her Mission Hospice team kept Dane comfortable in their home until his death on September 4, 2020. Wenny says, “Dr. Pasternak promised me we would partner to take care of Dane. He delivered. I learned so much, professionally and personally, from him.”
“I learned so much from the whole journey,” she says, “and I’m able to apply that both to my work and to my personal life.” A lifelong learner, Wenny also found ways to channel her energy to help others.
Dane was an avid bicyclist. After he passed, Wenny started riding to cope with her grief – and was hooked. Inspired by Dane, who she says was the kindest person she’s met and “would do anything to help others,” she recently organized a bike ride to raise funds and awareness for brain cancer and hospice.
The experience also changed her professionally. “Dane’s journey gave me so much professional perspective,” Wenny explains. “Now when I talk to patients, I hold a lot more compassion. I don’t share my personal story with patients, but they recognize that I truly understand.”
“When my patients need hospice care, I refer them to Mission Hospice. I know my patients will get the most support from your amazing team.”
A vibrant, cheerful presence, Wenny is truly looking to the future, guided by what she learned from her journey with Dane.
Among her new professional goals is to improve education around end-of-life care. She wishes medical students had rotations for hospice care, and she plans to apply to medical school in the next few years with an eye to eventually teaching medical professionals.
Upbeat and energetic, Wenny in the meantime is busy supporting others. She moderates three worldwide Facebook groups for spouses/caregivers and bereaved spouses dealing with brain cancer. In July, she’ll be speaking at a widows’ conference, Camp Widow.
“I hope that by sharing my story, even though it’s still evolving, I can let those who are grieving know that they have permission to be ok, to be happy, to be hopeful, and to be joyful.”
Click here to make a donation in Dane’s memory and help provide hospice care to others.