Steve Denzer remembers the first vinyl record he bought when he was 11 years old – “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Hailey and the Comets. A barber for nearly 55 years, it was Steve’s love of music that drove his part-time career as a disc jockey for weddings, parties, reunions and other events. The now 74-year-old jokes that he couldn’t dance so the next best thing was to get others out on the dance floor.
His love of music proved to be a comfort as Steve struggled for a year to find out what was wrong with him. And, again, it soothed him when he learned in January 2018 that he had metastatic lung cancer.
“When you hear the ‘C’ word, it hits you hard,” Steve said from the living room couch in his Champaign, Illinois, home. His dog Conner on his lap and his wife of 33 years, Becky, by his side.
The cancer journey
Steve’s cancer journey began about three years ago when he detected a lump on his head that grew and retreated several times. An August 2016 biopsy came back as “suspicious” and more tests followed over the next year. Two surgeries later, doctors found a spot on Steve’s lung. He underwent a half dozen rounds of chemotherapy in February 2018.
The chemotherapy affected Steve’s hearing and he developed cataracts. At one point, he tried immunotherapy, which is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. While immunotherapy can be effective, Steve wasn’t so lucky.
PET and CT scans revealed the metastasis had grown.
Comfort care at home
When the scans showed the cancer had grown, Steve and Becky decided there would be no more hospitalizations or aggressive treatment. In December 2018, the couple decided OSF Hospice would be the best option.
“I was feeling terrible so I decided to just throw it all out the window and come home and enjoy life,” Steve said as Becky nodded in agreement.
Remembering her own mother’s experience with hospice and how much the care team supported the entire family, Becky convinced her husband that OSF Hospice would offer him a better quality of life.
OSF Hospice expanded into the Champaign-Urbana and Danville areas in late November 2018. Hospice is for patients of all ages with a life-limiting illness with a prognosis of six months or less to live, and who have decided they want to focus on comfort care.
The treatment goal of hospice is symptom management, comfort care and pain control. Choosing hospice care does not mean one is “giving up” on life, but they are choosing to invest their energy in living.
Steve credits Karen Davidson, his OSF Hospice nurse, with improving the quality of his life. He calls Karen “the second light of my life … We’re a match made in heaven.”
OSF Hospice is open to anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. While Karen, whose father was a minister, felt called to be a hospice nurse, she understands religion is a very personal choice.
Faith not only plays a big part in the care Karen provides her patients, it’s at the core of OSF Hospice.
“There’s just something about our spirit that we want to serve with the greatest care and love,” Karen said. “That means a lot to me as a nurse to be able to do that. It’s about serving the ones that need it.”
Steve said Karen is now part of the family.
“She makes sure I got all my pills and stuff. I never have to ask for it. I feel better today than I did five years ago,” Steve said. “I’m starting to walk by myself. I go upstairs now. I couldn’t go upstairs for the first month or two.”
Enjoying the things you love
After gaining strength from working with the OSF Hospice care team, Steve was able to make the climb up the stairs to the second floor of his home where a room is devoted to the massive collection of his favorite music – Elvis, Conway Twitty and many others – and other memorabilia. OSF Hospice caregivers also have made simple things, like going out to dinner, a reality for Steve and Becky.
“We went out to eat … had dinner at a nice restaurant and it was easy. I mean I loved it, but a couple of months ago I couldn’t have done it,” Steve said. “Hospice is not for the dying, it’s for the living.”
Steve is looking forward to warmer weather when he can host a cook-out for the friends and family who have supported him through his journey, including his two sons, daughter, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Making the decision about hospice
As a caretaker, Becky said it can be lonely and stressful because you take on the responsibility of someone else’s well-being. With OSF Hospice, she feels relief from the stress of daily caretaking, which allows her to enjoy time with her husband.
“Once OSF Hospice came in, they just kind of relieved that pressure … I have somebody else in my corner,” she said.
Becky is also glad the couple made the decision to begin with OSF Hospice earlier than a lot of people consider turning to hospice care.
“They (hospice caregivers) get to see what he’s really like before he ends up in that position where he’s not himself anymore,” Becky said. “That way, Karen can come over and she can see, ‘Oh, you’re not having a good day,’ because she really knows what he’s like on a good day.”
OSF Hospice is about caring with faith, hope and love. It recognizes each person’s situation is different and focuses on meeting the specific needs of patients and their family, so they can focus on what matters – quality time with loved ones.
“Hospice is about cherishing the gift of life to the full until God transforms that gift into eternal life,” said Sister Judith Ann Duvall, O.S.F, chairperson of the OSF HealthCare Boards. “It is about supporting individuals with competent, compassionate caregivers so they can make that journey well with their family and loved ones in the face of chronic, progressive or life-threatening illness.”
The OSF Hospice philosophy is to provide care for the terminally ill and their significant others in the comfort of their own home or home-like surroundings. OSF Hospice allows the terminally ill to live out their last days among the people and things they love, as comfortable and pain free as possible. In addition to 24-hour or on-call care, hospice provides spiritual services, respite care and bereavement support.
Becky couldn’t be more pleased with the care her husband – and the entire family – receives. She agrees that people shouldn’t put off having the discussion with loved ones about how OSF Hospice can be there when they may need it.
“It’s a great team and each one helps and comes together to make the perfect pie,” she said, smiling at Steve.