Latching onto something meaningful helps individuals tolerate an ordeal. For Kay Meade, diagnosed last August with breast cancer, Delaware Hospice’s annual Camp New Hope became her goal. When first diagnosed, she learned that the treatment would last one year, and she said, “For me, the light at the end of the tunnel was that I was going to go through this, get finished and volunteer at Camp New Hope! The hope of New Hope was part of what kept me putting one foot in front of the other.”
Kay’s mother was a Delaware Hospice patient in 1992. She said, “We were very close since she lived with us. Her illness and death were especially tough on my children. Delaware Hospice offered the opportunity for them to go to Camp New Hope, their special program for grieving children and teens. I was blown away by how wonderful this grief camp was. I had never thought about kids and grief. I was always trying to keep my own grief away from them, protecting them, rather than expressing it and allowing them to express their own. I realized the New Hope Program was a wonderful thing that truly made an impact in our community, and I wanted in on it. I signed up for the next training and became a volunteer in 1994.”
Camp New Hope Coordinator, Robin Murphy, said, “Kay is full of life and she exudes a spirit of joy and healing to all she comes in contact with. Kay has been a Camp New Hope volunteer for twenty years, and she is an inspiration to all of the campers and volunteers as her joy for life is infectious. She is one of the original leaders of the Camp New Hope band and her passion has kept the tradition of singing the Camp New Hope song alive through the years.”
Kay explained her dedication to this program: “This is important work Delaware Hospice is doing. It’s worth your time, even for those of us who devote vacation days or take time without pay. The entire family is touched by Camp New Hope. Families have so much to deal with after a loss. You want to protect and shield your children, which is not always the best choice. When you see them attend Camp and learn to process and be open about their loss, it penetrates through to everyone in the family and opens channels of communication.”
“For example, I remember hearing about the flower pot activity. Campers are given a clay pot and a mallet and instructed to break it into pieces. Then they glue the pieces back together and plant a flower in the pot with all its cracks. They can easily understand the symbolism of their lives being shattered by loss, the rebuilding of their lives–which will always carry the scars of that loss, and the fact that new life will grow. You listen, you cry a little, and you decide that perhaps you, too, can put yours back together. It’s sometimes good for everyone to receive these concepts simply, like a child.”
Kay was pleased with a new job offer last summer and proceeded to get physical and dental examinations completed beforehand. That’s when lumps were discovered in both breasts.
She went through more than her fair share of challenges and hardships during the first six months. When she began her latest round of eight-week radiation treatments, she was determined to do it differently. “I was not going to go in trembling and sniveling. I decided, as a songwriter, that I would write a new song for the radiation staff every Monday. The first day, I entered the treatment room and said, ‘I have a song for you,’ and the technician asked, ‘A song? You’re going to sing?’ So I sang these lyrics about radiation that I had put to a familiar tune. When I came out of radiation, everyone was laughing and trying to sing it. The next Monday five people were there to hear the new song, and now everyone’s waiting for me to arrive on Monday mornings.”
Obviously this doesn’t minimize the discomfort of treatments, but Kay feels that she’s blessed by having the staff know her as a person, rather than just another patient, and it makes it a positive experience for everyone.
With Camp New Hope her goal, Kay faced the inevitable delays and hurdles in scheduling. She said, “With the first diagnosis, I heard five months of chemo, surgery and radiation, and I thought ‘I’ll finish in time.’ But then there was another surgery, which delayed radiation, and I thought I wouldn’t. It’s been like a race, but it’s worked out perfectly. My last dose will be the day before camp. I’ll walk out the door of that hospital a free and healed woman and go to Camp New Hope! It’s going to be wonderful to be with the campers and help them in their grief, especially with my heightened sensitivity from watching my own grown children worry about me.”
Kay advises anyone coping with such a serious illness or ordeal to take things one day at a time and look for the blessings in each day. “There are so many things we take for granted. We never perceive them in such vivid depth as when we go through a life-threatening illness. I’ve been humbled, amazed and I’m eternally grateful for the love and support that has been poured on me by family and friends. My Milford Community Band family has been unbelievable, taking turns to drive me to Christiana Hospital every day.”
“I’ve learned to appreciate what I have and not dwell on what I’ve lost. Ever since middle school, I’ve worn my hair long enough to cover my ears. Now it’s short and curly and everyone loves it. So at the age of 58, I’ve just had my ears pierced!”
“Be present; be open to the positive things in your life; search for them. With your focus on the good and on all the blessings that God has given you, you will get through.”
Story Credit: Beverly Crowl, of Delaware Hospice