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A Sense of Well-Being

Stuart

Stuart Marble

“On a scale from 1 – 10, rate your general sense of well-being.” Dr. Bob Friedman, the chief medical officer for CTPCA – Central Texas Palliative Care Associates – looked at my brother-in-law expectantly.

“Pretty good. I would say it’s an 8,” Stuart responded. He’d been recently diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing palliative chemo and radiation. We knew it wouldn’t cure him – there was no hope for that – but his oncologist, Dr. John Sandbach of Texas Oncology, thought it might shrink his tumor enough to keep him more comfortable for awhile.

Staying comfortable was our primary goal. In fact, that’s the reason we were meeting with Dr. Friedman. Palliative care is all about keeping patients comfortable, whether they’re seeking curative treatment or not. Though CTPCA is Hospice Austin’s medical group and the doctors and nurse practitioners spend most of their time seeing Hospice Austin patients, they also operate a palliative care clinic at Texas Oncology on Wednesday afternoons. All of the doctors are Board Certified in Palliative and Hospice Medicine, so controlling symptoms is their specialty. Stuart wasn’t eligible for hospice care yet, but he had symptoms from both the disease and the treatment that needed managing.

Dr. Friedman asked Stuart about his pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal problems, and sleeping patterns. He asked Stuart what he understood about his disease. He asked him what he would like to accomplish in the next few months.

Stuart thought about it for a few moments. How do you compress a lifetime of goals into a few short months?  “I’d like to go fishing in Florida with my son, Max,” he finally said. “And I’d like to see the leaves come out on my pecan trees.”

In the months following this initial visit, Dr. Friedman met regularly with Stuart. Stuart was an optimist who tended to downplay his symptoms. Because Dr. Friedman got to know him, he was able to get at how Stuart was really feeling and adjust his medications accordingly.  It was comforting to know that Dr. Friedman’s primary concern, above all else, was Stuart’s well-being.

Stuart lived in the country outside of Hospice Austin’s service area. He eventually got on hospice care with his area’s respected nonprofit hospice. We requested a meeting with the hospice doctor, but the doctor was too busy. Not only was he a part-time medical director for this hospice, he had a thriving rural private practice. He simply didn’t have the time for a face-to-face meeting. That’s when I learned that Hospice Austin is the only hospice in Central Texas that employs hospice physicians full-time.

Stuart continued to see Dr. Sandbach for his cancer and Dr. Friedman for his symptoms. The last time he saw them was three days before he died. Dr. Friedman spent two hours with him, increasing his morphine and steroids and gently talking to him – and all of us – about what to expect next. We left, as always, feeling comforted and hopeful that we could manage what lay ahead.

“Managing symptoms” sounds so clinical. Dr. Friedman helped Stuart with his well-being, even though Stuart was far from well. He enabled Stuart to live his life, not be consumed by his disease.

Stuart got to go to Florida with his son. He was able to see his pecans leaf out. In fact, he spent every morning on a bench under a tree in his pecan grove, drinking coffee, reading the paper, soaking up the peace.

Living life.

Melinda Marble

Melinda Marble
Hospice Austin Communications Coordinator


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Merilee Watts

December 9, 2013, 4:02 pm|Reply

Melinda, you wrote a piece that paid homage to Stuart and Hospice Austin. As I read a feeling of peace came over me for Stuart’s last days with his family. Thank you for a glimpse of Stuart living life!

    admin

    February 3, 2014, 5:07 pm|Reply

    Thank you, Merilee for being such a wonderful part of this family.

Laura

January 14, 2014, 2:21 pm|Reply

I like this blog very much. Many people have forgotten how to simply enjoy the moments. As I approach 50 years of age I see many of my convictions as a 20 year old were very much on the mark. As a Czech – Sicilian American I was raised to both enjoy peace, intellectual pursuit, being ethical and nature and from the other side cooking, socializing, being spontaneous. Many folks in America put down rural people but many have that love of nature and grounded aspect which is so important for one’s soul. Type A individuals while often at the top of many organizations have it the hardest because the pursuit of a goal is more important than peace. As a part type-A, part not, I struggle to put the tasks to the side sometimes and let my peace appreciating side come dominant for a bit. When it does I like nothing more than watching the leaves blow in the trees and listen to the wind chime and have a cup of coffee. One thing I was not understanding when I was young was that I was indeed half Type A. Accepting that trait and working with it has been hard sometimes.

    admin

    January 16, 2014, 4:42 pm|Reply

    You’re right, it is so important to try to slow life down and really live in the moment. Easy to say and often difficult to do!

Laura

January 14, 2014, 2:22 pm|Reply

Not to be too selfish I want to say that I appreciate the type of person Stuart Marble was and may he rest in peace. My brother passed away at Hospice Austin in late April this year.

    admin

    January 16, 2014, 4:41 pm|Reply

    Thank you for your comments, Laura, and for allowing us to care for your brother and your family.

Brian Nickens

February 6, 2014, 5:50 am|Reply

About 24 years ago I started working for a contractor in Rancho Santa Fe, Ca. and got to meet Stewart. I liked him, his positive thinking, sense of humor. What a crafty carpenter. I learned some good things at work from Stewart.
I know he loved his Son Max. I don’t remember the stories but Stewart talked about him often.
I just learned about Stewart’s passing tonight. The last time I talked to Stewart was 3 years ago
My heart goes out to Stewart’s family and friends. Brian

    admin

    February 12, 2014, 7:38 pm|Reply

    Thank you for your kind words, Brian. We’ll pass them along to Stuart’s family.

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