Reeling in Memories with One Last Fishing Trip

Jeff and his friends pose with their fish

How VITAS Community Connection helped make a last wish come true

It was a good day for fishing; but this wasn’t just another fishing trip for Jeff and and his three best friends, Kevin, John and Mike. As their boat motored 10 miles out from the shore of Lake Marion with Captain Boudreaux of Santee Cajon Fishing Guides at the helm, they all knew it could be Jeff’s last fishing trip.

Friends through “Thick and Thin”

Jeff smiles as he boats and fishes with his long-time friends

Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, Jeff endured two bone marrow transplants and intensive chemotherapy. Mike Browning, Jeff’s friend of 42 years and first roommate, and John Swallows, Jeff’s long time co-worker, stepped in to help Jeff from the moment he got sick. The cancer went into remission. But when it returned, the doctor told Jeff he wouldn’t survive another transplant. In 2015, unable to care for himself, Jeff moved in with Anita, his friend and “surrogate mother” since childhood, and her husband Kevin.

When Jeff became a VITAS patient, Ginnie Brooks, the social worker on his hospice team, asked if there was anything on his “bucket list” she could help him do. His answer—to go fishing one last time with his friends. “These guys have been with me through thick and thin,” says Jeff. “I keep getting sicker and sicker and I worry about being a burden on everyone. I really wanted to give back to them.”

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Planning with a Purpose

“Jeff did all the research,” recalls Ginnie. “He got all the information and I helped him fill out the application to VITAS Community Connection (VCC) of Dayton.”

“Planning and coordinating this trip was challenging, but I enjoyed it so much,” recalls Jeff. “I was a manager in my work and I was used to planning. This gave me a purpose. It reminded me of what I used to do.”

Hospice care is designed to provide physical, emotional and spiritual care for patients near the end of life. In Jeff’s case, VCC found a way to help with Jeff’s emotional needs. “Before VITAS, I was becoming more and more depressed. I was just waiting to die,” says Jeff, his voice thick with emotion. “This trip changed my outlook; it changed my life. My body is still sick, but I am more relaxed and happy.”

“I was so glad we could do this for him,” says Ginnie. “When we can make a patient happy near the end of their life in this way, it makes our job so worthwhile.”

A Fish Tale

Jeff holds up his first catch

A handicap-accessible van accommodating Jeff’s wheelchair was rented for the four friends to embark on the 12-hour drive from Dayton to Santee Cooper, South Carolina. They spent three days on 110-acre Lake Marion, fishing for catfish and crappie. Nights in their small cabin in the woods at the Santee Cooper State Park were filled with story-telling, reminiscing and cooking up their catch of the day along with hushpuppies and hash browns.

Spending time with his friends was “magical” for Jeff. “I had a ball,” he recalls. “I was out of the house—in the van, seeing the countryside, on the lake.”

Although Jeff caught just a few fish, he had fun watching his friends reel in theirs. After three days of fishing, the men had more than 100 pounds of fish, fileted and ready to eat. “We couldn’t possibly eat all that fish, so we’re going to donate most of it to a church or other organization for a fish fry,” says Jeff.

Sometimes the best medicine is being with those who mean the most. “I am so thankful to VITAS Community Connection for making this trip happen,” says Jeff. “We would never have been able to do this without them.”

When hospice patients need help beyond patient care, VITAS Community Connection can help.

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