Bringing Sunshine to the Lives of Patients & Families

She was funny without trying to be funny,” shared Matt Calderone, when describing his wife, Lisa. She enjoyed traveling to the beach and Disney World. When she wasn’t working as an early intervention coordinator for toddlers and children, Lisa would enjoy watching afternoon soap operas. “I work from home so I would often watch soap operas with Lisa,” smiled Matt. But most of all, Lisa enjoyed spending time with their daughter, Maddie. “Lisa’s entire world revolved around Maddie,” commented Matt. “On September 4, 2019, cancer lost its battle with Lisa. Cancer was never able to steal her smile, and it was never able to overcome her spirit. Lisa never allowed it to quiet her laughter. Every day she was given was lived to the fullest. She may not be here anymore but one day we will be reunited. Lisa has won and cancer has lost, and Hospice & Community Care made that possible.”

Providing Support
Making the decision to begin hospice care is never easy. Like many people, Matt and Lisa viewed hospice as a place where people go to die. Lisa was cared for by Hospice & Community Care for a year and a half. “Before we called Hospice, I was caring for Lisa by myself,” commented Matt. “I had no one to lean on.” That all changed when Hospice & Community Care got involved. “Hospice allowed us to be a family again. It allowed me to step back as a caregiver and to be a husband.” Matt had been serving as Lisa’s primary caregiver for eight years.

“The support that Lisa and our family received from Hospice staff was incredible,” expressed Matt. The Calderones’ had the support of the organization’s team of physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, massage and music therapists, and volunteers. Matt was no longer caregiving alone.

“Before hospice care started I was making multiple trips weekly to pick up Lisa’s medications,” commented Matt. “When Hospice began, they immediately made arrangements for Lisa’s medications to be delivered to our home, which was a blessing. If I had an issue, a nurse was available to offer guidance. Hospice was there to provide help and make life a lot easier.”

The Hospice & Community Care team also supported Maddie. “Justine and Tara [Hospice & Community Care employees] would talk to Maddie often about Lisa and her cancer diagnosis,” shared Matt. “I don’t know what they talked about nor did I need to know. As long as they were helping Maddie that was all that mattered.” Lisa and Matt were always forthcoming and honest with Maddie about Lisa’s health and the likelihood that Lisa would die. Maddie was two years old when Lisa was diagnosed with cancer. “Maddie lived with Lisa’s cancer,” commented Matt.

“Maddie has a great support system,” according to Matt. She participates in dance and her “dance family” has really taken her under their wing. “Maddie is doing really well,” shared Matt. “I know that there will be moments in her life when she is hurting. She will always have me and others to lean on for support.”

Finding What is Sacred
At any stage of an illness, Hospice & Community Care team members work with patients and families to help identify what they want to do, and honor their hopes and wishes, before they die. For Lisa, one of her greatest wishes was to die at home where she felt most comfortable. She also wanted to make lasting memories for and with her family.

With the assistance of Hospice social workers, Lisa wrote cards for Maddie to open at milestone events, such as her birthday, graduation and wedding day. “I had the pleasure of helping Lisa write notes to Maddie,” shared Justine Marich, Social Worker, Hospice & Community Care. “Lisa and I would discuss what to include in the notes, such as what she would tell her 16-year-old self and life lessons on dating. Lisa was legacy building. Lisa and I formed a strong connection during our time together. I will always cherish those moments.”

Maddie turned 12 years old in January 2022 and received one of her many notes from Lisa. “Maddie looks forward to getting the notes,” said Matt. “She keeps the notes to herself— as they are something special that she holds near and dear to her heart.”

The song You Are My Sunshine was very important to Lisa—as Maddie was her sunshine. Lisa worked with a videographer to record a CD of Lisa singing You Are My Sunshine, along with other songs that have special meaning between mother and daughter.

Lisa did not let her illness hold her back from her love of traveling. The Calderones’ went to Disney World and the Outer Banks—even parasailing together as a family. “Our team worked with hospice providers in Florida and North Carolina to make sure that Lisa would be safe and comfortable on her travels in case assistance was needed,” commented Justine. “We helped with documentation so that Lisa could take her medications through airport security and we helped secure transportation for the family throughout the Disney Parks. I love being able to help families, like the Calderones’, create memories and make the most of their time together.”

Living Life to the Fullest
After a trip to the hospital in August 2019, Lisa and Matt decided it was time to stop her cancer treatments. Lisa had been using TPN (total parenteral nutrition), an artificial nutrition IV, for years and her physician told her that stopping the IV treatment would make her tired and pass away peacefully. “Lisa always worried that it would be painful to die,” shared Matt. Lisa’s physician estimated that she would live for a week or two after ending treatments. Hospice & Community Care helped Lisa stop all of her medications and managed her comfort. Lisa lived for six weeks.

“Before those six weeks, Lisa slept for 14–16 hours a day to save her energy to attend Maddie’s dance recital, school events or visit with family and friends,” shared Matt. “During the last six weeks of her life, Lisa was more alive than she was in the last year and a half. We had visitors coming to our house at all hours of the day and we would laugh, cry and tell stories with Lisa. Nothing was left unsaid and Lisa had closure before she passed. Hospice & Community Care allowed us to do that.”

“In Lisa’s final weeks, Hospice staff were at our home a lot,” shared Matt. “They would answer any questions that family and friends had while they were visiting with Lisa and they never made people feel rushed. The Hospice team gave us the opportunity to mourn and enjoy the last six weeks of Lisa’s life.”