A Life-Long Calling

Simply being born helped to set Tina Anderson on the path to becoming a social worker in end-of-life care. “I was a surprise ‘change of life baby,’” explained Tina, Social Worker, Hospice & Community Care. “My mom was 48 years old when I was born and my dad was 50. The oldest child in our family is 30 years older than me and the closest sibling to me in age is 20 years older.” Tina’s mother had two grandchildren when Tina was born, and two more on the way.

“I grew up with very open communication regarding end of life, death and dying because my parents did not believe they would live long enough to raise me,” shared Tina. “My mother died at the age of 70 with small cell carcinoma of the lungs. This was 11 months after her prognosis and I was 21 years old.”

Tina’s mother attempted chemotherapy and radiation. “If I could do things over again, I would encourage my mom to choose her quality of life and dignity over quantity or having ‘more time,’” explained Tina. “She wasn’t able to participate in any of the things that she enjoyed and the treatments robbed her of her dignity and zest for life. We did not have hospice support or home care support in the rural area where we lived so the caregiving responsibilities fell upon my father and me. Perhaps education and support of a hospice team would have changed things for my mom and family.”

Tina’s siblings took an approach of hiding the truth, remaining positive and not discussing their mother’s illness or death around their mother. “Even at an early, untrained age of then 22 years old, I was open to having those very difficult conversations about death with my mom. Privately, we would talk about her hopes and fears and her end-of-life wishes. I often reflect back on these intimate conversational moments as rare treasures.”

It was because of her upbringing, her mother’s death, and the multigenerational experiences and education of relating to older parents and siblings, that guided Tina to a career in the field of caring for older adults which eventually blossomed into a career of 15 years serving those in hospice care.

Tina is a social worker for Hospice & Community Care’s Hospice Response Team, helping with patient admissions. The Hospice Response Team is a program which provides care and comfort to hospitalized patients who are seriously ill, are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, have hours to days to live and are too fragile to be transported from the hospital.

“Our team has the unique challenge and responsibility of offering education, medical expertise and symptom management support in the hospital environment,” explained Tina, “an environment inherently designed around the concept of patient cure and recovery. The unique challenges unfold in working with families and patients who are processing through their emotional expectations and coming to terms with the reality that, despite being hospitalized, there may not be cure. I believe we offer them light when the tunnel appears dark.”

“There are so many memorable moments interacting with our patients and families,” commented Tina. “More recently, I had the opportunity to meet a gentleman and his family for a late afternoon admission. The patient was alert and aware of his admission to Hospice care. He had an abundance of family support present, but overall, he appeared frail. I discovered that he was an Army Veteran and discussed honoring him with a certificate and pinning ceremony, and invited his family to be present for this event. I also made a promise to him in the event that he would die prior to my return, that we would still honor him in memory and make sure that his family received his certificate and pinning. He smiled and agreed with a ‘thumbs up.’”

“Our amazing Volunteer Services team prepared everything I needed and I picked it up the following morning. Upon arrival to the closed door, I could hear soft cries from the room. I spoke with a Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) nurse and she indicated that he had died just moments prior to my arrival. W ith the support of the LGH team. I offered the family a structured opportunity to say their goodbyes and performed the Veteran ceremony presenting a patriotic quilt, certificate and service flag pin. I also read the flag star and placed it in his hand saying, ‘You are not forgotten.’” The room was quiet for a moment. Then his sisters and daughters erupted into songs and those who were once tearful and heavily burdened by their immediate grief, began singing, dancing and celebrating him. It was a unique, emotional and memorable experience. It was a team effort, and, as a result, a promise kept.”

“Having the opportunity to work with such skilled team members and leadership with a foundation of patient-centered focus and overall company integrity, is what I find most rewarding about my job,” commented Tina. “That is often difficult to come by and balance as a business, even a non-profit organization, so I find it rewarding to be a part of such an amazing team and to work each day with a team that matches my personal and professional standards of patient care. It’s nice to go home at the end of the day knowing that I made a difference in people’s lives.”