When Ron Swope thinks of his wife Karen, he thinks of three things: her basket full of coloring books, all the angel figurines she placed around their home and her smile. The couple was married for 50 years, and Ron didn’t let a cancer diagnosis change the vows he made to her. He would always take care of her, no matter what life had in store.
In November 2016, Karen began experiencing strokelike symptoms and was sent for an MRI. The couple learned Karen did not have a stroke, and their world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. With Ron by her side, Karen underwent two weeks of radiation treatments to slow down the disease, which was incurable.
As Karen’s cancer progressed, Ron’s promise to himself and to her was becoming more difficult to keep. “I quit my full-time job in construction, and she became my full-time job,” Ron said.
“We both agreed we wanted to focus on living and the time we had left.”
Ron was hoping the end of Karen’s life would be something he could handle alone, but he soon decided he needed the help of Masonic Village Hospice. When staff became aware of Ron’s wishes to take care of Karen at home, they did everything they could to make it happen.
“They ordered me a shower bench, a hospital bed and everything else I needed,” Ron said. “Together, we all took one day at a time. Hospice filled Karen’s pill box and explained each medication to me and when to give them. It was important to me that I took care of her.”
Each day became a routine, and Ron appreciated that. He learned the small things he could do every day to continue caring for his wife. “They would help me get Karen up, bathed and teeth brushed,” he recalls. “The girls would help me pick her clothing out, then I would leave them to care for her. I could tell Karen liked the ‘girl talk,’ and I knew they were giving her so much love and support.” He remembers his wife singing and humming during her time with staff. Karen’s medicine and other needs eventually became more complicated, and staff visited more frequently.
On her 72nd birthday, hospice helped Karen and Ron celebrate by bringing all the fixings for an ice cream sundae bar to their home. “They brought Friendly’s ice cream,” he recalls. “They must have known that was her favorite.” Ron remembers all of them laughing when the hot fudge boiled over in the microwave. It was a beautiful thing to laugh at that time.
Throughout her short radiation treatment and the duration of her illness, Karen continued coloring, one of her favorite hobbies. “She just loved colors,” Ron recalls. “She always dressed in color. When she’d go to work, she’d love it when someone would comment on her outfit.”
Although she lost some of her motor movement, Karen completed one last special piece (left), which reads, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” During one of Karen’s last days, hospice staff worked with her to fill a scrapbook with her favorite colorings, this final piece included.
The book has become a treasure to Ron. “There’s more love than you can ever imagine in hospice,” Ron recalls. “It’s easy to get to know them, and they become part of your family. The compassion they showed Karen, it was just incredible.”
Since Karen’s passing, Ron has gone back to work full-time to keep his mind occupied. He attends bereavement classes offered by Masonic Village Hospice, and staff provide him with individualized support. Ron remembers Karen each day in his own way, which can include spending time with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“God’s love for people comes through Masonic Village Hospice,” Ron says. “I just knew I wasn’t alone.”